Members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards during maneuvers depicting a military operation during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, near Tehran, Sep. 25, 2011. These maneuvers are part of various ceremonies marking the 31st anniversary of the war's onset.
"Attacking Iran: Lessons from the Iran-Iraq War — Part 1"
Op-Ed, Fair Observer
July 28, 2012
Author: Annie Tracy Samuel, Research Fellow, International Security Program
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security
A version of this analysis was previously published by the International Security Program as a policy brief: http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/publication/21698/
Based on an examination of Iran's reactions to Iraq's 1980 invasion, Annie Tracy Samuel calls into question the contention that an attack by the US and/or Israel will weaken the Islamic Republic. This is the first part in a series of two articles. Read part 2 here: http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/publication/22242/
Will an attack by the US and/or Israel really weaken Iran?
This article seeks to contribute to and inform the debate concerning a possible attack by the United States and/or Israel on Iranian nuclear and military facilities. The presumed aim of such an attack would be to weaken the Islamic Republic, particularly by hindering its ability to build a nuclear weapon. However, the history of the Iraqi invasion of Iran in 1980 calls into question the contention that an attack will weaken the regime in Tehran. Iran's reactions to the Iraqi invasion will be examined in order to shed light on its possible reactions to a US or Israeli attack. Responses by the Iranian people to the Iraqi invasion and the implications on Iranian politics will also be assessed.
The subjects mentioned here are only a small part of the factors that must be addressed when considering a policy towards Iran that includes a military option. The ramifications of such an attack will be immense and unpredictable. It is therefore critical that we examine Iranian responses to the Iraqi invasion in order to draw whatever lessons we can and to understand the implications of a future attack. Furthermore, Iran's security policies, and its policy outlook more generally, have been shaped enormously by the country's experience in the Iran-Iraq War. As the Iranians themselves continuously point to the lessons of the war and their bearing on the present day, it behooves policymakers to follow suit.
The Iraqi Invasion
The Iranian Revolution of 1978–79 was a movement of several different groups that were united most strongly in their opposition to the regime of Muhammad Reza Shah. Following the ouster of the Shah in February 1979, the union of those groups began to break down. Though many of the Iranians who had participated in the revolution supported the establishment of the Islamic Republic, most did not fight for the sort of absolute power that Ayatollah Khomeini and his allies were eventually able to yield. Additionally, there was little consensus among Iranians on the nature and policies of the new Islamic Republic and the scope of religious leadership, which led to a degree of disillusionment with the revolution and the new regime.
In invading Iran, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein assumed that the divided Iranians and their dilapidated armed forces would be unable to put up much of a fight. He was wrong. Iranians responded to the invasion by uniting against him, even though many opposed the direction the revolution had taken....
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer's editorial policy.
For more information about this publication please contact the Belfer Center Communications Office at 617-495-9858.
Full text of this publication is available at:
For Academic Citation: