On the 22nd September 1980, the longest conventional war of the 20th Century began when Iraq launched an invasion of Iran. The Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, dubbed it the ‘Whirlwind War’ in which he expected Iran to be defeated relatively swiftly. However the war persisted for nearly 8 long and bloody years, and an estimated half a million soldiers and the same number of civilians were killed.
Having become President of Iraq in 1979, Saddam Hussein was keen to consolidate the power of his minority Sunni Muslim Ba’ath government. However, at almost exactly the same time, Ayatollah Khomeini came to power through the Iranian Revolution, installing a Shi’ite Muslim theocracy in Iraq’s neighbor and calling for the overthrow of Saddam’s regime. Unsurprisingly, this was met with hostility in Iraq, especially after Shia militants assassinated 20 party officials in April 1980.
Iraq also wanted to push Iran back from the Shatt Al-Arab waterway in order to secure its own oil exports. If the army was successful, they could even increase their oil reserves by capturing some of Iran’s oil fields. Iran was poorly prepared for war as its army had recently been purged of officers and soldiers loyal to the former Shah. Furthermore, the country’s economy was in tatters as a result of western countries boycotting trade due to the ongoing hostage crisis at the American Embassy.
Despite Saddam’s expectations of a quick and easy victory, Iran mobilised its revolutionary population who voluntarily streamed to the front lines and pushed the Iraqis back to their own border. The war raged for an unprecedented eight years.