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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Baghdad's quest for strategic surprise : an analysis of the Iraq-Iran War Muir, Michael John


The Iranian Revolution, along with the regional designs pursued by the Iraqi governing elite, combined to determine the course of Iraqi-Iranian relations in the period from January of 1979 to September of 1980 which, although at the outset was marked by reciprocal pronouncements of cordiality and benevolent intentions, gradually deteriorated into a mutually acrimonious path that gave rise to what has become the bloodiest and longest-running war between two Third World states. The dual, interconnected aims of this thesis are to account for the decision of the Baath regime of Iraq to attempt to strategically surprise Iran—thereby realizing its war goals in a brief and decisive campaign—and, additionally, to outline the factors and conditions that contributed to Iran's vulnerability to a sudden invasion. As a systemic theory, the theory dealing with the factors that can engender a ruling elite's impetus for seeking strategic surprise, as well as the conditions that contribute to the established target nation's exposure to such an action, belongs to the grouping of macro-theories that address the forces which influence international relations. Common to all systemic international relations theories is the assumption that the conduct of one nation toward another is, more often than not, shaped by assorted, diverse variables. And, since the course of interstate relations varies on the basis of a nearly innumerable list of determinants, it follows that decisions for war—the least pleasant, albeit far from uncommon, mode of interaction among nations—also emanate from numerous causal factors. Proceeding from such reasoning, it is not empirically or methodologically unsound to posit that typically no single, overriding determinant actuates a decision to wage an effort to attain strategic surprise. The testing of this hypothesis is a major objective of this present study. It is maintained that the Iraqi decision-maker's conclusion that war with Iran was necessary was shaped by a complex of factors. Chief among these, and one which is therefore given a central position in the thesis, is that which emphasizes the destabilizing effects of the Islamic revolutionary upheaval in Iran. More precisely, it is argued that a defensive desire to maintain the political status quo in Iraq, which was grounded on a rigid secularism, played a significant role in fostering pressure for Baghdad to resort to the use of an overt military confrontation. In line with this argument, two major beliefs espoused by the Iraqi Baathists which, by and large, are attributes of the nature of the Iraqi polity, are cited: First, that the political dominance of Sunni Muslims, who constitute a minority of the Iraqi populace— the majority of which consists of Shia Muslims—must be preserved at all costs; second, that a reinvigoration of ethnic Kurdish aspirations for increased regional autonomy, due to the extreme economic importance of the region of Iraq they inhabit (the oil-rich north), must be forestalled. It is demonstrated that the Iranian Revolution portended a heightening of Shi'ite activism and Kurdish nationalism within Iraq. Beyond strictly defensive inducements, it is maintained that Baghdad was also motivated by several enterprising goals. By and large, these ambitions were predicated upon the desire to gain control of long-coveted, economically important portions of Iranian territory, and, overall, were in consonance with the grand strategical , imperative of establishing Iraqi hegemony over the Gulf region. An analysis of the perceptions of opportunity underpinning the Baathists1 search for strategic surprise constitutes another major aspect of this undertaking. In short, it is herein argued that Baghdad was moved by perceived economic and military weakness hampering the Islamic Republic, as well as by the high degree of political friction that was spawned by the revolution. The overall accuracy of these perceptions is gauged. An in-depth examination of the economic posture of revolutionary Iran, as well as the state of its defense forces and the nature of the political ambient holding sway there, constitutes another key topic. This discussion is conducted in the context of explaining Iran's inability to obtain strategic warning of Iraq's aggressive plans, and, to immediately blunt the inroad once it had been initiated. Efforts are also made to present an overview of the international relations of Iraq and Iran, how this factor influenced Baghdad's motivations and opportunities and, equally importantly, Teheran's vulnerability to aggression from the west.

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