Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Egyptian Field Marshal Abdul-Halim Abu Ghazalah on the Combat Tactics and Strategy of the Iran-Iraq War (Part 1)

A response to a book review penned by Youssef Aboul-Enein, Andrew Bertrand and Dorothy Corley at Small Wars Journal

by Mark Pyruz

A book review on Egyptian Field Marshal Abdul-Halim Abu Ghazalah's "Combat Tactics and Strategy of the Iran-Iraq War" by Youssef Aboul-Enein, Andrew Bertrand and Dorothy Corley has recently been ublished in three parts by Small Wars Journal. See HERE, HERE and HERE. The views put forward in the review of Ghazalah's work by Youssef Aboul-Enein et al rely on, for the most part, externally derived and out of date interpretations of the war. A freshly interpreted survey essay on the Iran-Iraq War is really called for, using newer research containing primary sources from both sides of the conflict, similar to the efforts of USA Colonel Glanz (Ret.) and his work on the "myths and realities" of the Russo-German War, 1941-1945. However, what follows here, in order, are a number of responses to the perspectives and claims made by the field marshal, as described by the reviewers. It should be pointed out this author has not had access to the actual work by Ghazalah and is relying on the reviewers for the book's content. Reviewers' passages in blue; this author's responses in black. Let us proceed with Part 1 of 3:

"For centuries, Iran has remained a strategic concern for Arab states, and in more recent times, a concern for the United States as well. The divisions between Arabs and Iranians include religious differences between Sunni and Shiite, ethnic differences between Arab and Persian, linguistic differences between Semitic Arabic and Indo-Aryan Farsi, and more recently, growing global concern over Iran’s revolutionary influences in the region." 

This view is largely that of a pan-Arab nationalist, fof which we can assume the field marshal shares sympathies. Where Iraq is concerned, there are shared senses of culture with Iran and vice-versa, particularly among the Shia populations. Today this is most visible in the cross-border pilgrimages that now exist, in both directions, involving millions of ordinary Iranian and Iraqi persons. In certain respects, this shared sense of culture transcends even religion. The very name "Baghdad" is in fact a Persian word. (For an interesting lecture on this subject given by a recent speaker at Stanford University, see HERE.)

"In 1971, Iran, under the Shah, annexed three strategic islands: the Greater and Lesser Tunbs and Abu Musa from the United Arab Emirates."

This requires clarification. The three islands were part of a deal between the UK and Iran, with Iran withdrawing its historical claim to Bahrain (recognized at least in an Iranian historical sense as its fourteenth province). Much of the Shia majority underclass of Bahrain, some with elements of Persianate lineage, with their recent addition to the unfurling "Arab Spring," are a product of this compromise.

"A few years later, Iraq was battling the Kurds in the Second Kurdish War, from 1974 to 1975. Kenneth M. Pollack, of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brooking Institute, in his volume titled Arabs at War (University of Nebraska Press, 2002), underscores that Iran’s support of the Kurdish Peshmerga during the Second Kurdish War curtailed Iraqi momentum and “finally stalemated the war in the spring of 1975”. Saddam Hussein (then Iraq’s Foreign Minister) negotiated the subsequent cease-fire agreement known as the Algiers Accord, as described by Pollack. Although Iraq conceded territory to Iran, in return the Shah terminated support to Iraqi Kurds, which enabled Iraq to effectively quell the Kurdish revolt shortly after the Accord was signed on 6 March 1975." 

A very specific narrative provided by CDR Aboul-Enein et al on the Algiers Accord. In fact, the Accord represented much more than that, and was finely worked out by both Iranian and Iraqi diplomatic teams. However the institution of terms of the agreement was continuously stalled by the Baath regime headed by Saddam Hussein. For an overview of the Accord, see "Iraqi Attitudes and Interpretation of the 1975 Agreement" by Ibrahim Anvari Tehrani (chapter two of "The Iran-Iraq War: The Politics of Aggression" by Farhang Rejaee).

"The Revolution of 1979 toppled the Shah of Iran, and ushered in the abrupt and dramatic rise of Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamist regime. Other Arab regimes began to reevaluate prior agreements with Iran following the events of 1979. Abu Ghazalah’s book opens during this tumultuous period, and he cites the reasons for war between Iran and Iraq as fear of Shiite Islamic fervor and agitation throughout the Arab world, and Iraq seeing a potential opportunity to replace Iran as the regional policeman of the Persian Gulf."

