September 14, 2005
Today, 25 years after the beginning of the Iran-Iraq War, we hear almost unanimous opinions that Iraq started the conflict. The late Jude Wanniski, former assistant editor of the Wall Street Journal, calls this thought process the "rewriting of history." A few months ago, he eloquently put forth an article taking us back to 1979 and 1980 and describing incidents of the day. He was outspoken about this subject and criticized those who have fallen into the "Iraq started the Iran-Iraq War" sphere.
Prior to Iraq firing its first shot, Iran had sabotaged Iraqi interests and had shelled Iraqi border towns. This was all documented and presented by Iraq during that period.
Recently, I found a small pamphlet among my boxes of papers that was distributed by the Iraqi Embassy in Washington D.C. in 1985. It tells the Iraqi side of the story.
Ironically, Iran spent eight years in a bloody war to accomplish two goals: the overthrow of the Iraqi regime and the implementation of an Islamic state in Iraq. At the war’s end, neither had occurred.
Let’s look at today’s Iraq. Iran belatedly won the Iran-Iraq War, albeit 17 years after the 1988 cease-fire. This time, however, Iran did not have to fire a shot or lose one combatant. The Ba’athist regime has been overthrown, and last week, some members of the Iraqi stooge parliament proudly called Iraq "the Islamic State of Iraq."
The U.S. thought by invading Iraq, it would keep the secular look to the country and have a bulwark against Iran. However, Iranian influence is at an all-time high in Iraq today and the U.S. is trapped between various factions.
Let’s go back to 1985 and see some of the similarities of then and today.
HOW THE IRAN-IRAQ WAR STARTED
Published by the Embassy of the Republic of Iraq, Washington D.C. January 1985
One of the first questions Iraqis are asked is, "Why did you start the war?" Disputes between Iraq and Iran have been settled in the past by peaceful talks, not war; most recently in 1975 when Algeria helped to negotiate an agreement on international borders, acces to the Shatt al-Arab waterway, and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.
Friction between Iran and Iraq did not actually begin on September 4, 1980. This date marks only the onset of armed hostilities in the Iran-Iraq conflict. The present deterioration of relations between the two countries is directly correlated to Khomeini’s rise to power. Khomeini put a new twist on the old disputes over borders, territory, and non-interference, using sensitive areas to promote discord.
Fundamental to current conflicts are the basic ideological differences now found between Iran and Iraq. Under Khomeini, Iran has followed a line of religious fanaticism, one which recognizes no political or geographic limits to the expansion of its control and influence. Iraq, on the other hand, adheres to a policy of nationalism, rejecting the domination of religious elements in the administration of the state while espousing freedom of belief and practice and unity among its peoples. These diametrically opposed ideologies are the core of the Iran-Iraq war.
Almost immediately after coming to power, Khomeini began to focus on the overthrow of the Iraqi government as the first logical stepping stone in his expansionist policy. A slow, but deliberate, series of provocations ensued, beginning with the new Iranian government’s disavowal, in June of 1979, of the 1975 Algiers Accord. Khomeini freed himself from the constraints of this accord under the pretext that it had been concluded by the shah and sponsored by the United States. The Algiers Accord and its subsequent protocols provided for a definitive settlement of borders and strict adherence to non-interference in internal affairs by joint committees set up for that end. Khomeini disregarded the Algiers Accord, the settlements based upon it and refused to implement them. Khomeini’s disregard for this accord put a halt to the committees’ work.
While the Iraqi government was extending its goodwill gestures to the new Iranian government and encouraging the development of good relations, Khomeini’s representatives were publicly condemning the Iraqi government and claiming the allegiance of Iraqi Muslims, thus sowing division amongst the Muslims of Iraq and between Iraq’s Muslims and non-Muslims. As Iran’s rhetoric against the Iraqi leadership continued, Iraqi officials proposed to meet with Iranian leaders to discuss bilateral relations. In his address on July 17, 1980, President Saddam Hussein stressed Iraqi support for the Iranian people and expressed the desire for mutual cooperation between the two countries. The Iraqi government invited the Prime Minister of the Iranian Provisional Government to hold talks. This invitation was renewed two weeks later by the Vice-Chairman of the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council, Izzat Ibrahim.
