Fezana Journal article on Ancient Iranian Women

The Fezana Journal has published an article by Kaveh Farrokh on the ancient women of Iran:

Farrokh, K. (2014). Gender Equality in Ancient Iran (Persia). Fezana Journal (Publication of the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America), Vol. 28, No.1, March/Spring, pp. 105-107.

female-scythian-warriorA reconstruction by Cernenko and Gorelik of the north-Iranian Saka or Scythians in battle (Cernenko & Gorelik, 1989, Plate F). The ancient Iranians (those in ancient Persia and the ones in ancient Eastern Europe) often had women warriors and chieftains, a practice not unlike those of the contemporary ancient Celts in ancient Central and Western Europe. What is also notable is the costume of the Iranian female warrior – this type of dress continues to appear in parts of Luristan in Western Iran. 

As noted in the beginning of the article: “One topic that has received little attention in academia is ancient Iranian warrior women. There are in fact numerous references to ancient Iranian female warriors, from classical sources to post-Islamic Iranian literature.”

Amazon-3-AchaemenidsA reconstruction of a female Achaemenid cavalry unit by Shapur Suren-Pahlav.

It is further averred in the article that: “The rights of women in Achaemenid Persia were remarkably “modern” by today’s standards: women worked in many “male” professions (e.g. carpentry, masonry, treasury clerks, artisans, winery working), enjoyed payment equity with men, attained high-level management positions supervising male and female teams, owned and controlled property, were eligible for “maternity leave,” and received equitable treatment relative to men in inheritance“.

Gun-totting Iranian women-MalayerIranian women from Malayer (near Hamedan in the northwest) engaged in target practice in the Malayer city limits in the late 1950s.  The association between weapons and women is nothing new in Iran; Roman references for example note of Iranian women armed as regular troops in the armies of the Sassanians (224-651 AD).

The legacy of the status of the women of Iran is emphasized in the article as thus: “To this day, women in Iran’s tribal regions continue to be seen wielding their weapons“.

Amazon-7-FereydanshahrIranian tribal woman in shooting competition on horseback at the 2011 Fereydanshahr Olympiad in Iran.

The Liberation of Khorramshahr May 24-25 1982

This article provides a brief synopsis of the operations of the Iranian military leading to the liberation of the city of Khorramshahr from Iraqi occupation on May 24-25, 1982. For a full history, with references and footnotes, readers are referred to Farrokh’s third text Iran at War: 1500-1988 in pages 365-367 (accompanying footnotes of references and detailed notes for the text in pages 454-455).

Iraqi T-62 tanks invade Iran sept 22 1980Pan-Arabism and Persophobia graduate from hate literature to violence: T-62 tanks of the Iraqi 6th Armored Division crossing the border into Iran on 1400hrs September 22, 1980. Saddam Hussein and the Baath party were convinced that as their tanks rolled into Khuzestan, they would be greeted as liberators by the Iranian Arabs. This may partly explain why the Iraqis may have miscalculated in the first few days of their invasion of Khuzestan province by not allowing more infantry to accompany their rapid-moving armor (see Iran at War: 1500-1988, 2001, pp.344-355). Instead of being hailed as liberators, Saddam Hussein’s forces were greeted with bitter opposition by the Iranian Arabs whose dogged resistance assisted the overall Iranian effort by slowing down the Iraqi advance  (Photo Source: www.Acig.org).

The forces of Saddam Hussein had invaded Iran on September 22, 1980 with the clear aim of severing Iran’s Khuzestan province and joining this to the Baathist Iraqi state. Khorramshahr had fallen under Iraqi occupation on October 26, 1980 after a bloody 35-day house to house battle, Abadan had been besieged, and much Iranian territory remained occupied by Saddam Hussein’s forces.

iraqis near KhorramshahrIraqi troops invading Iran build a pontoon bridge near Khorramshahr in 1981 (Photo source: Francoise de Mulder/Corbis & Encyclopedia Brittanica). The pontoon bridge in the above photo was to be destroyed by Iranian combat aircraft during the May-1982 liberation of Khorramshahr. Numbers of the above troops situated in Khorramshahr in May-1982 were to end up deceased or as P.O.W.s in May 1982.

Despite the capture of Khorramshahr and the siege of Abadan, Saddam Hussein’s invasion quickly bogged down. The failure to knock out the Iranian land and air forces was to prove dear for Saddam Hussein and the Baathist leadership.

Map-Iran recapture KhuzestanMap of Iranian operations that recaptured Khuzestan (Picture Source: Karsh, E. (2002). The Iran-Iraq War 1980-1988. Osprey Publishing, p.38).

It was from the fall of 1981 when the tide began to turn against Iraqi occupation forces. By September 29th 1981, the right banks of the Karun River had been cleared of Iraqi troops and the siege of Abadan was lifted. A major success soon followed in late-March 1982 with Dehloran liberated. This resulted in Iraqi forces being ejected from the Dezful-Shush region. This set the stage for Iran to implement the final and most devastating stage of its offensives for the ejection of Baathist-Iraqi troops: the liberation of Khorramshahr.

Liberation of Khuzestan in march 1982[CLICK TO ENLARGE] (Left Photo) Elements of the Iraqi 12th Armored Division assemble at Fakkeh (in the Dezful area) on March 23rd 1982 to rescue remnants of the Iraqi 4th Army Corps crushed by a powerful Iranian offensive (Photo source: Steven J. Zaloga, Modern Soviet Combat Tanks, Osprey Vanguard  37, p.32).  As these units deployed to attack, they were bombed and strafed by up to 95 Iranian F-4 and F-5 combat aircraft.  The Iraqi 12th Armored Division was virtually eliminated. The right photo is of Iranian regular army troops atop an overturned Iraqi tank of the 12th armored division (Photo source: www.shahed.isaar.ir). Note that the vehicle has been blown upside down as a result of aerial bombardment by Iranian F-4 and F-5 combat aircraft.

