«The Influence of the Outcome of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) on the Balance of Power in the Middle East» - Great Essay Sample

«The Influence of the Outcome of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) on the Balance of Power in the Middle East»


The period of the 1970-1990s is characterized by a significant transformation of the regional system of international relations, which has had a decisive influence on the security of the Persian Gulf. The Iran-Iraq conflict emerged as the result of the long-lasting disputes on border issues as well as political, national, and religious differences. One of its main causes was the struggle for hegemony in the Persian Gulf (Donovan, 2011). This conflict has many names. Thus, it is most famously known as the Iran-Iraq War. The Persians called this war Sacred Defense since they (Shiites) defended themselves from the attacks by Sunni Arabs. Moreover, the epithet ‘imposed’ is used in various sources when talking about the Iran-Iraq war. In Iraq, there is a tradition to call this conflict Saddam Cadiz. Saddam Hussein was the leader of the state and he directly led all operations. Kadisia was a small town, next to which a decisive battle took place during the Arab conquest of Persia in the 7th century when the locals were converted to Islam (Takeyh & Simon, 2016). Thus, the Iraqis compared the war of the 20th century to the legendary campaign oft the East against the Gentiles (Sasley, 2014). This was one of the bloodiest, with more than a million dead, and prolonged, from 1980 to 1988, armed conflicts of the previous century. Therefore, the war between Iran and Iraq is closely linked to the economic, political, and social problems of these countries as well as the balance of power in the Middle East in general.

The Causes of the Iran-Iraq War

The Iran-Iraq conflict began on September 22, 1980 and lasted for almost eight years. The cross-border claims of the two neighboring countries, for example, Shatt el-Arab and so on, were on the surface of it, while its reasons were more profound. Particularly, these were the historically formed aspirations of Iran, on the one hand, and the Arab countries, including Iraq, on the other hand, to have their spheres of influence in the Persian Gulf region. The statement in Daily Telegraph of September 25, 1980 was quite actual in this particular case (Donovan, 2011). In the comments about the start of Iraq's war with Iran, it was emphasized that Saddam Hussein had intended to humiliate the Khomeini regime and to eliminate finally the threat of Iran's subversive activity among Iraqi Shiites (Shehata, 2012). Saddam Hussein was also guided by the desire to make Iraq a dominant country in the Persian Gulf region. Thus, he wanted his country to take the place, previously occupied by Iran with Shah.

When analyzing the events of the beginning of the Iran-Iraq conflict, one could see that the military actions were caused by the mutual propaganda of Sunni and Shiite ideas that had unfolded in Iraq and Iran. On the one hand, the goal was to overthrow the ‘unjust’ (Sunni) regimes in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab countries. On the other hand, Iraq aspired to attack Iran to weaken the ideological expansion of the Shiite clergy. Possibly, the reason was similar to the one, mentioned in October 1980 in the Lebanese newspaper Ash-Shaab (Sasley, 2014). Thus, the claim was the war, which had begun between Iraq and Iran, was quite beneficial for some Washington circles that were interested in weakening both countries and diverting Iraq's attention from the confrontation with Israel (Sasley, 2014). As for Iran, it was obvious that for its religious leadership, the Iraqi invasion of Iran, according to Khomeini, was rather relevant; moreover, some groups called it “God's grace” (Shehata, 2012). Thus, the war with Iraq rallied a heterogeneous political grouping of the party to repel Iraqi aggression.

The Balance of Power in the Middle East

The Role of the United States

Over the course of its development, the conflict between Iran and Iraq had lost its local significance, eventually drawing the powerful forces of global politics into it. Thus, the impact of the USA should be especially mentioned. In the summer of 1987, a huge armada of the US Navy was concentrated in the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean as the USA tried to control and direct events in the direction it wanted (Donovan, 2011). The immediate benefits of the Iran-Iraq War were also received by Israel, the United States’ ally, that used this conflict to inflict tension and distract the world community from its expansionist policy in the region (Lewis, 2010). The split among the Arab countries had made a huge influence on the behavior of Israel.

During the Presidency of Richard Nixon, the Revolution of 1978-1979 in Iran caused a devastating blow to the Third World strategy, since this country was considered its model. The collapse of Shah's Iran, one of the US-backed power centers in the Middle East, posed a challenge to Washington, forcing it to revise its international strategies (Lee, 2014). The result of such a reassessment was as follows. Instead of relying on Iran's regional centers of power and rejecting a direct armed intervention in peripheral zones, the so-called Nixon Doctrine, the United States relied on a direct military presence in explosive regions, in particular the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, and this was the Doctrine of Carter. The USA began the increase of its military presence in the Middle East and in the Persian Gulf following its military-political and economic goals (Ehteshami, 2009). The Middle East was the one of the main oil producing region of the world, as the stability of Europe, Japan, and the United States depended on it. Consequently, the Persian Gulf entered the sphere of the US vital interests.

