In 1847, a treaty was signed to create the Shatt Al-’Arab waterway as a boundary between Iran and Iraq. Both countries agreed to have navigation freedom in the waterway. At the time, Iran agreed to stop interfering in northern Iraq in exchange for control over Khorramshahr and Abadan. Over the next several decades, the dispute was not settled. Iraq and Iran continued to engage in border disputes and a new agreement was reached in 1975 to determine that the middle of the Shatt Al-’Arab waterway would be the boundary between the two countries. Shatt Al-’Arab waterway is the area where the Tigris River and the Euphrates Rivers come together. This waterway was Iraq only access to the waters of the Persian Gulf.
By the end of the 1970s, Iraq built new pipelines through Syria and Turkey. Iran had new facilities on Kharg Island in the Persian Gulf. Because of this, both countries reduced their dependence on the Shatt. Even after these efforts, both countries were still in artillery range of their opposing force.
Iran was Iraq’s principal opponent for regional dominance. Ayatollah Khomeini was working on becoming the Iranian leader, but had not cemented his power. Khomeini did not like the fact that Iraq’s Ba’thist government did not practice the strict Muslim faith that he demanded of Iran. In the 1970s, Saddam Hussein saw an opportunity to become the leader of the Arab world. Iran was vulnerable since they were still having a revolution in their country. The Iranian army was in chaos and radical Marxist were fighting religious fundamentalists in areas of the country. Iraq saw this, not only a threat, but also an opportunity. Saddam Hussein believed that Iran’s internal turmoil with the political rivalries, ethnic uprisings, and purges had weakened Iran’s armed forces. Hussein believed that the Iranians would not be able to fight off the attacks from Iraq and would be pressured into accepting his demands.
The Iran-Iraq War began on September 22, 1980 when Iraq took Iran by surprise when it invaded the Iranian province of Khuzestan. Iraq had captured the city of Khorramshahr within a month after the invasion. By 1982, Iran recaptured Khorramshahr. Although the exact cause of the war is hard to pinpoint, it happened when Saddam Hussein was president of Iraq. One of the earliest occurrences of the war was in June 1979 when Iranian villages were attacked by Iraqi aircraft. More than $400 billion dollars of damage to both cities and oil fields was caused from the war. There are three things that categorize the Iran-Iraq War. First, it was a war that lasted longer than any World War because Iraq couldn’t end the war and Iran did not want to. Second, both sides exported oil and made purchases of military imports. Iraq was supported by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia which gave them the ability to have access to advanced weapons and expertise that Iran didn’t have. Third, warfare that wasn’t available in the previous wars since 1945. This allowed ballistic-missile attacks and extensive use of chemical weapons on both sides, but mostly by Iraq. In the Persian Gulf, attacks on third-country oil tankers. Iraq used manned aircraft, with missiles, to keep tankers from lifting oil in Iran’s terminals. Iran used mines, gunboats, helicopters and shore-launched missiles to keep tankers from lifting oil at Iraq’s Arab backers.
Iran and Iraq have had border disputes while under British and Turkish rule. The major waterways connecting the Persian Gulf with the ports of Khorramshahr and Abadan have been a controversy dispute, as well as the port of Basra in Iraq.
During the war, the United States was in a difficult position and wasn’t sure how to react. Iraq was receiving weapons and financial support from France, Soviet Union, and the United States, while Iran was being supplied by China. No one wanted Iran to come out as the winner. Khomeini was thought of as a serious threat to the stability of the region. United States interests in oil supplies and Israeli security was also at risk.
The war came to an end on July 18, 1988, and ended when a ceased-fire went into effect on July 20, 1988, when Iran and Iraq accepted a peace treaty drawn up by the United Nations. The United States and it western allies took a strong stand against the war to protect the Persian Gulf region and protect the west’s oil supply. Iran accepted Security Council Resolution 598 from the UN calling for a cease-fire. By the end of the month, the war between Iran and Iraq was over. Despite the cost of the war and human toll, the Iran-Iraq war taught very few lessons. Neither side could claim victory and the border disputes were not resolved. These countries suffered human casualties and financial resources.