It was during the Dezful-Shush operations when the Iranians besieged an Iraqi convoy, unaware that Saddam Hussein was present in that formation. Saddam Hussein was almost captured by Iranian troops but a relief force hurriedly dispatched by Iraqi General Rashid Maher whisked the Iraqi dictator to safety. Despite these defeats and his own recent experience, Saddam Hussein continued to deride his Iranian opponents. In a speech made to the recently battered survivors of the Iraqi fourth army, Saddam stated:

I hope you will not be bitter about the land you are leaving voluntarily, as dictated by the requirements of defensive positions to the rear…we never told you [the 4th army corps] to keep this land as part of Iraqi land” (From the the archives of the Iraqi News Agency, March 29, 1982; see also citation in Hiro, D. (1990). The Longest War: The Iran-Iraq Military Conflict, Paladin (reprinted by Routledge, 2012), pp.63-64).

This was an interesting statement given that the Iraqi withdrawals had been anything but “voluntary”: they had been militarily forced back with heavy losses during the Iranian military’s clearing of the Dezful-Shush pocket. In addition, Saddam Hussein claimed Iran’s Khuzestan province as part of the pan-Arabist rhetoric of the Baath party.

Saddam Hussein (right) and Yasser Arafat (left). Arafat had obtained two billion dollars of funds from Iran just a year before Saddam’s army invaded Iran. Many Palestinians fought as volunteers against Iran during the 1980-1988 war, even as revolutionary activists in Tehran were advocating the Palestine issue.

The loss of Khorramshahr and its tenacious defense had left a profound mark across the Iranian populace. When Iranian forces converged towards Khorramshahr, the combatants included volunteers from across Iran, including Lurs, Azaris, Kurds, Khuzestani-Arabs, Baluchis, etc.

iranianArabs[Click photo to Enlarge] Iranian-Arabs being trained in the use of rocket launcher by an Iranian commando. Iranian Arabs were to later provide assistance to the Iranian army in the ejection of Saddam Hussein’s troops from Khuzestan in 1982.

When Saddam realized his occupation of Iranian territory was at serious risk, he responded by making a dramatic television visit to his troops in Khorramshahr. When he arrived there he swore to never relinquish the city. Fiery rhetoric however, could do little to prevent the disaster that was about to befall the Iraqi garrison at Khorramshahr. In a sense, Saddam Hussein was to contribute to that disaster, thanks to his rigid (if not draconian) top-down control regimen, which stifled his military’s initiative resulting in a fresh round of military disasters.

Iranian Infantry-undated photoUndated photo of regular Iranian army infantry on the march during the Iran-Iraq war. Thanks to the bitter resistance offered by local militias, Pasdaran and Khuzestan’s Arabs against the Iraqi invasion, the army was given just enough time to re-organize. They were then able to send in just enough combat units to ensure that Ahvaz, Khuzestan’s provincial capital, remained in Iranian hands (Picture Source: Naderdovoodi.net). 

Preparing the stage: The role of the Iranian Air Force

The Iraqi high command had ordered its French-made Mirage F-1 and Soviet-made MIG-23 jet fighters to be deployed to Iraqi air bases facing Iran. They were apparently hoping to (1) counter Iranian air superiority and (2) Iranian air reconnaissance of Iraqi positions. Recent French deliveries of powerful and technically sophisticated long-range radars were intended to enhance the Iraqi effort at directing their Mirage F-1EQs against Iranian US-manufactured F-14s (Tomcats), F-4s (Phantoms) and F-5s (Tigers).

Saddam and ChiracA toast to Saddam’s ambitions. Then Prime Minister Jacques Chirac of France toasts Iraq’s Saddam Hussein on December 1974. By the 1980s, France had become one of Iraq’s biggest military suppliers, especially the Mirage F-1 and other advanced French-made weaponry. This support was so great that French intelligence reported in mid-1986 (after the Iranian capture of Fao) that “…if France cut off the arms pipeline to Iraq for a mere three weeks, Baghdad would collapse” (Timmerman, 1991, p.231 – Timmerman, K.R. (1991). The Death Lobby: How the West Armed Iraq. Houghton-Mifflin Company).

Unfortunately for the Iraqi military brass, the Iranian air force had anticipated these moves. The Iranian air force unleashed a massive air strike on April 4th 1982, specifically targeting Iraqi air bases equipped with the recently delivered Mirage F-1 and MIG-23 fighters. The Iraqis were caught completely off-guard. Iranian jets appeared over key targets at Baghdad, Basra, Kut and Nasseriyah. While estimates vary, between 50-60 Iraqi aircraft were either destroyed on the ground and in air to air combat. Iranian jets continued to pummel military targets in Baghdad into late April. The pounding of Iraqi airfields and suppression of  Iraqi aircraft, allowed Iranian RF-4E reconnaissance jets to gather valuable intelligence on Iraqi troop positions and equipment inside Iranian territory. By the time Iranian ground forces were converging on Khorramshahr, Iranian aircraft were dominating the skies over Khuzestan.

Destroyed Mig-23 and Iraqi pilotWARNING-GRAPHIC PHOTO -[CLICK TO ENLARGE] (left) An Iraqi  Mig-23 just before it was shot down by Iranian forces and (right) remains of its unfortunate pilot after the plane crashed (Picture sources: Military Photos Net). Iraqi Mig-23 aircraft suffered heavy losses at the hands of Iranian F-14s – despite much Soviet-East Bloc, French-Western, Pakistani and Indian assistance, right up to the last days of the war (Picture Source: AviationLive.org).