Washington's military involvement as a method of solving its non-political problems, which was manifested in connection with the anti-Shah's revolution in Iran, received a theoretical justification in the concept of three zones. This concept was introduced at the end of 1980 by Zbigniew Brzezinski, the advisor of President Carter. According to this concept, the United States had vital interests in the three areas, needed to “survive for the United States” (Lee, 2014). The third zone was the Middle East, where it was necessary to increase the US military presence. Firstly, the impact of the Iran-Iraq War on the Middle Eastern strategy of the United States was manifested in the fact that the latter began to focus more heavily on military concepts that envisaged its direct intervention in the event of crisis situations (Ehteshami, 2009). The US military was rebuilt so that it was ready to deploy operations in the remote areas of the world. Thus, to create the basis for the permanent military presence in the Persian Gulf, the United States undertook a number of measures that would allow it to extend and consolidate the US military presence in the area for many years (Woods, Murray, Nathan, Sabara, & Venegas, 2011). In particular, these actions included the creation of new military bases and the involvement of new partners in the sphere of the US influence. An agreement was reached by the governments of Israel, Somalia, Oman, Kenya, and other countries regarding the deployment of new American bases on their territories (Xavier, 2012). Attention was drawn to the new American approach to the problem of bases that presupposed turning them into arsenals only that could be used quickly in crisis situations. Therefore, the expensive permanent presence of significant military contingents there was not required.

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The Iran-Iraq War caused profound changes in the balance of political forces in the Middle East. Thus, it led to the split in the Arab world, and it was used by Israel for its next aggression against the Arab countries. This time, Israel attacked Lebanon, fighting with the Palestinian resistance movement, the Lebanese national patriotic forces, and the Syrian military units in Lebanon, according to the decision of the League of Arab States (Woods et al., 2011). The Iran-Iraq War fostered the consolidation of conservative Arab regimes, thus turning Iraq and other Arab countries away from the struggle against Israel (Razoux, 2015). Obviously, it undermined the unity of the national front of sustainability and counteraction and other progressive forces of the Middle East (Arjomand, 2008). The United States and its NATO allies, together with the conservative regimes in the region, used this conflict to undermine the progressive development trends in Iraq. Therefore, the goal was to weaken both warring parties in order to increase their military presence in the region and infiltrate the tension in this explosive part of ​​the world.

At the same time, the Iran-Iraq War accelerated the movement of centripetal trends in the Persian Gulf, which was reflected in the establishment of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf. Political consolidation of the Arab countries of the region objectively gained anti-American orientation at that time. Such a shift was caused by the US actions that had provoked even American allies in the Arab world, including the military-strategic alliance with Israel, Israel's invasion of Lebanon, the bombing of Libya, and, finally, Irangate (Lewis, 2010). The military-political control over the Gulf zone, established by the United States, guaranteed the further investment of petrodollars from the countries of the region to American economy (Arjomand, 2008). Thus, these actions were aimed at providing the increase in the dependence of these countries on the import of American weapons as well as their components and spare parts as one of the guarantees of uninterrupted oil flow from the Persian Gulf (Gonzalez, 2009). In addition, the permanent establishment of the US military presence in the Gulf created conditions for the increased direct US intervention, in particular, for the construction of military objects in the Gulf countries, followed by the use of the US armed forces.

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The Role of the USSR

NATO countries, like the countries of the Eastern bloc, supported Saddam Hussein, perceiving him as a lesser evil and as a deterrent of the Islamic revolution. The main Western weapon supplier was France. Nevertheless, the main source of Iraqi armaments was the Soviet Union that relied on Saddam as an ally in the struggle and therefore, sacrificed by Iraq, one of the strongest and most popular third world societies (Woods et al., 2011). This policy largely shaped the regime in Baghdad that had made the only main conclusion from the war - it could use the Soviet’s assistance to intimidate the whole world and Europe particularly. After all, any atrocities against their own citizens and even against the Iraqi Kurds, Halabja chemical attack did not cause some serious indignation in the world; this news was actually ignored, both in the West and in the East (Xavier, 2012). This war also showed the actual loss of influence of the USSR in the region because the Soviets had adhered to non-interference. They did threaten with their involvement into the conflict or with the possibility of using nuclear weapons, as was the case during the containment of the Six-Day War.