From the Iraqi Baathist perspective, there was more to it. Iraq's Shia majority underclass was suppressed by the Baathist regime. It began to rise up and was encouraged by the Iranian example, and was assisted in certain respects by Iran. There were forced evictions of Iranian-Iraqis from Iraq. In addition to seeking the position of "regional policeman," Saddam sought not only to nip in the bud the Iraqi Shia struggle against the Baathist minority elite that held power, but more than that to actualize imperial gains, eastward, aimed at the dismemberment of Iran and capture of oil rich Khuzestan; that is to say, to establish a new regional geopolitical order in Iraq's favor at the expense of Iran, by means of a war of aggression.

"Saddam’s generals observed Iran with interest and received briefs from anti-Khomeini Iranian exiles. The briefs documented the ideological interference of the Iranian Armed Forces and the purging of experienced commanders with a new religious-based class of officers with little tactical experience."

Figuring into Iraq's calculations on their upcoming air war (as well as Western intelligence assessments) was the aftermath of the failed "Nojeh coup" involving the CIA and certain Iran Air Force officers against the popularly elected IRI government. These intelligence estimates had practically written off the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) as an effective fighting force, following the failed coup and Iran's security crackdown upon these air force officer elements. The Iraqis were to be woefully surprised during the opening phase of the conflict by a spectacular airstrike campaign conducted by the IRIAF.

Before Saddam began the war with Iran, Iraq was transitioning from bulk Eastern weapons systems to Western equipment."

This wasn't so with regards to AFVs, combat aircraft, etc.

"Photoreconnaissance existed but was extremely elementary."

It should be pointed out that in the weeks prior to the actual Iraqi invasion, Iraq Air Force (IrAF) recce sorties had taken place but had sustained heavy losses from IRIAF F-14 and F-4 intercepts (see "Arab MiG-19 & MiG-21 Units in Combat" by David Nicolle and Tom Cooper, pages 79-80.)

"Iraq’s aerial early warning systems were in a developmental stage, and in 1979 they possessed command and control for air force and air defense units, but they lacked the ability to coordinate these two aerial defense arms. Training on this equipment was marginal, and this would come to be painfully obvious in 1981, when Israel launched an air strike and destroyed the OSIRAK nuclear reactor."

It was already painfully obvious to the IrAF/ADC following Iran's immediate air counterattack, consisting from the beginning on no less than a 140-fighter strong raid into Iraq. In fact, by the end of September 1980, the IRIAF had already exhausted its main target list, with the Iraqis having to pull back its transport and bomber aircraft, as well as its reserve fighters and other high value assets to its western airbases (see "Iranian F-4 Phantom II Units in Action" by Tom Cooper and Farzad Bishop, pgs 17-31).

"Abu Ghazalah spends a chapter discussing the economics of the Iran-Iraq War. He writes that the total Iranian and Iraqi weapons imports for the war reached a peak of $55 billion and represented approximately 1/3 of the Gross Domestic Product of all developing nations combined."

Interestingly enough, for the majority of ordinary Iranians in unoccupied territories, the economic effects of the Iran-Iraq war were not as pronounced as those experienced following the onset of the British-Soviet invasion of 1941 and the ensuing American occupation of the early 1940s, for which the Ahmadinejad administration is currently seeking reparations.

"Although Iraq’s manpower problems were in some ways similar to Iran’s, the Iranians’ inability to train in combined arms was more pronounced. Iran’s training was limited almost exclusively to light infantry tactics because of Iran’s penchant for conducting human wave attacks." 

To a certain extent, the "human wave" tactics were more of a practical solution than that of mere "penchant". More on this later in part 2 and 3.

"Iraq’s political-military objectives at the onset of the war with Iran included: Return of the Shatt al-Arab Waterway (known in Iran as the Arvand Rud) as an integral part of Iraq; Destruction of Iranian units along the border with Iraq; Securing of oil fields in Iranian Khuzestan; Toppling of or dictating terms to Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolutionary leaders and marginalizing Iraq’s source of ideological influence in the region (Arab nationalism). It is worthwhile to highlight Kenneth Pollack’s observation that the key ingredient in Iraqi’s ability to achieve the preceding objectives was the seizure of the Khuzestan province."

This was Saddam's first war of aggression in the region, and his main goal was very similar to his second war of aggression against Kuwait: a land grab won in a very short war, identified for its oil treasure and improved geographical positioning with which to manage and protect such additional resources.