The launch of Operation Bait ol Moghaddas

Iranian forces had deployed to the south of the recently liberated Dezful-Shush region. This was dangerous from Baghdad’s viewpoint as the Iranian army was threatening to cut Iraqi forces in two. The Iranians delivered on this threat by launching a major attack on the night of April 29-30, 1982. Regular army personnel, commandos, and Pasdaran-Baseej militia struck along three axes: Bostan-Susangerd, the west banks of the Karun River and the southwest of Ahwaz.

The Iranian offensive was supported by 200 tanks and 26 AH-1 Cobra gunships. It is not clear how many Iranian tanks were of western origin (American M-47/48/60 and British Chieftain tanks) as by this time the Iranians were also using captured Soviet-made Iraqi equipment. The Iranians also made heavy use of transport helicopters to land their troops on the battlefields. In case of Iraqi air strikes, the Iranians had set up a powerful air defense net of HAWK and Rapier missiles for high and low interception respectively. Making matters worse for Iraqi aircraft was the mass distribution of large numbers of SA-7 shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. Iraqi troops were already under intense pressure as Iranian fighter-bombers were engaged in heavy bombing runs against Iraqi troop concentrations, tank parks and supply lines.

2-Iranian Chieftains-Khorramshahr-1982Iranian Chieftain tanks emerging from the side of a road near Khorramshahr in May 1982 (Picture Source: Fars News Agency).

A little know fact about these operations is that Iran set the world record for air transport on May 9, 1982 when their Boeing 747s transported over 6000 fully armed troops of the Khorasan 77th division from Mashad (near the USSR-Afghanistan border in Iran’s northeast) to Khuzestan in a single night. This achievement has received very little attention in the west, where the world record for this type of transport continues to be incorrectly attributed to Israel’s EL AL airlift of 1200 Ethiopian Jews in a single night.

 Iranian Boeing 747

[CLICK TO ENLARGE] An Iranian Boeing 747-2J9F. Iranian pilots achieved something of a miracle with their Boeing 747s on May 9, 1982 when they transported over 6000 fully armed troops of Khorasan’s  77th infantry division from Mashad (near the USSR-Afghanistan border in Iran’s northeast) to Khuzestan in a single night (Cooper & Bishop, 2000, Iran-Iraq War in the Air, p. 134). This achievement has received little attention in the West, where the world record for this type of transport continues to be incorrectly attributed to the Israeli airlift of 1200 Ethiopian Jews in a single night (Picture Source: p. 31 in “IRIAF: 75th Anniversary review”, World Air Power Journal, Volume 39 Winter 1999 issue, pp.28-37).

The tactics of the Iranian offensive were two-fold. First, infantry assaults backed by tanks were launched against Iraqi forces at night, supported by more tanks and armored personnel carriers the following day. Cobra helicopter gunships wreaked havoc in Iraqi lines as they destroyed large numbers of Iraqi tanks, armored personnel carriers, and soft-skinned vehicles (i.e., trucks, etc.).

Cobra and Huey-Iran militaryUndated photo of an Iranian Cobra combat helicopter (note Huey-type in background) in action. The Cobra did much to halt Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran in 1980 by knocking out scores of Iraqi tanks, armored personnel carriers and other military vehicles. The Cobra distinguished itself again during operations that liberated Iranian territory and up to the last days of the war (Picture Source: Shohada.org).

Iraqi armor received special attention from the Iranians: the Pasdaran focused their attacks on the already battered elements of the Iraqi 12th armored division.

AIFA-truck-KhorramshahrThe burnt out chassis of a AIFA East German army truck in Khorramshahr. East Germany like much of the Eastern Bloc, the Soviet Union, the West, India, Brazil and Pakistan provided much military assistance to the Iraqi war effort (Picture Source: Fars News Agency).

Iraqi resistance proved highly uneven: regular Iraqi units generally tried to resist but the Popular People’s militias, lacking proper training and morale, often proved eager to surrender when the Iranians attacked.

The results of Iran’s initial attacks against occupying Iraqi troops were devastating. In addition to occupied Iranian territory, the Iraqi military had lost another 100 tanks and two combat helicopters by May 3rd. Perhaps the biggest disaster thus far was the rapid melting of Iraqi units: up to 10,000 Iraqi troops had been captured thus far during these operations.

Now increasingly desperate, Saddam Hussein ordered his jets to challenge the Iranians in the air. This proved to be an impulsive decision: Iran’s F-4 and F-14 fighters shot down up to 50 Iraqi aircraft at the cost of four F-4s and three helicopters. Saddam finally relented to the advice of his generals who pleaded with him to withdraw what was left of the Iraqi air fleet on May 5-6. The Iranian advance towards Khorramshahr was now assured of complete air superiority. For air support, the Iraqis were now forced to rely on their helicopters.

Invasion of Iran 1980-Iranian Phantoms[CLICK TO ENLARGE] -Tayyara! Tayyara! (Arabic: Airplane! Airplane!). Iraqi crew of a BMP armored peronnel carrier advancing in Iran in 1980 (at left) abandon their vehicle in haste at the sound of the roaring engines of two US-made Iranian F-4E Phantoms. Iranian Phantoms (at right) were also reported to be flying just meters above ground level to fire their 20mm cannon at Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles (Picture Source at left: www.Acig.org; Picture Source at right: Farzad Bishop, Combat Aircraft 37, reproduced with permission in Iran at War: 1500-1988, 2011).

After a series of highly-publicized TV propaganda programs aimed at the Arabo-Islamic world and the west ridiculing the Iranian military, the Iraqi military leadership seems to have finally realized what was happening. Saddam unleashed his remaining tanks in Iran to launch a powerful counterattack on May 3-4; this enjoyed some success and some Iranian ground was again taken. Unfortunately for Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi military, the Iranian commander in the theater, Ali Sayad Shirazi, had already predicted this attack. Once the Iraqi counterattack had been spent, Shirazi ordered a major thrust towards the border town of Fakkeh, which the Iranians quickly captured.

Iranian helicopters also landed the 55th Para brigade in the Iraqi border town of Shalamcheh in Iraq’s Basra province. The landing had been provided air cover by Iranian F-4 and F-5 fighters. Meanwhile, Iranian Cobra gunships also participated by destroying Iraqi armor, bridges and combat vehicles at Shalamcheh.

The fall of Shalamcheh was another shock for Baghdad as Iranian troops were now just 26-27 kilometers from Basra. This also signaled that remaining Iraqi forces occupying Iranian territory were increasingly isolated. The only way for the Iraqi army to rescue their faltering situation was to push the Iranians out of Fakkeh and Shalamcheh, but the unraveling military situation prevented this action. Saddam Hussein however refused to give up. He and the Baathist leadership held on to their pan-Arabist vision of annexing Khuzestan province.

 Wounded Iranian SoldierUndated photo of a wounded Iranian soldier resting during a pause in the fighting (Picture Source: Mannaismayaadventure).

Saddam and the Iraqi high command were to receive more bad news. Just six days after their failed May 3rd counterattack, the Pasdaran tore a wide gap in the Iraqi lines. This attack was followed by a tank thrust by the 92nd Iranian armored division. The result of the 92nd armored division’s attack was devastating: two entire Iraqi army divisions, including the 6th armored division had been wiped out. The 92nd then wheeled towards Shalamcheh to link up with the 55th paras inside the town.

Iran-Iraq warSome scenes from the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988): [1] Demoralized Iraqi army tank crew surrenders just north of Khorramshahr as Iranian troops take positions to liberate the city (Picture Source: Military Photos) [2] Ex-Iraqi BMP armored personnel carriers being used by the Iranians against their former owners (Picture Source: Shahed) [3] A captured Iraqi French-made ROLAND low-altitude anti-aircraft missile system at Fao in February 1986 (Picture source: Military Photos) [4] Iranian troops transport captured Iraqi SAM missiles in the aftermath of the expulsion of occupying Iraqi forces from Khuzestan in May-June 1982 (Picture source: Military Photos).

By mid-May the Iraqis had lost more tanks, troops and territory just north of Khorramshahr. The loss of all land routes to Khorramshahr tightened the noose around the city’s occupying Iraqi troops. The situation of the Iraqi garrison at Khorramshahr now resembled that of the German 6th army at Stalingrad when it became surrounded by Soviet forces in November 1942.

Saddam’s “Wall of the Persians

To defend Khorramshahr against Iranian attacks, the 35,000-man Iraqi garrison had built three fortified tiers of minefields and earthworks, which they christened as “The Wall of the Persians”. By now the Iraqis had learned to take the threat of Iranian commando landings seriously. These fears prompted the Iraqi garrison to erect a large number of metal spikes in areas deemed most vulnerable to helicopter or parachute landings. One of the most dramatic tactics they devised was to place hundreds of derelict cars in an upright position to bolster these “anti-commando” defenses!

By May 21st, the Iranians had firmly placed 70,000 troops around Khorramshahr. Saddam Hussein again refused to budge, but no amount of passionate rhetoric could turn the tide.

Iraqi BTR-50 APC[Click to Enlarge] An abandoned Iraqi BTR 50 Soviet-built APC (armored personnel carrier). By this time scores of Iraqi tanks and APCs were being abandoned due to fears of Iranian fighter aircraft, Cobra combat helicopters and ground troops, now lavishly equipped with lethal anti-tank weapons. Another factor contributing to Iraqi armored losses was inadequate training. Before the war, the primary combat experience of Iraqi armored crews had been against the poorly armed Iraqi-Kurdish militias of northern Iraq (Picture Source: Public Domain).

Khorramshahr Liberated

The Iraqi garrison had only one lifeline for securing its supplies: the Arvand Rud/Shaat al Arab waterway. But even this last lifeline was under threat: the Iranian air force was now running constant patrols over the waterway. Iranian jets destroyed all bridges across the waterway and sank any Iraqi vessels daring to bring supplies into Khorramshahr. To make matters worse, Iranian heavy artillery began pounding the Iraqi garrison. These same guns also shelled Iraqi supply lines along the waterway.

The attack came sooner than Saddam had expected; the Iranians struck on the night of May 23rd. Even before the Iranian army rolled into Khorramshahr, the Iraqi garrison was being subjected to heavy artillery and air strikes.

captured iraq tnaks in Iran service[Click to Enlarge] Captured Iraqi T-55 tank being loaded onto a heavy truck by Iranian forces as they converge towards Khorramshahr (Picture Source: MilitaryPhotos.net). Perhaps one of the biggest ironies of the war is that the Iranians often relied on battlefield captures to help replenish their own dwindling stocks of tanks.

The Iranian strike into Khorramshahr was composed of the 77th Khorasan division, the 59th Zolfaqhar brigade, and the Pasdaran. Saddam’s much publicized “Wall of the Persians” proved to be more of a propaganda ploy that an effective military deterrent. As soon as Iranian troops entered Khorramshahr’s environs, 4000 Iraqi troops immediately surrendered.

