According to Hiro (2001), "During the Iran-Iraq War it openly backed Baghdad, arguing that its defeat would lead to the spread of Islamic fundamentalism in the region which would hurt Western interests. It was the French corporations that were building two nuclear reactors near Baghdad which were bombed by Israel in June 1981" (75). Approximately 1,000 French companies were active in Iraq, and 6-7,000 French specialists were based there by 1983. As much as 40% of total French military exports were destined for Iraq. Military cooperation between the two states had developed to the extent that the French government decided to lease to Baghdad five Super-Etendard warplanes originally meant for use by the French air force. This raised the more immediate lucrative prospect of selling scores of expensive Exocet missiles to Iraq to be used by Super-Etendards to hit Iranian oil tankers in the Gulf. These missiles proved devastatingly effective. France also sold Iraq Mirage supersonic fighter aircraft. 10 Little wonder that from 1970 to 1989 France was the second largest supplier of military hardware (after the Soviet Union) to Baghdad, with contracts worth $6 billion. With civilian and military contracts worth FF 130-150 billion (i.e., $22-25 billion) between 1973 and 1989, France became Iraq's third largest trading partner. Now Baghdad owed Paris $4.5 billion in unpaid bills. 11 Elf Aquitaine and Total Societe Anonyme (SA), the leading French oil companies, interested in developing richly-endowed Majnoon and Nahr Omar oilfields in southern Iraq, had signed contracts which would become operative once the UN sanctions ended (Hiro 2001:75).
Likewise, the United States was complicit in fueling the war between Iran and Iraq during this period as well. The U.S. was still smarting from the Iranian hostage crisis that persisted from 1979 to 1981 when the war broke out, and despite misgivings about Saddam Hussein's totalitarian regime, it was the U.S. position that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" and American policymakers viewed the largely secular nature of the Iraqi brand of Islam as being superior for their interests than the fundamentalist brand of Islam that was becoming rampant in Iran (Dunn 1996). The U.S. also seized the opportunity represented by the Iran-Iraq war to market arms and materiel to the Gulf War states and to install forward bases in the region. In this regard, Dunn reports that, "During the Iran-Iraq War, the United States further strengthened its Saudi presence by operating U.S. AWACS early-warning aircraft in the kingdom, in cooperation with the AWACS sold to the Saudis" (32).
While the economic and political forces were at work keeping the war between Iran and Iraq alive and well, Islam was being used by the Iranians for the most part to help prosecute and manage the war on the domestic front. For instance, Weiner (2004) reports that many of the more restrictive Islamic laws and regulations were relaxed during the war to provide the country with replacements for its rapidly dwindling manpower supplies. In this regard, Weiner notes that it was forbidden for Iranians to publicly grieve publicly for relatives killed by Iraqi bombs during the Iran-Iraq war, and Islamic mullahs reinstated a practice that had been long banned in the Islamic world that allowed so-called "temporary marriages" so that Iranian men "could have four official wives and as many temporary wives as they wished" (Weiner 49). In fact, some analysts suggest that Islamic traditions were also responsible for prolonging the war in gruesome ways. On the one hand, Natziger and Walton (2003) note, "Iraqi tactics on the battlefield placed heavy reliance on minefields, heavy artillery barrages, and poison gas. The Iraqi efforts at strategic operations, that is, air strikes and Scud missiles launched against Iranian cities, were ineffectual" (192). On the other hand, these authors point out that, "The Iranians proved themselves even less capable of modern warfare than the Iraqis. They used brute force and willingly sacrificed thousands of lives in uncoordinated, futile, and unsophisticated frontal assaults that charged directly into the Iraqi killing zones. Stories have emerged of children roped together and sent forward to clear minefields" (Natziger and Walton 192). From a Western perspective, the sacrifice of children in such a fashion is unfathomable,...
In fact, as the war progressed, the reliance on the Iran army was lessened and the use of such Islamic-inspired sorties increased for two fundamental reasons:
1. The Iranian army was the product of the deposed Shah of Iran and the Iran leadership did not trust it and many senior officers who possessed the requisite knowledge to prosecute a war had been purged; and,
2. Much of the Iranian military armaments had been originally supplied by the United States; however, following the taking of American hostages from the U.S. Embassy and the breakdown in relationships between the U.S. And Iran, the supply of munitions dried up and spare parts and American advisors who could train the Iranians in their use were no longer available. As Natziger and Walton point out, "It is impossible to prosecute a modern war without spare parts and munitions" (192).
Although the Islamic tradition of jihad was used by both Iran and Iraq to justify and maintain its participation in the war, the foregoing factors tend to support the assertion by Natziger and Walton that it was used by Iran far more than Iraq. According to these analysts, "Iraq -- a dreadful secular dictatorship -- did declare a jihad but did not carry it to an extreme. In contrast, Iran not only declared a jihad but made extensive use of volunteer martyrs who were inspired by their Shia Islamic faith to join the war against Iraq" (193). Just as the frightened children who were allegedly roped together and sent to clear minefields were assured of their martyrdom, it was in this fashion that the Islamic leadership in Iran convinced Iranian citizens of their duty to defend their homeland against the invading Iraqis. For instance, Natziger and Walton advise that, "The Iranians Shias viewed death in this war as martyrdom in the path of God that granted immediate entry into paradise. This was supported by the following Koranic verse: 'And call not those who are slain in the way of Allah 'dead.' Nay, they are living, only ye perceive not. And surely We shall try you' (Surah II, 154) (quoted in Natziger and Walton at 193). The Iranians even created the Martyrs' Foundation during the war to provide support for the families of those killed in action, providing them with monthly stipends and preferential treatment in the allocation of housing and scarce consumer goods (Natziger and Walton 2003).
In many ways, the Iran-Iraq war that lasted from 1980 to 1988 resembles a massive chessboard, with the pieces on both sides being manipulated by foreign interests that were less interested in the enormous human toll being exacted by the conflict than they were in the profits to be made by its continuation. The research showed that France, Turkey, the United States and others had a vital interest in the continuation of the war for both political and economic reasons. The trillion dollar-plus and one million-plus costs that resulted from the Iran-Iraq war did not make the Middle East a safer place by any measure, but the Iranians would likely suggest that it did provide them with an opportunity to send many of their citizens, including children, directly to heaven. In the final analysis, it is from this religious perspective that Iran's prosecution of the war must be understood, but it is more likely that Iraq's motivation for starting the conflict in the first place was more political and economic in nature as well.
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