The Gulf Tanker War: Iran and Iraq's Maritime Swordplay

By Thoman, Roy E. | The Middle East Journal, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview

The Gulf Tanker War: Iran and Iraq's Maritime Swordplay


Thoman, Roy E., The Middle East Journal


The Gulf Tanker War: Iran and Iraq's Maritime Swordplay, by Nadia El-Sayed ElShazly. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998. xxi + 362 pages. Bibl. to p. 374. Index to p. 403. $75.

Nadia El-Sayed El-Shazly, a frequent contributor to English, Arabic, and Persian newspapers and journals has written a fine, comprehensive account of the Tanker War between Iran and Iraq.

Together with information gained from interviews and various key documents, the author's research includes statistical data from Lloyd's Register for Shipping that provide a complete record of the vessels damaged during this phase of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-89). The theoretical framework is based on the writings of Sun Tsu, Karl von Clausewitz, Alfred Thayer Mahan, and others.

Although Iraq's invasion of Iran triggered the eight-year conflict, the regime in Baghdad quickly realized that Iraq could not defeat Iran, which had a much larger population and other strategic advantages. Iraq enjoyed superiority in air power only, and used this asset to launch strikes against tankers loaded with Iranian oil, as well as Iranian refineries and oil-export terminals. Iraq hoped that this pressure would force Iran to end the fighting.

Iraq initiated the "tanker war" both because the ground war had reached a bloody stalemate and because Iran had set harsh, indeed unacceptable, terms for a peace settlement. These demands included the removal of President Saddam Husayn and the entire Ba'thist regime from power, the withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Iranian territory and the payment by Iraq of $300 billion in war reparations.

Iraqi diplomacy linked to the tanker war was generally successful. Iraqi officials met with their US State Department counterparts and with other American leaders, who regarded an Iranian victory in the war as unacceptable. European creditors agreed to reschedule Iraqi debts, while Saudi Arabia and Kuwait contributed funds to Baghdad at the rate of $100 million per day. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) permitted Iraq to exceed its quota of oil exports.

This book contains a detailed account of the military aspects of the tanker war, including the story of Iraq's acquisition and use of French Super-Etendard fighter aircraft; and Iran's use of a fleet of attack speedboats, Swiss PC-7 attack aircraft, Chinese F-6 and F-7 fighters, Chinese Silkwonn missiles, and mines.

The book also contains an interesting analysis of the accidental Iraqi attack on the USS Stark, which, struck by Exocet missiles, sustained 58 casualties (36 of them fatalities). …

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