Constant defeats over the months in 1982 had taken a terrible toll of Iraqi morale. The Iraqi garrison at Khorramshahr had little motivation to die for Saddam Hussein to the bitter end. Two thirds of the Iraqi garrison, 22,000 men (15,000 regular army and the rest being the people’s army), chose to surrender as the Iranians liberated Khorramshahr street by street. With the conclusion of operation Beit ol Moghaddas, Iraq had lost 33-35,000 of its combatants as prisoners.

Iran_Iraq_War_POW_SoldiersThe Aftermath: Iraqi P.O.W.s rounded up for internment after the liberation of Khorramshahr. Morale among ordinary Iraqi ranks was often low during the war which may partly explain the relatively large numbers of P.O.W.s yielded by Iraqi forces during the war. As the war progressed “Iraqi” prisoners were to include Egyptians, Sudanese, Pakistanis, Jordanians, Palestinians, etc. (Picture Source: Fouman: Iranian Historical Photographs Gallery).

It remains unclear as to how many of the surviving 13,000 Iraqi troops managed to escape across the Arvand Rud/Shaat al Arab waterway to Iraq. What is clear is that the Iraqi withdrawal had been characterized by panic and chaos (see for example below).

Iraqi Helicopter KhorramshahrAn Iraqi helicopter bringing in supplies for the Iraqi garrison at Khorramshahr, evidently unaware that the city had already fallen to Iranian troops. As soon as the unfortunate helicopter arrived, it was shot down and forced to land by Iranian troops. The Iraqi helicopter crew was then taken prisoner. The scene was displayed by western news outlets as they were reporting on the fighting in Khorramshahr (Picture source: Military Photos).

The cost of liberating Khorramshahr had certainly been steep for Iran: over 6000 combatants had lost their lives during these operations with at least another 24,000 injured.

Epilogue: A Little Known Fact

Less known is the fact that Saddam Hussein narrowly escaped death during the Iranian liberation of Khorramshahr. Saddam had been directing Iraqi operations from a bunker near Shalamcheh where the “Pontoon of Saddam” had been rapidly set up. Saddam’s bunker suffered a deadly air strike by Iranian fighter-bombers, unaware of the distinguished staff at the receiving end of their bombs. The bombing strike may have injured Saddam, although such reports remain unconfirmed. What is certain is that by this stage of the war, Iran had liberated 5,400 square kilometers of its territory from the Iraqis. The city of Khorramshahr had been finally avenged 575 days after its fall to Saddam Hussein’s troops.

celebrations-khorramshahr-liberationCitizens of Tehran celebrate the liberation of Khorramshahr (Picture Source: Iranian.com).

RT News: US gave Saddam blessing to use toxins against Iranians

The report below “US gave Saddam blessing to use toxins against Iranians” was published by RT News on August 26, 2013. Kindly note that (excepting the three pictures by RT News) the pictures and captions inserted in the article below were not published in the original Reuters release.

Readers are also encouraged to consult the following article:

Shane Harris & Matthew M. Aid (August 26, 2013): CIA Files Prove America Helped Saddam as He Gassed Iran | Foreign Policy


As Washington ponders over whether to hammer Damascus over unidentified use of toxic agents in Syria, declassified CIA documents reveal that 25 years ago the US actually indulged ruthless Saddam Hussein to use chemical warfare gases in war with Iran.

Saddam in his OfficeSaddam in his office with the uniform he often wore during his 1980s war against Iran (Photo: RT News).

The recently declassified documents at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, suggest that the US was closely following the use of chemical weapons by the Saddam Hussein’s regime both against the enemy in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) and against Iraq’s Kurdish population, reports Foreign Policy magazine.

Despite the fact that the US establishment regarded Saddam Hussein as ‘anathema’ and his officials as ‘thugs’, the policies of President Ronald Reagan’s administration through 1980s was to ensure that Iraq would win the war with Iran, the FP stated.

Iraqi T-62 tanks invade Iran sept 22 1980Pan-Arabism and Persophobia graduate from hate literature to violence: T-62 tanks of the Iraqi 6th Armored Division crossing the border into Iran on 1400hrs September 22, 1980. Saddam Hussein and the Baath party were convinced that as their tanks rolled into Khuzestan, they would be greeted as liberators by the Iranian Arabs. This may partly explain why the Iraqis may have miscalculated in the first few days of their invasion of Khuzestan province by not allowing more infantry to accompany their rapid-moving armor (see Iran at War: 1500-1988, 2001, pp.344-355). Instead of being hailed as liberators, Saddam Hussein’s forces were greeted with bitter opposition by the Iranian Arabs whose dogged resistance assisted the overall Iranian effort at slowing down the Iraqi advance  (Photo: www.Acig.org).

Former CIA official retired Air Force Colonel Rick Francona has said exclusively to Foreign Policy that starting from 1983 the US had no doubts that Hussein’s Iraq was using prohibited chemical weapons (mustard gas) against its adversary, while Iran lacked solid proof and could not bring the case to the UN.

Experienced Arabic linguist Rick Francona, who worked for both the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), shared that the first time he had proof of Iraq using toxins against Iranians was in 1984, while he was serving as the US Air attaché in Amman, Jordan. He had solid proof that Iraqis had used Tabun nerve agent (GA) against Iranian troops advancing in southern Iraq.

IRAQ-TRIAL-SHIITES-ALIA handout picture dates March 16, 1988 and released by the Iranian official news agency IRNA shows two Kurdish children killed by an Iraqi chemical attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja in northeastern Iraq (Photo: RT News).