At the Non-Aligned Summit Conference, held in the fall of 1979, President Hussein met with the Iranian Foreign Minister on two separate occasions to reaffirm Iraq’s efforts to establish relations of cooperation between the two countries. While at the United Nations, the Iraqi Foreign Minister extended yet another invitation to hold talks on Iraq-Iran relations to his Iranian counterpart. The Iraqi Ambassador to Tehran visited the Iranian President, extending Iraq’s greetings and his own best wishes for the President’s success in pointing relations between Iran and Iraq in the right direction, that is non-interference in domestic affairs of each other’s country.
Despite Iraq’s friendly overtures, the Iranian leadership insisted on its hostile attitude. Throughout March 1980, Iranian officials persisted in their warnings to the Iraqi people to "Beware of the Ba’ath Party and Iraqi leadership." Khomeini issued a statement in late March urging both the youth and the military of Iraq to rebel against their government and to become heroes in a battle to rid Iraq of the Ba’ath and the extinction of Arab nationalism.
In an address delivered by his son on March 21, 1980, Khomeini made Iran’s position clear: "We should exert all efforts to export our revolution to other parts of the world. Let us abandon the idea of keeping our revolution within our borders."
Iran, however, was not leaving its message to chance.. "Iraq is Persian," Iran’s President stated on April 7, 1980, more than five months before the war began. "Aden and Baghdad belong to us," said Iran’s Foreign Minister, Qotob Zada on April 8. Zada went one step further in his remarks the following day, stating that his government had "decided to overthrow the Iraqi government."
Khomeini reiterated and expanded this theme on a weekly basis throughout April. In an impassioned radio address, Khomeini severely attacked President Hussein and asked the Iraqi army to rebel and topple its government. He accused the Iraqi army of combating Islam and again declared the urgency of the revolution’s march towards Baghdad. In a direct appeal, Khomeini said, "The Iraqi people should liberate themselves from the claws of the enemy. It should topple this non-Islamic party in Iraq."
The intransigence of the Iranian position was demonstrated on various occasions. At the beginning of May 1980, the Iranian President claimed it would not be interference in Iraq’s domestic affairs to go to Baghdad to "liberate" the Iraqi people because "We consider the Islamic nation as one and the Imam (Khomeini) is the religious leader for us as well as for Iraq and for all Islamic peoples." (The Imam) feels he is responsible for Iraq as well as Iran."
Foreign Minister Zada spoke at a press conference in Abu Dhabi where he remained firm in his position on Iraq saying, "We do not accept any mediation or dialogue with the criminal (Iraqi) regime … it must disappear and the people of Iraq want to topple their government." In a radio address in Tehran a few days later, Zada said that "because the Ba’ath regime practices oppression against the Muslim people of Iraq … we shall not come to terms with them."
Indeed, ever since its assumption of power, the Iranian regime has embarked on a series of provocative acts against the government and people of Iraq. In late 1979, for example, Iran began a series of attacks on diplomatic, consular, cultural, and commercial missions of Iraq. The personnel of the Iraqi Embassy in Tehran, its Consulates in Muhamara (Khorramshahr) and Kermanshah, Iraqi schools in Iran and the Iraqi Airways office in Tehran were all subjects to verbal and physical acts of aggression.
Many demonstrations, tacitly or otherwise approved by Iranian authorities, took place outside the Embassy with photographs of President Hussein burning and shouts of "death to Iraqi leaders and the Ba’ath Party." These scenes are familiar to Americans who saw their own Embassy overtaken by these same vehement and frenzied crowds.
On October 7, 1979, Iranian authorities asked Iraq to close its Consulates in Muhamara and Kermanshah within three months. Less than one week later, the Iraqi Consulate General in Muhamara was subjected to harsh treatment. Doors and windows were smashed, officials were attacked and records damaged. Similar attacks occurred on three other occasions. On November 1, the Iraqi flag and photographs of President Hussein were lowered and torn and the diplomatic pouch taken by force. By January 11, Iranian authorities decided to deport Consulate employees in these two cities, even before the expiration of the specified departure period. Many employees were mistreated and brutally beaten.
Similar provocations were taking place at Iraqi schools in Iran. Iraqi teachers’ residence permits were not renewed, schools were stormed by Revolutionary Guards and students and teachers were attacked. By the end of 1979, Iranian authorities had closed all Iraqi schools in Iran, but one. Teachers were deported, prevented from taking along their personal belongings, and some were even arrested and interrogated prior to being released for deportation.
