The primary reason for the Iran-Iraq war between 1980-1988 was Iraq’s desire to take control of the Shatt al-Arab waterway while Iran wanted to spread its Islamic revolution.
The roots of the Iran-Iraq war can be traced back to the early 20th century, when the British Empire established modern-day Iraq and drew the boundaries of the country in such a way as to include a number of predominantly Shia areas that had previously been part of Iran.
This led to ongoing tensions between Iran and Iraq exacerbated by their different forms of government.
Iraq was a secular, authoritarian state ruled by Saddam Hussein, while Iran was an Islamic republic led by Ayatollah Khomeini.
Iran and Iraq also had competing interests in the region, including over the control of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, which served as a key oil shipping route.
The tensions between Iran and Iraq eventually boiled over into open conflict in 1980, when Iraq invaded Iran, launching the eight-year-long Iran-Iraq War.
The Shatt al-Arab Waterway
The dispute over the ownership of the Shatt al-Arab waterway led to war between Iran and Iraq in 1980.
The Shatt al-Arab waterway is a vital trade route between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. The waterway also serves as Iran’s only outlet to the sea. Iraq claims ownership of half of the waterway, while Iran claims ownership of the entire waterway.
Iraq believed that it was entitled to a greater share of the waterway because it is located on the western bank of the waterway, while Iran is located on the eastern bank.
Iraq’s invasion of Iran in 1980 was thus motivated by a desire to secure a greater share of the Shatt al-Arab waterway for itself.
The Geopolitics Of The Iran-Iraq War
The United States supported Saddam Hussein’s regime during the Iran-Iraq War for a number of reasons.
One reason was that the U.S. saw the Iranian Revolution and the rise of the Islamic Republic as a threat to its interests in the region. The U.S. had long had close relations with the Shah of Iran, who was overthrown in 1979, and the U.S. was concerned about the spread of Islamic fundamentalism in the region.
As a result, the U.S. saw Iraq as a useful ally in containing the spread of the Iranian Revolution.
Another reason the U.S. supported Iraq was that Iraq was seen as a counterweight to the influence of the Soviet Union in the region.
The U.S. was engaged in a Cold War with the Soviet Union at the time, and it saw the conflict between Iraq and Iran as an opportunity to weaken the Soviet Union’s influence in the region.
Finally, the U.S. may have also had economic interests in supporting Iraq, as Iraq was a major oil producer and the U.S. was a major oil consumer.
By supporting Iraq, the U.S. may have hoped to ensure access to Iraqi oil.
Child Soldiers During The Iran-Iraq War
Iran used the highest number of Child Soldiers aged between 12-18 years old during the Iran-Iraq war where they were used as human shields in front of Iraqi tanks, and to clear minefields by walking through them in “wave” attacks.
The use of child soldiers by both Iran and Iraq led to international condemnation. Human rights groups accused both countries of violating the rights of children. The UN Security Council even passed a resolution condemning the practice.
Despite the international outcry, both Iran and Iraq continued to use child soldiers throughout the eight-year war.
Many of the child soldiers who survived the war suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) today.
The Legacy Of The Iran-Iraq war
The legacy of the Iran-Iraq war is still felt today.
In addition to the human cost, Iraq incurred over $1 trillion in debt, while Iran’s economy also suffered considerably.
The Iran-Iraq conflict also led to an increase in Religious Suni and Shia Sectarian tensions in the Middle East which continue to this day.