It has also been revealed that Saddam Hussein’s military industrial complex could not produce shells with toxic chemical substances itself and was heavily dependent on foreign equipment, with Italy been mentioned as one of the sources for the special equipment.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend – and then my enemy. Video of Donald Rumsfeld (Special envy of President Ronald Reagan) shaking hands with President Saddam Hussein on December 20, 1983 (see also report by Norm Dixon: How Reagan Armed Saddam with Chemical Weapons). Rumsfeld was then to be one of the most vociferous advocates of removing Saddam by force in 2003.

But Reagan’s administration was willing Baghdad to win the war, so it turned a blind eye on Iraq using lethal nerve agents against Iran, since that could turn the tide of war into a right direction, Foreign Policy reports.

The 1925 Geneva Protocol banned chemical warfare, while the Chemical Weapons Convention banning production and use of chemical arms was introduced in 1997. Iraq never bothered to sign the document, while the US did so in 1975, and by 1980s the US had international obligations to prevent the use of chemical weapons.

ali_chemicalChemical Ali (Al Majid), one of the chief architects of the Baathist regime’s chemical weapons programs. Eric margolis has noted of the role of Western nations in helping Saddam Hussein develop non-conventional weapons. For more click here…

During the war with its neighbor, Iran was in a state of heavy international isolation that followed the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and Iran’s military was lagging behind if compared to Iraqi Army.

Still, with the population fanatically supporting the Islamic leadership, Iran used inhumane tactics of ‘human wave’ attacks, turning its soldiers into expendables and thus nullifying Iraq’s military superiority.

Destroyed Mig-23 and Iraqi pilotWARNING-GRAPHIC PHOTO -[CLICK TO ENLARGE] An Iraqi  Mig-23 just before it was shot down by Iranian forces (left) and the remains of its unfortunate pilot after the plane crashed (right) (Photo: Military Photos Net). Iraqi Mig-23 aircraft suffered heavy losses at the hands of Iranian F-14s – despite much Soviet-East Bloc, French-Western, US, UK, Egyptian, Pakistani and some Indian assistance, right up to the last days of the war (Picture: AviationLive.org).

In 1987, US satellite intelligence suggested that Iran was concentrating troops for a powerful offensive on Iraq’s southern Fao Peninsula in the direction of the key city of Basrah. The US believed that in spring of 1988 the Iranians might undertake a decisive attack, capitalizing on tactical mistakes by the Iraqi military which could result in Iraq’s defeat.

According to Francona, after acknowledging with the intelligence data, President Ronald Reagan wrote a margin for the US Secretary of Defense Frank C. Carlucci: “An Iranian victory is unacceptable.”

iraqi bombing of school at Mianeh 1988The result of an Iraqi air raid against a children’s school in Mianeh, Azarbaijan (northwest Iran) in 1988, killing more than 60 children and teachers. This horrific event was ignored  by the Western press which was pro Saddam Hussein at the time (Picture source: Cooper, T. & Bishop, F. (2004). Iranian F-14 Tomcat Units in Combat. Oxford: Osprey Publishing).

Thus, the Americans opted to share intelligence information with Baghdad, authorizing the DIA to give detailed data on exact locations of all Iranian combat units, Air Force movements, air defense systems and key logistics facilities.

Rick Francona described the satellite imagery and electronic intelligence provided as “targeting packages” enabling the Iraqi Air Force to destroy Iranian targets.

In 1988, Iraq conducted four highly successful chemical attacks on Iranian troops with sarin nerve agent, killing hundreds, if not thousands on the spot. The attacks precluded heavy artillery assaults and were disguised, being accompanied with use of smoke shells.

Iraqi-T-55-with-British-gunnery-simulator3[Click photo to Enlarge] An Iraqi T-55 training with an advanced British-manufactured tank gunnery simulator in 1987. Iraq’s armored corps had undergone a massive training and rearmament program by 1987-1988 – thanks to the the assistance of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, Egypt, India, Pakistan, England and numbers of Western countries (Picture Source: Armed Forces journal, July 1987 , p. 354; see also Farrokh, Iran at War, 2011, pp.400-402). British military personnel also refurbished and re-activated captured Iranian Chieftains for Saddam Hussein’s forces. For more on the role of England in supporting Saddam Hussein’s military machine, click here…

Official Iranian statistics of the dead in these attacks is still unavailable.

IRAQ-UNREST-HALABJA-ANNIVERSARYA handout file picture dated March 16, 1988 and released by the Iranian official news agency IRNA shows Kurdish adults and children lying dead following an Iraqi chemical attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja in northeastern Iraq (Photo: RT News).

At the time Francona was serving as the US military attaché in Baghdad and he witnessed the aftermath of the attacks himself. He visited the Fao Peninsula shortly after it had been captured by the Iraqis. On the battlefield he saw hundreds of spent syringes with atropine, which Iraqi troops had been using as antidote to sarin’s lethal effects. Francona took several of these injectors to Baghdad as proof of chemical weapons use.

Francona told Foreign Policy that Washington was “very pleased” with the Iranians being stricken preemptively to prevent them from launching their offensive.

Sardasht-Iran-Saddam-AttackIranian victims of Saddam Hussein’s chemical warfare during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988. The above photo is from some of the victims of Iraqi warplanes that dropped mustard gas bombs on the Iranian town of Sardasht on June 28, 1987. Official reports of this attack cite nine thousand people exposed and 130 dead. As reported by The Los Angeles Times: “They [Iranian civilians] dropped dead on the cobbled streets of the town center. They cried out as their eyes burned and skin bubbled.” Despite the rapacity of these actions, Western Press-media outlets, (the majority of) Human Rights Organizations, and Politicians continued to support Saddam right up to his Kuwait invasion in August 2-4, 1990 (Photo forwarded to Kavehfarrokh.com on August 26, 2013).