"It is worth noting that there is an intriguing difference in the number of divisions listed in Abu Ghazalah’s preceding description of deployed forces when compared with Pollack’s. Abu Ghazalah’s account lists eleven divisions, whereas Pollack’s account claims Iraq initiated the war with Iran with nine divisions. Both list three infantry divisions, but Abu Ghazalah’s account includes one additional mechanized division and one additional armored division." 

Here is a more recently derived and detailed OB for the Iraq Army (IrA) at the onset of the Iran-Iraq war (Source: ACIG.org):

I Army Corps (sector between Rawanduz and Marivan)
- 7th Infantry Division (HQ Soleimaniyah)
- 11th Infantry Division (HQ Soleimaniyah; including 113IB, parts of which were detached to III Army Corps)

II Army Corps (sector between Qassre-Shirin, Ilam, and Mehran, armor deployed between Mehran and Dezful) -
- 6th Armored Division (HQ Baqubah)
- 9th Armored Division (HQ Samavah; 35AB, 43AB, 14MB)
- 10th Armored Division (HQ Baghdad, 17AB, 42AB, 24MB)
- 2nd Infantry Division (HQ Kirkuk)
- 4th Infantry Division (HQ Mawsil)
- 6th Infantry Division (HQ Baqubah)
- 8th Infantry Division (HQ Arbil)

III Army Corps (HQ al-Qurnah, sector between Dezful and Abadan)
- 3rd Armored Division (HQ Tikrit; 6AB, 12AB, 8MB)
- 10th Armored Division (HQ Baghdad; 10AB)
- 12th Armored Division (HQ Dahuoq; held in reserve)
- 1st Mechanized Division (HQ Divaniyeh; 1MB, 27MB, 34AB)
- 5th Mechanized Division (HQ Basrah; 26AB, 15MB, 20MB)
- 10th Independent AB
- 31st Independent Special Forces Brigade (minus two battalions: one was attached to 5th Mechanized Division, another to 3rd Armored Division),
- 33rd Independent Special Forces Brigade - 113 Infantry Brigade (detachments)
There were also two independent armored brigades, the 10th and the 12th, dislocations of which are as of yet unclear.

"The opening hours of the war saw Iran drained of divisional and corps level military leadership. All strategic decisions were in the hands of mullahs and revolutionary councils. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was newly established and did not command the respect of regular forces. It reduced its regular forces by half and many U.S. weapons contracts had been previously cancelled due to the hostage crisis in 1979. Iran’s strategy was framed as a war of ideology against imperialism, communism and Zionism and the preservation of Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution." 

In general, the units of the Islamic Republic of Iran Army were in very poor condition. Most were down to only 50% of their strenght (some even less) and under command of lower-ranking officers, as all the generals of the former Imperial Iranian Army were removed from their posts after the revolution in 1979. During the early days of the war there was considerable chaos within the chain of command, which led to a situation in which most of the larger units were scattered into small battle-groups that fought in cooperation with local militias and without a coherent overall command. (Source: ACIG.org); which is a somewhat different situation than that of "all strategic decisions [being] in the hands of mullahs and revolutionary councils."  In terms of Iran's ideological framing of the war, it was certainly stronger than the weaker ideology framed by the Baathist state, and this showed in their corresponding states of motivation and morale on the battlefield.

End of Part 1.


Anonymous said...

Good stuff!

Anonymous said...

The 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, demanded a lot of sacrifice from Iranians but at the same time it could be claimed that this war was perhaps one of the most important phases in Irans Modern history.

It awakened Iran and Iranians to distance themselves from being a small,insignificant consumer nation into an educated semi-industrial (at the moment) and hopefully more in a decade or two, nation.

Irans long term strategic interests, dictates it to become independant.Regardless of outside pressures and artificial hysterical calls of human rights (which we know some are legit.)or insults, Iranians must endure as they have done so bravely in the last 32 years.

When Cuba can withstand the constant presurres, Iran is by far not less considering so much natural wealth, US/Israel are trying to forbid buyers from buying /lol

West is struggling to emulate a new order and Israel is not making it easy for them, Thats why Iran has to be stronger than ever to avoid the idea of a new war on it by West.

Azari by Fortune and Iranian by Grace of God
Dariush London

mat said...

