The Gulf at War, Part One Iran-Iraq War,1980-1988 Sources: Yergin

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The Gulf at War, Part One Iran-Iraq War,1980-1988

  • Sources: Yergin




  • Background of war

  • Effects on oil market

  • International reactions

  • US position and initiatives

  • Operation Earnest Will

  • Gulf Cooperation Council


  • Long-standing hostility between Iraq and Iran

  • A host of rivalries: ethnic and religious; political and economic; ideological and personal

  • Struggle for primacy in the Gulf

  • Arbitrary way in which nations were created and borders were drawn in the defunct Ottoman Empire


  • Shatt-al-Arab

  • Delta created by confluence of Tigris and Euphrates, with several rivers from Iran

  • Served as boundary for almost 200 km between Iran and Iraq

  • Crucial to Iran as an important access to Gulf (Abadan oil refinery built on delta)-but Iran’s coastline is over 2000km

  • Critical to Iraq as only access to Gulf (Iraq’s coastline only about 40 km)


  • Sovereignty over S-a-A thus had great significance

  • A considerable part of both countries oil infrastructure was concentrated around S-a-A

  • For a long time Iraqi insisted that boundary was eastern (Iranian) side of the river

  • 1975: Agreement between Shah and Iraq (Algiers Agreement, signed by Saddam Hussein on Iraqi side): boundary set in the mid point of the navigable channel

…background: Iran-Iraq relations

  • A quid pro quo for Algiers Agreement:

  • Shah agrees to cut aid to Kurds

    • About 20% total Iraqi population
    • Battling the Ba’thists for autonomy
    • Settled in oil-rich region
  • A powerful offensive against Kurds is launched by Baghdad six hours after Algiers agreement

  • 1978: at the Shah’s request, Ayatollah Komeini is expelled from Iraq, where he had been living in exile for 14 years

…background: Iran-Iraq relations

  • Expulsion occurred before Saddam Hussein’s full acquisition of power, but Komeini held him responsible

  • Komeini’s enemies: “First, the Shah, then the American Satan, then Saddam Hussein and his infidel Ba’th Party”

    • Saddam Hussein as “Dwarf Pharaoh”
  • Komeini as danger for S. Hussein’s regime:

    • about half of Iraq’s population estimated to be Shia
    • agitation among the Shias, fed from Iran, was growing

Effects of war on the oil market

  • Outbreak of war shook oil market

  • 2nd day of war Iraq began air assault against Abadan refinery (largest in the world) and other oil ports and facilities

  • Iranian counterattacks choked off Iraqi oil exports through Gulf

  • Iran also persuaded Syria to cut off Iraqi pipeline exports, leaving Iraq with limited pipeline through Turkey

  • Iranian oil exports reduced; Iraq’s almost ceased

…oil market

  • In the initial stage, Iran-Iraq war removed almost 4mbd (15% total OPEC output) from oil market

  • Spot prices jumped again up to $42

  • Fear was again driving the market:

  • was this the collapse of ME and its oil into chaos?

  • would Iraq be eliminated from the world oil balance?

…oil market, fears

  • would Iran once again disappear as a supplier?

  • Would the battle between Sunni and Shia and between Arab and Persian destabilize the entire Gulf?

  • would Iran prevail and carry its fundamentalist, anti-Western revolution deeper and deeper into the heart of the Middle East?

International Reaction

  • The international community responded with U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for a ceasefire and for all member states to refrain from actions contributing in any way to the conflict's continuation

  • USSR cut off arms exports to Iran and to Iraq, its ally under a 1972 treaty (arms deliveries resumed in 1982)

  • U.S. was officially neutral regarding the Iran-Iraq war, and claimed that it armed neither side

The Fighters

  • Iran depended on U.S.-origin weapons and sought them from Israel, Europe, Asia, and South America

  • Iraq started the war with a large Soviet-supplied arsenal, but needed additional weaponry as the conflict wore on

  • Initially, Iraq advanced far into Iranian territory, but was driven back within months

  • By mid-1982, Iraq was on the defensive against Iranian human-wave attacks

US support to Iraq

  • US decided that an Iranian victory would not serve its interests and began supporting Iraq:

  • Measures already underway to upgrade U.S.-Iraq relations were accelerated

  • High-level officials exchanged visits

  • Feb. 1982: DoS removed Iraq from its list of states supporting international terrorism. (It had been included several years earlier because of ties with several Palestinian nationalist groups, not Islamicists sharing the worldview of al-Qaeda)

…US support

  • Iraq received massive external financial support from the Gulf states, and assistance through loan programs from the U.S.