Also, in March 1988, Iraq launched a nerve gas attack on separatist Kurdish village of Halabja, some 240km northeast of Baghdad, killing 5,000, while 7,000 more suffered long-lasting health problems.

New Book: Iranian-Russian Encounters Empires and Revolutions since 1800

There is new book  on the history of Iranian-Russian relations:

 Routledge text

  • Title :Iranian-Russian Encounters: Empires and Revolutions since 1800
  • Publisher: Iranian Studies Series, Routledge.
  • Date: December, 2012.
  • Description & Ordering: Hardback: 978–0–415–62433–6: $160.00 – £95.00; 20% off with code: GDC72 from Routledge.com – for more information to order from Routledge click here.

This important book has been made possible as a result of the efforts of Soudavar Memorial Foundatio and the Iran Heritage Fund who were the funders of an important conference entitled:

Empires and Revolutions: Iranian-Russian Encounters since 1800 (Khalili Lecture Theatre, SOAS, London, 12-13 June 2009)

The material and academic information presented at that conference gave rise to the book.

The book has been edited by Professor Stephanie Cronin.


Professor Stephanie Cronin is the editor of this textbook. She is a lecturer in Iranian History at the Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford, and a member of St Antony’s College. She is the author of Shahs, Soldiers and Subalterns (2010); Tribal Politics in Iran (Routledge, 2006); and The Army and the Creation of the Pahlavi State in Iran, 1910–1926 (1997); and editor of Subalterns and Social Protest (Routledge, 2007); Reformers and Revolutionaries in Modern Iran (Routledge, 2004); and The Making of Modern Iran (Routledge, 2003). She is currently working on a comparative history of state–building in the Middle East. For on Professor Cronin, please see Iranian Studies Directory.

Kindly note that the pictures inserted below do not appear in the book.


Book Summary:

Over the past two hundred years, encounters between Iran and Russia have been both rich and complex. This book explores the myriad dimensions of the Iranian-Russian encounter during a dramatic period which saw both Iran and Russia subject to revolutionary upheavals and transformed from multinational dynastic empires typical of the nineteenth century to modernizing, authoritarian states typical of the twentieth.


Painting in the Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg depicting a victory of Abbas Mirza`s army over the Russians in the Caucasus. The above painting is of interest as it shows the Shir o Khorshid (Lion and Sun) emblem of the Iranians versus the Double-headed Romanov eagle of the Russians. Though defeated in the Russo-Iranian wars of 1804-1813 and 1826-1828, Abbas Mirza fought well despite the more advanced weaponry and modern tactics of his opponents (Picture Source: Iranian.com)

The collection provides a fresh perspective on traditional preoccupations of international relations: wars and diplomacy, the hostility of opposing nationalisms, the Russian imperial menace in the nineteenth century and the Soviet threat in the twentieth. Going beyond the traditional, this book examines subaltern as well as elite relations and combines a cultural, social and intellectual dimension with the political and diplomatic. In doing so the book seeks to construct a new discourse which contests the notion of an implacable enmity between Iran and Russia.


A photo taken in 1926 of a military assembly in Tehran (book cover for Iran at War: 1500-1988). This was the Iranian Army headquarters at the time and is today the Iranian University of the Arts (محوطه ساختمانی که قبلا ستاد ارتش بوده و الان دانشکده هنر است ). The troops are about to pose for a military review. Note the diverse nature of the Iranian troops – reminiscent of the armies of Iran since antiquity: one can see Kurds, Azaris, Lurs, Baluchis, Qashqais, Persians, etc. partaking in the assembly.  Gendarme Colonel Haji Khan Pirbastami (standing at far left) died just a year later when fighting as a colonel with the Iranian army against Bolshevik/Communist and Russian troops attempting to overrun northern Iran after World War One.

Bringing together leading scholars in the field, this book demonstrates extensive use of family archives, Iranian, Russian and Caucasian travelogues and memoirs, and newly available archives in both Iran and the countries of the former Soviet Union. Providing essential background to current international tensions, this book will be of particular use to students and scholars with an interest in the Middle East and Russia.


(Left) Soviet Mig-25 Foxbat (Right) Iranian Air Force Grumman F-14A Tomcat. The Tomcat remains the most modern aircraft in the Iranian Air Force inventory, past and present. The Tomcat “persuaded” the Russians to halt their Mig-25 Foxbat over-flights into Iranian airspace in the late 1970s. The Mig-25 was destined to meet the Tomcat again in combat during the Iraq-Iran war (1980-1988). Tomcats shot down large numbers of Iraqi jets during the war, including Russian piloted Foxbats. The London-based Air Power Journal reported in 1999 that “…the presence of one or two Tomcats was usually enough to send the Iraqi jets scurrying away…” (See pp. 32 in “IRIAF: 75th Anniversary review”, World Air Power Journal, Volume 39 Winter 1999 issue, pp.28-37). (Picture Sources: Left Photo from World Blue Airways and Right photo from IIAF.net).

