Iran-Iraq War

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Border war between Iran and Iraq, 22 September 1980-20 August 1988, also known as the First Gulf War (both countries are on the coast of the Arabian or Persian Gulf), and called the Gulf War before 1991, when that name came to be used for the Iraq-Kuwait conflict.

The conflict was occasioned by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's desire for full control of the Shatt al-Arab waterway at the head of the Gulf, an important channel for the oil exports of both countries. Iraq and other Arab countries also feared the possible spread of Iran's brand of Islamic militancy following the February 1979 revolution against the Shah.

Iraq enjoyed substantial diplomatic support and military supplies from the Soviet Union, and the financial backing of other Arab states (notably oil-rich Kuwait and Saudi Arabia), while U.S. arms supplies aided Iran for a time, sparking the 1986-1987 Iran-Contra Affair in Washington, despite antagonism between the U.S. and Iran's Islamic republican government.

The war was characterized by extreme brutality, including the use of chemical weapons by Iraq. Because of Iran's poor relations with the international community, very little pressure was brought upon Iraq by the world community to curb such abuses or to condemn her earlier initiation of hostilities.

In June 1982 a successful Iranian counter-offensive recovered the areas lost to Iraq in the war's early stages: Iraq offered a cessation of hostilities as outright Iranian victory appeared a possibility, but Iran's insistence from July on pursuing the destruction of the Iraqi regime prolonged the conflict for another six years.

Continued hostilities despite the intervention of western naval forces to protect the sealanes of the Gulf led to the death of 37 seamen in an Iraq missile attack (17 May 1987) on the U.S. frigate Stark and the shooting down by the U.S. cruiser Vincennes (3 July 1988) of an Iranian airliner (apparently mistaken for an approaching military aircraft) with the loss of all 290 passengers and crew.

The war was disastrous for both countries, stalling economic development and disrupting oil exports, and costing an estimated million lives. Iraq was left with serious debts to her former Arab backers, contributing to Saddam Hussein's subsequent seizure of Kuwait (2 August 1990).

The end of the war left the borders unchanged. As war with the United States and other western powers loomed in the wake of the Kuwait annexation, Saddam Hussein recognised Iranian rights over the eastern half of the Shatt al-Arab, a reversion to the status quo which he had repudiated a decade earlier.