Mohammad Ahmadi Bighash, Parliament's National Security Commission, said in 'IRAN TODAY':

In Iraq's imposed war on Iran, we just defended and in defending our country we won. Bear in mind that Saddam's regime had the support of 46 countries around the world but in the end, our country came out victorious from the war.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:47 AM

The war would have ended in 1982 if it wasn't for your imam.And don't try to be smart with me because I was there and you were nothing but a twinkle in your daddy's eyes.
Your imam used the Iranian people as cannon fodder to cultivate his cult of personality.
You know nothing of the hardships that the people had to live under after they had it so easy before the coming of your selfish imam.
You only know your twisted information because of the lies that you were taught at school by a bunch of bitter fools.And even they have come to realize that they were taken for a ride by your imam.
Iranians have come to realize that they were hoodwinked into committing suicide and handing power to the selfish and bigoted members of our society,the mullahs.
No matter what people like you say Iran will get rid of the trash that has occupied our land in the past 33 years.
Sofreh Akhundism jam mishavad.

Anonymous said...

Dear anon 5:47

I have no idea, who told you that anyone specially me to be interested about you or where you have been or what you think the world owes you.

You can go and clean whatever "Sofre" you like.

Dont bore me with you BS. and pls take into account you usually do not write anything intelligent

You simply inszult people who are not in your political sphere.

Go and get a life.

Sarvaret, Dariush London

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:10 PM

You wouldn't know the meaning of intelligence if it landed on your head.
People like you need to be smoked out and exposed for what they are,stooges of the theocracy.

Anonymous said...

8:01 anon
you just confirmed Dariush words

Anonymous said...

anon 8 01

what a little old fart must u be.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:01 PM.......I agree with you 100% about the situation in Iran but don't waste your time with these people. NOKAR and MOZDOR comes to mind.

The man in Istanbul

Anonymous said...

I see some of you are still dreaming of a Royal future.
I paste a few reasons for the revolution specially for the guy who claims to be over 50 and old enough to know better


"According to Iranian political historian Ervand Abrahamian, after this attack SAVAK interrogators were sent abroad for "scientific training to prevent unwanted deaths from 'brute force.' Brute force was supplemented with the bastinado; sleep deprivation; extensive solitary confinement; glaring searchlights; standing in one place for hours on end; nail extractions; snakes (favored for use with women); electrical shocks with cattle prods, often into the rectum; cigarette burns; sitting on hot grills; acid dripped into nostrils; near-drownings; mock executions; and an electric chair with a large metal mask to muffle screams while amplifying them for the victim. This latter contraption was dubbed the Apollo—an allusion to the American space capsules. Prisoners were also humiliated by being raped, urinated on, and forced to stand naked.[18] Despite the new 'scientific' methods, the torture of choice remained the traditional bastinado used to beat soles of the feet. The "primary goal" of those using the bastinados "was to locate arms caches, safe houses and accomplices ..."

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:31 AM

Your imams regime has killed more Iranians in one week than the entire Pahlavi monarchy did in 50 years,little boy.
You need to go back to Iran and educate yourself by talking to the Iranian people.And I don't mean your empty headed basij goons.
Then go and visit the known mass graves of which one is KHAVARAN and see for yourself how Iranian families are even denied to put head stones above their loved ones.
Thousands are buried there.Yet there are no mass graves found when the Shah left Iran because all those claims have known to be LIES.Even the top regime official who has fallen out of favor had said that, "they were lies to promote the revolution".
So it looks like you're the one that needs to be reeducated instead of the BS that you were fed at the mullah driven school in Qom.
The regime has more armed thugs in a square and road in Tehran than when Pahlavi did in the entire city.I know because I was there and been there recently.You know nothing but lies and lie on behalf of liars.

Note:The Islamic terrorist theocracy doesn't do "mock executions" they just execute period.
And all those things Ervand Abrahamian claimed SAVAK used.This theocracy uses for real and much worse to the detriment of the Iranian people.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:31 PM

And I see that Bahcheh Akhunds like you are still deluding themselves into thinking that the regime will last for ever.
They are nothing but a hick up in the nations history.Just like NAZI Germany was in German history.
Sweet dreams Bacheh Akhund...:)

Anonymous said...

A regime of killers and their MOZDOR supporters talking about human rights in Iran.HA HA HA,what a sad joke.Yes that's right Anon 2:31 pm I mean you.
Unlike you we are not on medication you know.LOOOL!

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:10 PM

Isn't it funny these people live in Europe or America and then say the Shah was bad and Khomeini was a saint.These people are members of mullahs families freeloading off the backs of downtrodden Iranian nation.
They are nothing but bloodsuckers and vermin.