Below are the Table of Contents of the book.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction: Empires and Revolutions: Iranian–Russian Encounters since 1800 – Stephanie Cronin
  •  The Impact of Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union on Qajar and Pahlavi Iran: Notes toward a Revisionist Historiography – Afshin Matin–asghari
  • The early Qajars and the Russian Wars – Maziar Behrooz
  • Khosrow Mirza’s mission to Saint Petersburg in 1829 – Firuza Abdullaeva
  • Russian Land Acquisition in Iran: 1828 to 1911 – Morteza Nourai and Vanessa Martin
  • How Russia hosted the entrepreneur who gave them indigestion: New revelations on Hajj Kazem Malek al–Tujjar – Fatema Soudavar
  • Deserters, Converts, Cossacks and Revolutionaries : Russians in Iranian Military Service 1800–1920 –  Stephanie Cronin
  • The Question of the Iranian Ijtima‘iyun–e ‘Amiyun Party – Sohrab Yazdani
  • Georgian Sources on the Iranian Constitutional Revolution (1905–1911): Sergo Gamdlishvili’s Memoirs of the Gilan Resistance – Iago Gocheleishvili
  • Constitutionalists and Cossacks: the Constitutional Movement and Russian Intervention in Tabriz, 1907–1911 – James Clark
  • Duping the British and outwitting the Russians? Iran’s foreign policy, the ‘Bolshevik threat’, and the genesis of the Soviet–Iranian Treaty of 1921 – Oliver Bast
  • The Comintern, the Soviet Union and Working Class Militancy in Interwar Iran Touraj Atabaki
  • An Iranian–Russian Cinematic Encounter – Emily Jane O’Dell
  • The Impact of Soviet Contact on Iranian Theatre: Abdolhossein Nushin and the Tudeh Party. Saeed Talajooy
  • Iran, Russia and Tajikistan’s Civil War – Muriel Atkin
  • Iran and Russia: a Tactical Entente – Clément Therme

The Iranian Navy: 1921-1941

The content of the article below on the history of the Iranian navy from 1921 to 1961 is derived from Iran at War: 1500-1988-(ایران در جنگ (۱۹۸۸-۱۵۰۰– The photographs are mainly derived from the Photo archives of Mehdi Farrokh, Fouman.com and Babaie. Kavehfarrokh.com will continue to produce more articles on the history and evolution of the Iranian navy.

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In 1921 the Persepolis and Shoush from the Nasser e Din Shah era were finally decommissioned. Only the four vessels acquired by Ahmad Shah (last Qajar monarch) remained to be officially formed as the nucleus of the new Iranian navy by 1923. The only “naval” operation in the Persian Gulf was that of a small naval ship, the Khuzestan which was originally a British craft in World War One. The British then handed the vessel to Iran after they removing its heavy cannon (unknown calibre).


[Click to Enlarge] A small patrol vessel manned by a small crew of 10 men. This had been built in 1933 in Palermo, Italy. This vessel was propelled by a 150 hp engine which ran on petroleum. Its dimensions (length and width) were 3/2×13/30 meters (Photo Archives of Mehdi Farrokh).

The Khuzestan carried 60 soldiers along the Karun River between Khorramshahar and Ahvaz to support the operations of the army in 1924 against Sheikh Khazal.


[Left] Sheikh Khazal of Khuzestan, circa 1920. Khazal had strong ties to the British but this failed to rescue him from the arrival of Reza Shah’s forces into Khuzestan (Picture Source: Photo Archives of Mehdi Farrokh) (Right) Sheikh Khazal’s palace in Khuzestan along the Shatt al Arab waterway. Khazal amassed considerable wealth by collecting taxes from the local Arab and non-Arab urban and tribal populations of Khuzestan. As noted by Price, Khazal’s rise in Khuzestan had been facilitated by “an … isolated population, a weak central government, and British support” (Price, M., Iran’s Diverse Peoples: A Reference Sourcebook. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2005, pp.160) (Picture Source: Fouman.com).

After the fall of Sheikh Khazal, three of the latter’s ships were appropriated by the armed forces. One of these was re-Christened as the Homa (able to carry 1000 troops) and was capable of operating as far as the Indian Ocean; the other two were contracted to American naval engineers for repairs. 

The original Palang (Leopard) manned by a crew of 70 men. This vessel had no significant armaments at first, thereby being used exclusively for the transportation of supplies. The vessel was later installed with armaments prior to World War Two (Photo Archives of Mehdi Farrokh).

In April 1925, Iran took delivery of its first German built minesweeper (weight at 141 tons). The Iranian navy however remained inadequate at disrupting piracy and smuggling along Iran’s coastline prompting the Tehran Majlis to legislate the buildup of the Iranian navy on March 20, 1928. This entailed working alongside Italian naval advisors to appropriate ships suitable for Iran’s naval needs. Italian naval advisors were in Iran from 1928-1933. The Italian naval advisors stayed in Iran until 1935. The first cadre of European trained naval officers arrived from Italy in 1933 and gradually the navy acquired Italian-built ships (two ships of 950 tons each, four ships at 330 tons, three smaller craft at 75 tons). These were named as the Gilan, Mazandaran and Azarbaijan (each armed with a 75mm cannon.


Iranian naval ships at the eve of the Anglo-Soviet invasion. The Babr (above at left) was shelled by the HMAS Yarra on August 25. Hassan Milanian, the captain of the Palang, had extended an invitation to his British Commonwealth counterpart to visit his vessel a day before hostilities began on August 24 Picture Source TOP: Babaie, 2005a, pp.435.. Babaie, A. (2005). Tarikh e Artesh e Iran [The History of the Iranian Army]. Tehran: Iman Publications).

The Caspian Sea witnessed a diminutive “navy” of s single ship, the Sefid-Rood, landing a contingent of 61 Rashti infantry on the Gorgan coast to raid rebel Turkmens in March 1925. When the ship returned to Bandar Anzali it was renamed as the “Nahang”.