Academic journal article McNair Papers

6. the Iran-Iraq War

Academic journal article McNair Papers

6. the Iran-Iraq War

Article excerpt


On September 22, 1980, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein ordered an invasion of Iran, which "put the entire issue of purging the armed forces in a new perspective," (Note 1) because the recent purges of the armed forces initially resulted in a fragmented opposition to the invaders.(Note 2)

The initial Iraqi successes in the war can be directly attributed to the fact that the Iranian military had just undergone an extensive purge that had brought it to the brink of collapse(Note 3) and that it was suffering the effects of a parts embargo from the United States. As Iran had purchased a great deal of American weaponry during the Shah's reign, it found itself either without the necessary parts it needed or frantically cannibalizing parts from other weapons systems. As these were two situations that had not been anticipated in a military unaccustomed to independent thought, preparation or planning, the results were disastrous for Iran at the beginning of the conflict.

In the early stages of the Iran-Iraq War, the Iranian Army was relegated to a secondary role in favor of the Revolutionary Guards. While the IRGC had great zeal, they lacked the professionalism and ability of the U.S.-trained imperial armed forces.(Note 4)

The military was also beset by command and control problems because of the rapid rise of junior officers as a result of the purges of monarchist or ideologically unreliable senior officers. These junior officers were ideologically acceptable to the regime but had little experience, which further undermined the military's efforts in the early stages of the war.(Note 5) The war did, however, serve as a unifying factor as the military leadership mobilized to support the government

and some officers detained under the purges were brought back into service.(Note 6)

In an attempt to rectify command and control deficiencies, Iran's Higher Defense Council established a unified command in October under which all forces, to include the military as well as the Revolutionary Guards, would fall. The Iranian Government hoped to promote discipline and an effective chain of command in order to coordinate effective military activities in the face of the Iraqi onslaught.(Note 7)

Although friction existed between the professional military leadership and the Revolutionary Guards (who were backed by the mullahs) over how to wage the campaigns of the war, Saddam Hussein's invasion served to place the military squarely in the corner of the Islamic Republic as the war became a fight for national survival. With the passage of time, the armed forces exhibited their valor in defending Iran, proving that their loyalty to the state overrode their animosities toward the Pasdaran,(Note 8) who were forced to rely on the professional soldiers for their military expertise.(Note 9)

Differences of approach regarding the war, and specifically on how it should be conducted militarily, persisted throughout the conflict. There were instances when it appeared that the military's skills and the Pasdaran's fervour might be combined and made complementary, but these moments were fleeting. Suspicions, resentments, political differences and uncertainty clouded relations throughout. These reflected the larger issue--that of the relationship between the Islamic Republic and its military forces.(Note 10)

An unfortunate result of the war was the tendency by Iran to use "human wave" assaults which were reminiscent of those used by the People's Republic of China in the Korean conflict. …

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