The Iran–Iraq War began when Iraq invaded Iran via air and land on 22 September 1980. It followed a long history of border disputes, and was motivated by fears that the Iranian Revolution in 1979 would inspire insurgency among Iraq's long-suppressed Shia majority as well as Iraq's desire to replace Iran as the dominant Persian Gulf state. Although Iraq hoped to take advantage of Iran's revolutionary chaos and attacked without formal warning, they made only limited progress into Iran and were quickly repelled; Iran regained virtually all lost territory by June 1982. For the next six years, Iran was on the offensive.
Despite calls for a ceasefire by the United Nations Security Council, hostilities continued until 20 August 1988. The war finally ended with Resolution 598, a U.N.-brokered ceasefire which was accepted by both sides. At the war's conclusion, it took several weeks for Iranian armed forces to evacuate Iraqi territory to honour pre-war international borders set by the 1975 Algiers Agreement. The last prisoners of war were exchanged in 2003.
The war cost both sides in lives and economic damage: half a million Iraqi and Iranian soldiers, as well as civilians, are believed to have died, with many more injured; however, the war brought neither reparations nor changes in borders. The conflict has been compared to World War I in terms of the tactics used, including large-scale trench warfare with barbed wire stretched across trenches, manned machine-gun posts, bayonet charges, human wave attacks across a no-man's land, and extensive use of chemical weapons such as mustard gas by the Iraqi government against Iranian troops, civilians, and Iraqi Kurds. At the time of the conflict, the U.N. Security Council issued statements that "chemical weapons had been used in the war." However, due to various outside pressures, the statements never clarified that only Iraq was using chemical weapons, and retrospective authors have claimed, "The international community remained silent as Iraq used weapons of mass destruction against Iranian[s] as well as Iraqi Kurds."
The Iran–Iraq War was originally referred to as the Gulf War until the Persian Gulf War of 1990 and 1991, after which it was referred to as the First Persian Gulf War. The Iraq-Kuwait conflict, while originally known as the Second Persian Gulf War, eventually became known simply as the Gulf War. The Iraq War from 2003 to 2011 has since been called the Second Persian Gulf War.
In Iran, the war is known as the Imposed War and the Holy Defence . In Iraq, Saddam Hussein had initially dubbed the conflict the Whirlwind War. It was also referred to as Saddām's Qādisiyyah , in reference to the Battle of al-Qādisiyyah.
Iran-Iraq War, (1980–88), prolonged military conflict between Iran and Iraq during the 1980s. Open warfare began on Sept. 22, 1980, when Iraqi armed forces invaded western Iran along the countries’ joint border, though Iraq claimed that the war had begun earlier that month, on September 4, when Iran shelled a number of border posts. Fighting was ended by a 1988 cease-fire, though the resumption of normal diplomatic relations and the withdrawal of troops did not take place until the signing of a formal peace agreement on Aug. 16, 1990.
The roots of the war lay in a number of territorial and political disputes between Iraq and Iran. Iraq wanted to seize control of the rich oil-producing Iranian border region of Khūzestān, a territory inhabited largely by ethnic Arabs over which Iraq sought to extend some form of suzerainty. Iraqi president Ṣaddām Ḥussein wanted to reassert his country’s sovereignty over both banks of the Shaṭṭ al-ʿArab, a river formed by the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that was historically the border between the two countries. Ṣaddām was also concerned over attempts by Iran’s Islamic revolutionary government to incite rebellion among Iraq’s Shīʿite majority. By attacking when it did, Iraq took advantage of the apparent disorder and isolation of Iran’s new government—then at loggerheads with the United States over the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehrān by Iranian militants—and of the demoralization and dissolution of Iran’s regular armed forces.
In September 1980 the Iraqi army carefully advanced along a broad front into Khūzestān, taking Iran by surprise. Iraq’s troops captured the city of Khorramshahr but failed to take the important oil-refining centre of Ābādān, and by December 1980 the Iraqi offensive had bogged down about 50–75 miles (80–120 km) inside Iran after meeting unexpectedly strong Iranian resistance. Iran’s counterattacks using the revolutionary militia (Revolutionary Guards) to bolster its regular armed forces began to compel the Iraqis to give ground in 1981. The Iranians first pushed the Iraqis back across Iran’s Kārūn River and then recaptured Khorramshahr in 1982. Later that year Iraq voluntarily withdrew its forces from all captured Iranian territory and began seeking a peace agreement with Iran. But under the leadership of Ruhollah Khomeini, who bore a strong personal animosity toward Ṣaddām, Iran remained intransigent and continued the war in an effort to overthrow the Iraqi leader. Iraq’s defenses solidified once its troops were defending their own soil, and the war settled down into a stalemate with a static, entrenched front running just inside and along Iraq’s border. Iran repeatedly launched fruitless infantry attacks, using human assault waves composed partly of untrained and unarmed conscripts (often young boys snatched from the streets), which were repelled by the superior firepower and air power of the Iraqis. Both nations engaged in sporadic air and missile attacks against each other’s cities and military and oil installations. They also attacked each other’s oil-tanker shipping in the Persian Gulf, and Iran’s attacks on Kuwait’s and other Gulf states’ tankers prompted the United States and several western European nations to station warships in the Persian Gulf to ensure the flow of oil to the rest of the world.
The oil-exporting capacity of both nations was severely reduced at various times owing to air strikes and to pipeline shutoffs, and the consequent reduction in their income and foreign-currency earnings brought the countries’ economic-development programs to a near standstill. Iraq’s war effort was openly financed by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other neighbouring Arab states and was tacitly supported by the United States and the Soviet Union, while Iran’s only major allies were Syria and Libya. Iraq continued to sue for peace in the mid-1980s, but its international reputation was damaged by reports that it had made use of lethal chemical weapons against Iranian troops as well as against Iraqi-Kurdish civilians, whom the Iraqi government thought to be sympathetic to Iran. (One such attack, in and around the Kurdish village of Ḥalabjah in March 1988, killed as many as 5,000 civilians.) In the mid-1980s the military stalemate continued, but in August 1988 Iran’s deteriorating economy and recent Iraqi gains on the battlefield compelled Iran to accept a United Nations-mediated cease-fire that it had previously resisted.
The total number of combatants on both sides is unclear; but both countries were fully mobilized, and most men of military age were under arms. The number of casualties was enormous but equally uncertain. Estimates of total casualties range from 1,000,000 to twice that number. The number killed on both sides was perhaps 500,000, with Iran suffering the greatest losses. It is estimated that between 50,000 and 100,000 Kurds were killed by Iraqi forces during the series of campaigns code-named Anfāl (Arabic: “Spoils”) that took place in 1988 (see Kurd).