The Iran-Iraq War and the Big Lies
Anniversary of 598 Resolution’s acceptance by Iran and ending 8 years of Iran-Iraq war
Bahman Aghai Diba
Twenty four years after the end of a bloody, protracted and destructive war between Iraq and Iran (1980–1988), the two sides are still keeping the realities of that conflict a secret. On the Iraqi side, Saddam, the aggressor, is gone and the new Iraqi government is eager to bury his legacy with him. On the Iranian side, the men responsible for the prolongation of the war are still in power and continuing to lie about it.
The anniversary of the acceptance of UN Security Council Resolution 598, which brought a formal end to hostilities in 1988, has created an opportunity in Iranian society for discussion about the war, the peace, and similarities in Iran’s situation then and now.
Influential politicians like Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a close associate of Ayatollah Khomeini at the time, and Mohsen Rezaie, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) during the war, are busily distorting the facts about Iran’s situation, what led to Iran’s acceptance of Resolution 598 (after prolonged obstinacy), and the role of leaders like themselves and that of Khomeini in accepting the ceasefire that marked the end of the fighting.
The reality is that Iran had not intended to accept Resolution 598, nor was there genuine interest in resolving the issues that divided the two sides. The Security Council had adopted 598 a year earlier, in 1987. At that juncture, Iranian forces had been in Iraqi territory for several years, threatening Iraq’s biggest port city, Basra. Deceived by the fleeting superiority of their tactical position, Iranian war leaders dismissed 598 back then, instead feeding the Iranian people and Khomeini a diet of misinformation. They promised that, with a little more time and patience on the part of the nation, Iranian forces would overrun Iraq shortly. Now those very same leaders are claiming that they were early advocates for peace. No one is acknowledging an inescapable fact: under no condition would regional and global realities have given the Iranian forces a chance to take even one step further.
What changed Iran’s position was not a set of brilliant proposals by self-proclaimed Iranian military and political strategists (who were, in fact, a group of naïve ideologues unschooled in political geography, international relations and power politics). Nor was it skill in conducting negotiations. There was one, and only one, reason for acceptance of the peace: the regime of the Islamic Republic was in danger of collapse in the face of decisive defeats on the battlefield and poor morale within military ranks and among the populace.
Some two or three months before Iran’s acceptance of Resolution 598, Iraq used chemical weapons against Iranian forces with devastating success. The Iranians, having by then lost their entire air force and most of their navy, were relying solely on “human wave” tactics. Playing on the religious zeal and nationalistic fervor of the young, revolutionary leaders, especially Khomeini, were sending hundreds of thousands of Iranians to the war front. In the years prior to the chemical supremacy of the Iraqi forces, Iran had gained a few victories with its use of human wave tactics. Thousands attacked and many were killed, especially as they ran through minefields, but still others went through, much to the consternation and surprise of their adversary. So many Iranians were killed in this way that twenty years after the end of the war, Iraq is still returning the remains of hundreds of Iran’s war dead in caskets.
For most of the war, Iran held almost 40,000 Iraqis as POWs, while the Iraqi side had something close to 5,000. By the time Iran came around to acceptance of 598, the number of Iranian POWs in Iraqi custody had reached parity.
Furthermore, towards the end, the Iraqis had forced the Iranians out of their land. Despite claims by the likes of Rezaie, Saddam’s forces were well prepared to cross the border and capture large chunks of Iranian territory again, and they would have met with little resistance. Iranian air cover was reduced almost to zero, and ground forces facing the massive use of chemical weapons were either killed or severely maimed or else threw away their guns and fled the war fronts. Twenty years later victims are dying in Iran each day from injuries they received in those chemical attacks.
The armed opposition group MKO, having been driven out of Iran in 1981 into Saddam’s welcoming embrace, employed a foolhardy strategy in the waning days of the war. Untrained and lightly armed fighters from different countries filled their ranks, and they staged an attack riding from Iraq into Iran in ordinary passenger cars. Without direct reinforcement by the Iraqi army, they were sitting ducks and no match for any regular army. Thus, they were decimated before making much headway, and Khomeini ordered a mass slaughter of MKO prisoners in the summer of 1988. Over a few days, between three and eight thousand went to their deaths.
What ultimately drove the Iranians to accept 598 was fear that the regime would fall. As far as the Iraqis were concerned, from their new position of strength, they had no wish either to settle for peace or to abide by their acceptance of 598, which had come a year earlier, almost immediately after its adoption by the Security Council. Saddam argued that facts on the ground had now changed—the Iranians having been pushed out of Iraqi territory—and he had no interest in accepting the peace.
What stopped the Iraqis was pressure from the West, especially the U.S., whose policy was to end the war without a clear winner. By then, the U.S. was on fairly good terms with Saddam, and he went along and accepted Resolution 598. Two years later, dissatisfied with what the Western states had promised him for this move, he attacked Kuwait.
Some day, one hopes, Iranian leaders responsible for the fruitless prolongation of the war will stand trial and have to answer for their role. That day may come with or without the current regime still in place. For the present, the government of Iran is too heavily staffed by these former and current IRGC cadres, and many are gaining strength. Comfortable in their perches, they continue to feed the current generation of Iranians, many of whom have little recollection of the war, with false information.
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