  • White House and DoS pressured the Ex-Imp Bank to provide Iraq with financing, to enhance its credit standing and enable it to obtain loans from other international financial institutions

  • US restored formal relations with Iraq in Nov. 1984, but began, several years earlier, to provide it with intelligence and military support (in secret and contrary to this country's official neutrality)

…US support

  • Support was in accordance with policy directives from President Ronald Reagan

  • These were prepared pursuant to his March 1982 National Security Study Memorandum (NSSM 4-82) asking for a review of US policy toward the Middle East in view of “recent regional diplomatic and world oil market developments”

…US support

  • One of these directives from Reagan (July 1983) reviews U.S. regional interests in the Middle East and South Asia, and US objectives, including:

  • peace between Israel and the Arabs

  • resolution of other regional conflicts, and economic and military improvements, "to strengthen regional stability"

  • Following promulgation of the directive, an interdepartmental review of the implications of shifting policy in favor of Iraq was conducted

Chemical Weapons (CW)

  • In summer 1983 Iran reported Iraqi use of chemical weapons

  • Diplomatically isolated, Iran received only a muted response

  • Iran intensified its accusations asked for a UN Security Council investigation

  • US had intelligence confirming Iran's accusations, and describing Iraq's "almost daily" use of CW

  • Intelligence indicated that Iraq used CW against Iranian forces, and, according to a Nov 1983 memo, against "Kurdish insurgents" as well


  • Feb. 1984, Iraq's military, expecting a major Iranian attack, issued a warning that "the invaders should know that for every harmful insect there is an insecticide capable of annihilating it whatever the number and Iraq possesses this annihilation insecticide”

  • US informed the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs that "we anticipate making a public condemnation of Iraqi use of chemical weapons in the near future"


  • The US public condemnation was issued

  • "While condemning Iraq's CW use . . . The United States finds the present Iranian regime's intransigent refusal to deviate from its avowed objective of eliminating the legitimate government of neighboring Iraq to be inconsistent with the accepted norms of behavior among nations and the moral and religious basis which it claims"

  • DoS briefed the press on decision to strengthen controls on the export of CW precursors to Iran and Iraq, in response to intelligence and media reports that precursors supplied to Iraq originated in Western countries


  • When asked whether the US conclusion that Iraq had used CW would have "any effect on US recent initiatives to expand commercial relationships with Iraq across a broad range, and also a willingness to open diplomatic relations," the department's spokesperson said "No. I'm not aware of any change in our position. We're interested in being involved in a closer dialogue with Iraq"

NSDD 114

  • Following further high-level policy review, Ronald Reagan issued National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 114, Nov. 1983

  • The directive reflects the administration's priorities

  • it calls for heightened regional military cooperation to defend oil facilities and measures to improve U.S. military capabilities in the Persian Gulf

  • it directs the Secs of State and Defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to take appropriate measures to respond to tensions in the area

…NSDD 114

  • “It is present US policy to undertake whatever measures may be necessary to keep the Strait of Hormuz open to international shipping. Accordingly, US military forces will attempt to deter and, if that fails, to defeat any hostile efforts to close the Strait to international shipping”

…NSDD 114

  • "Because of the real and psychological impact of a curtailment in the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf on the international economic system, we must assure our readiness to deal promptly with actions aimed at disrupting that traffic"

  • It does not mention chemical weapons

Donald Rumsfeld’s Trips to Iraq

  • Donald Rumsfeld had served in various positions in the Nixon and Ford administrations