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The Role of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia took the lead place in the deployment of political forces in the Persian Gulf and in the whole Middle East. After a significant weakening of Iran and Iraq during the war, this country began to play a leading role in the region since it relied on its financial power. By creating all kinds of development funds and banks, in which Saudis owned the capital, Saudi Arabia influenced the activities of such international organizations as OIC, Islamic Bank, and others (Razoux, 2015). In the 1980s, these organizations in Saudi Arabia found a rival in the face of the IRI that, unlike Shah's Iran, demanded the expansion of the Shiite representation there. The Shiites denied the right of the Saudis to be the guardians of the holy places of Islam, and they even began to demand the proclamation of Mecca and Medina as open cities.

Due to its territory, population, and material and financial resources, Iran was much stronger than Iraq. Nevertheless, the accumulated petrodollars before the war, the possibility of obtaining weapons from a number of countries, and the subsidies over $100 billion, which had been provided to Iraq by Saudi Arabia and some other Arab countries, helped Baghdad survive in this prolonged and debilitating war (Takeyh & Simon, 2016). As for Iran, its vitality and the ability to lead a long war were explained by a complex of diverse causes (Pirseyedi, 2012). Among them was primarily Iran’s financial strength, a significant arsenal of arms obtained from the United States and other Western countries during the Shah's regime, and its ability to continue to export oil even during hostilities while preventing Iraq from using the narrow mouth of the Strait of Hormuz to export its oil (Gonzalez, 2009). Being a participant of an unpromising war, Iraq began to strengthen its ties with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and some other Arab countries that supported it (Woods et al., 2011). These countries provided Iraq with widespread assistance, especially financial and economic one (Johnson, 2010). The Arab monarchy regimes of the region, using the military and financial and economic complications of this country, persistently but unsuccessfully tried to transform the Iraqi regime and to involve it as closely as possible in coordinating actions in regional and international affairs.

The Outcomes of the War

The negative effects of the Iran-Iraq conflict on the international scene, particularly in the movement of non-alignment in the Arab world, were great. Thus, Syria and Libya spoke on Iran's accession, while Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt supported the Iraqi side. On the latter’s side were also Morocco, Sudan, Yemen, Tunisia, Bahrain, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, and Oman (Johnson, 2010). The differences between the Arab countries on the Iran-Iraq conflict led to a split. Therefore, this war had a negative impact on the situation in the Middle East. By its scale, duration, and indirect assignment of other states, it occupied a special place among the post-war regional conflicts (Rajaee, 1993). The escalation of hostilities, the ‘tanker war’ in the Gulf, and a significant increase in foreign military presence there led to a dangerous internationalization of the conflict.

Numerous attempts to resolve the conflict were performed by the UN, the Non-Aligned Movement, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. In August 1988, an armistice was concluded between the countries, and after the withdrawal of troops, the frontline actually returned to the previous provisions (Rajaee, 1993). Two years after the Iraqi aggression against Kuwait, when Baghdad faced a mighty hostile coalition, headed of the United States, Hussein agreed to settle relations with Iran to avoid increasing the number of its opponents (Pirseyedi, 2012). Baghdad recognized the right of Tehran to all waters of the Shatt al-Arab, the border divided both countries along the Iraqi coast of the river, and Iraqi troops left all disputed border areas.

Since 1998, a new stage in the improvement of relations between the two states has begun. Tehran agreed to release more than 5,000 Iraqi prisoners (Donovan, 2011). The number of exchanged prisoners even increased to 2,000. The Veterans of the Iraqi War applauded Saddam who was considered a savior of the nation. The borders of the countries returned to the status quo. Despite the terror, which he had inflicted on his own people, Hussein supported both NATO and the Warsaw Bloc because world leaders did not want to spread the Islamic revolution. In general, one should admit that the United States had received significant dividends under the conditions of the Iran-Iraq War. Thus, the USA was able to strengthen its political and military-strategic positions in the region, attain new privileges in Oman, Somalia, and Kenya as well as strengthen its military presence in the Gulf (Woods et al., 2011). The success of the United States was also attributed to the fact that the center of the conflict situation in the Middle East shifted from the Arab-Israeli confrontation in the Persian Gulf and diverted the world's attention from the Middle East crisis.

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Considering the above analysis, one should assume that the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988 had ended with the pre-war status quo, while none of the problems in the relationship between Iran and Iraq had been resolved. Furthermore, in this war, neither Iraq nor Iran had managed to establish itself as a leader of the Arab world. The advantageous moment in the war for Iran was that if before the war, the country was in international isolation, after the aggression of Iraq, the situation changed. Syria and Libya criticized Saddam Hussein and acted on the side of Iran, considering that during the war, Iraqi forces, which would be useful to fight against Israel, diminished. In other words, there was a new division in the Arab world, and Iran was able to become a powerful country whose interests should be considered both by the Arab counties and by the global community. In regards to foreign policy, the credibility of Iran among the Arab countries increased, while the USSR lost its influence in this region, while the US influence in the Persian region Gulf, which became the sphere of the US interests, increased.



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