As Iraq submitted protests to Iranian authorities over these hostile acts, aggression continued unabated even within Iraqi territory. Along the border there were violations of eastern Iraqi territory and air space; bombings of outposts and border villages which included kidnappings, sabotage, and attacks on Iraqi police patrols and border guards, infringements on Iraqi territorial waters as well as aggression on Iraqi and foreign vessels.
Terrorist acts deep inside Iraq itself resulted in the death and injury of innocent citizens, women and children included. In April 1980 alone, hand grenades were hurled on the campus of Al-Mustansiriyah University; in the capital Baghdad at a student gathering; bombs were thrown at the funeral procession for victims from the Al-Mustansiriyah gathering; assassination attempts were made on the lives of the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, and the Iraqi Minister of Culture and Information, Latif Jassim.
From February 1979, (when Khomeini came to power) until the outbreak of the armed conflict in September 1980, 941 violations against Iraq took place. Iraq notified the Secretary General of the United Nations, The Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement, and the Organization of the American States, protesting these provocations on more than 145 separate occasions.
Moreover, the Iraqi Embassy in Tehran approached the Iranian Foreign Ministry regularly while the Iranian Ambassador to Baghdad was frequently summoned to meetings with various Iraqi high officials. Iran’s resolve to interfere in the domestic affairs of Iraq continued to undermine relations between the two neighbors. Khomeini’s disruption of traffic and ultimately the closure of the Shatt al-Arab waterway in September 1980 was a very serious intimidation to Iraq, for this waterway is of major strategic concern for the assurance of Iraq’s access to the sea. Without it, Iraq would be almost landlocked. The Shatt-al-Arab’s significance to Iraq had become increasingly important as early as the 1960s when oil revenues became a valuable source for Iraq’s national budget. An accessible Shatt-al-Arab is also vital for Iraqi trade, and thus to the development of the country.
Iran’s behavior towards Iraq escalated to unprecedented levels of violence from September 4, 1980. Four border towns were shelled constantly by Iranian heavy artillery. The proximity of major Iraqi cities to the Iran-Iraq border made them, especially, vulnerable to any Iranian military initiative. Densely-populated towns and villages in the Zain-al-Qaws area were shelled. The number of deaths and property damage was devastating.
Repeated Iraqi requests that Iran withdraw immediately its military units from Iraqi territories, namely Zain Al-Qaws and Saif Saad (defined as Iraqi territories in all international border agreements binding both countries including the 1975 Accord), and to refrain from shelling Iraqi border towns and villages, went unanswered. Khomeini was unyielding and reaffirming his resolute position.
"How could we reconcile with Saddam Hussein?" he asked in the fall of 1980. "There is no reconciliation with these Iraqi Ba’athists because our aim is Islam and their aim runs counter to Islam." Like the United States, Iraq is a secular state with full freedom of religion and worship for all citizens guaranteed under the law, with a distinct separation of "church and state."
The events which took place before the armed conflict between the two parties, as discussed earlier, clearly indicate that Iran was the party who violated the clauses of the 1975 Algiers agreement, by continuing its occupation of territories that were to be returned to Iraq in accordance with that agreement, by disrupting river traffic and by aggressive interference in the internal affairs of Iraq.
The 1975 Accord states explicitly (article 4), that if any of the two contracting parties violates any article of the Accord, then the whole Accord is null and void.
Iran violated the Accord, not only through the hostile statements of its high officials, who denounced it as "an imperial treaty," but also by interference in Iraq’s domestic affairs. With the Algiers Accord practically and intentionally abrogated by Iran, with the onslaught of verbal and physical attacks on Iraq, and with Iraqi casualties mounting as a result of Iranian aggression, Iraq was left with little recourse than to protect its territorial integrity to secure the unity of its people and the stability of its government.
In an address to the Iraqi people on September 28, 1980, President Hussein examined the conflict with Iran: "We stressed to the whole world that Iraq has no designs on the Iranian territories and that we do not at all intend to launch war with Iran or expand the circle of struggle with it, outside of defending our rights and sovereignty … We would like to assure the Iranian people that we have no intention of encroaching upon their rights, laying claims on any of their territories, or humiliating them and the Iranian army … We hope that the Iranian regime will benefit from this lesson … and will honorably cooperate with the region’s countries in accordance with this honorable independent trend. It will then guarantee for Iran its legitimate interests, consolidate its security and stability, and keep it away from the policies of aggression and adventures, which have brought it only losses and catastrophes."