  • At this time head of a multinational pharmaceutical company

  • Dispatched to the Middle East as a presidential envoy

  • His Dec 1983 tour of regional capitals included Baghdad, where he was to establish "direct contact between an envoy of President Reagan and President Saddam Hussein"

…Donald Rumsfeld

  • Rumsfeld and Saddam discussed regional issues of mutual interest:

  • shared enmity toward Iran and Syria

  • US efforts to find alternative routes to transport Iraq's oil

  • Iraq’s oil facilities in the Persian Gulf had been shut down by Iran, and Iran's ally, Syria, had cut off a pipeline that transported Iraqi oil through its territory

Military Assistance

  • Although official U.S. policy still barred the export of U.S. military equipment to Iraq, some was evidently provided on a "don't ask - don't tell" basis (dual use)

  • Spring 1984, US reconsidered policy for the sale of dual-use equipment to Iraq's nuclear program

  • Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA): after the war ended, Iraq was likely to "continue to develop its formidable conventional and chemical capability, and probably pursue nuclear weapons"

Restoring Diplomatic Relations

  • Relations restored Nov. 26, 1984

  • Deputy PM Tariq Aziz met with Sec of State George Shultz

  • Discussion turned to the Iran-Iraq war

  • Aziz said that his country was satisfied that "the US analysis of the war's threat to regional stability is 'in agreement in principle' with Iraq's," and expressed thanks for U.S. efforts to cut off international arms sales to Iran

Operation Earnest Will, 1987

  • The Tanker War

  • Iran gets the upper hand, attacks third-country tankers, mainly from Kuwait and S. Arabia, which were assisting Iraq

  • Kuwait asks protection from USA and from USSR

  • Reagan restates guarantee that US would safeguard the flow of oil, tells Kuwaitis that US will take the whole job

  • Re-flagging and escorting Kuwaiti tankers

…Earnest Will and ceasefire

  • Soon freedom of navigation in the Gulf is protected by ships from GB, F, I, B and NL; Japan assists economically, D sends ships to Mediterranean to free US for duty in the Gulf

  • But US takes the lead, and major confrontation US-Iran is possible

  • July 1988: Iranian Airbus with 290 pass. is mistaken for hostile aircraft and shot down

  • Shortly after Iran informs UN of its willingness to sign cease-fire

  • Komeini: “prendere questa decisione è stato più mortale che prendere veleno”

Gulf Cooperation Council

  • Created in 1981 in response to several threats to regional stability: Iranian revolution, Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Iran-Iraq war

  • Members: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates

  • Established in view of special relations, similar political systems, common objectives

  • Formed to confront security challenges collectively

… Gulf Cooperation Council

  • Based on conviction that any aggression against any one of them is an aggression against all of them

  • GCC developed plans for mutual defense and launched efforts to form a joint Command

  • Multilateral exercises in first years under codename of Peninsula Shield

  • Military assistance mainly funded by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait

…Gulf Cooperation Council

  • Plans to integrate naval and ground radar systems and to create combined air control and warning system based on Saudi AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System- Sistema di allarme e controllo aviotrasportato)

  • Peninsula Shield Force (PSF-2 brigades, 10,000 men) created 1986, based in Saudi Arabia under Saudi command

  • Mission not publicly defined

…Gulf Cooperation Council

  • Smaller members insisted on proviso that when Force enters one member’s territory the command structure reverts from SA to that of host country

  • Insistence indicated preoccupation of Saudi meddling into internal affairs and symbolic nature of PSF

GCC and NATO (source:

  • On 30 January, 2012 the NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and the Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Dr Adbullatif Al-Zayani met to discuss a range of issues including developments in the Middle East, the importance of cooperative security and of regular contacts between NATO and the Gulf Cooperation Council


  • Rasmussen praised the strong cooperation between NATO and GCC member states under the framework of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI)

  • He highlighted the  active and  positive role played by the GCC in the recent crisis in Libya

  • NATO and Partners, including GCC members, enforced the historic resolution of the United Nations Security Council on Libya


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