The Iran-Iraq War is one of the deadliest military conflicts in the Middle East. The eight-year-long conflict, which saw the use of chemical weapons, killed thousands of people and divided the region on sectarian lines.
A territorial dispute
On September 22, 1980, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein sent troops into neighboring Iran, starting an eight-year-long deadly war that killed thousands of people. The conflict started with a territorial dispute between the two Shiite majority countries.
The Algiers accord
Five years earlier, in March 1975, Hussein, then Iraq’s vice president, and the Shah of Iran signed a deal in Algiers to settle the border dispute. Baghdad, however, accused Tehran of plotting attacks and called for the evacuation of three strategic islands in the Strait of Hormuz, claimed by both Iran and the UAE.
A key water source
On September 17, 1980, Baghdad declared the Algiers accord null and void and demanded control of all of the Shatt al-Arab — a 200-kilometer-long (125 mile) river formed by the meeting of the Tigris and the Euphrates, which flows into the Gulf.
Bombing of ports and cities
Hussein’s forces bombed Iranian airports, including the one in Tehran, as well as military facilities and Iran’s oil refineries. Iraqi forces met little resistance in the first week and seized the towns of Qasr-e Shirin and Mehran, as well as Iran’s southwestern port of Khorramshahr, where the Shatt al-Arab meets the sea.
Many Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, backed Baghdad in the war against Iran, fearing that the Islamic Revolution spearheaded by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini could influence the Shiite population in the Middle East. Western countries, too, supported Baghdad and sold weapons to Hussein’s regime.
Iran pushes back
Iran’s counterattack took Iraq by surprise as Tehran managed to take back the control of the Khorramshahr port. Baghdad announced a ceasefire and pulled back troops, but Tehran rejected it and continued to bomb Iraqi cities. From April 1984, the two sides engaged in a “war of the cities,” in which some 30 cities on both sides were battered by missile attacks.
On July 18, 1988, Khomeini accepted a UN Security Council resolution to end the war. While the exact number of those killed in the war is not known, at least 650,000 people died during the conflict. A ceasefire was declared on August 20, 1988.
A new chapter
The toppling of Hussein’s regime by the US in 2003 ushered in a new era in the Middle East. Relations between Iraq and Iran have improved since then and the two countries increasingly cooperate economically, culturally and socially.