Iran-Iraq War - Arguments That Iran Was The Aggressor

Arguments That Iran Was The Aggressor

Political scientists John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt dispute the conventional assessment that Iraq was the aggressor in the war. In an essay titled "Can Saddam Be Contained?", they argue that Iran took the first military action through its repeated cross-border attacks on Iraq. They went on to say that Iraq's response "was essentially defensive", noting:

Given their history of animosity, it is not surprising that Saddam welcomed the Shah's ouster in 1979. Indeed, Iraq went to considerable lengths to foster good relations with Iran's revolutionary leadership. Saddam did not try to exploit the turmoil in Iran to gain strategic advantage over his neighbor and made no attempt to reverse his earlier concessions, even though Iran did not fully comply with the terms of the 1975 agreement. The Ayatollah Khomeini, on the other hand, was determined to extend his revolution across the Islamic world, starting with Iraq. By late 1979, Tehran was pushing hard to get the Kurdish and Shi’ite populations in Iraq to revolt and topple Saddam, and Iranian operatives were actively trying to assassinate senior Iraqi officials. Border clashes became increasingly frequent by April 1980, largely at Iran's instigation. Facing a grave threat to his regime but aware that Iran's military readiness had been temporarily disrupted by the revolution, Saddam launched a limited war against his bitter foe on 22 September 1980.

Walt and Mearsheimer also quote military analyst Efraim Karsh as saying, "The war began because the weaker state, Iraq, attempted to resist the hegemonic aspirations of its stronger neighbour, Iran, to reshape the regional status quo according to its own image." Foreign policy analyst Robin Wright notes that Iran responded to Hussein's unilateral concessions and withdrawal in 1982 by invading Iraq and declaring, "There are no conditions. The only condition is that the regime in Baghdad must fall and must be replaced by an Islamic Republic." Conservative commentator Jude Wanniski, in a piece pointing out that Iran launched the first cross-border attacks (although Iraq was the first to declare war and invade), claimed:

As for who started the war, you need only ask yourself why Saddam would take on a country three times the size of Iraq, 60 million to 20 million, without ever showing the slightest intent of carrying the fight to Tehran. When the escalating skirmishing grew into open war, the Iraqi army moved dozens of kilometres into Iran and stopped, seemingly ready to come to terms.

The New York Times reported, "Some experts say the new Iranian leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, agitated for a religious war to incite Iraq's large Shi'ite population to rebellion." MAJ Dexter Teo Kian Hwee, in the Journal of the Singapore Armed Forces, pointed out that "most countries" agreed at the time to "label Iran as the aggressor" and that no one accused Iraq of responsibility for the war until after it invaded Kuwait. He also wrote:

Iraq had declared truces and ceasefires a few times, and on occasions unilaterally, hoping to end the war early...Finally, in early 1988, Iraq sought to end the war through an escalation of the war effort. To achieve this, the Iraqis used chemical weapons on Halabja, recaptured the Fao peninsula and drove the Iranian forces out of Majnoon islands. Suddenly, the Iraqis seemed "alive and rejuvenated" to continue the war effort, while the Iranians seemed to have lost their initial zest. Yet, when Iran accepted UN Resolution 598 in July 1988, Iraq readily agreed to the ceasefire and abided to the resolution accordingly.

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