Revolutionophobia of Despots and the Imposed War

  November 09, 2021   Read time 3 min
Revolutionophobia of Despots and the Imposed War
While US policy seems at least to have signalled a green light to the Iraqi regime, domestic developments in Iraq independently contributed to the decision to launch a full-scale military attack on the Islamic Republic in September 1980.

These related largely to the reverberations of the Iranian Revolution within Iraq and the impact of the revolutionary movement on internal social and political relations. The potential repercussions of the Iranian Revolution were acutely feared by the governing Ba’th Party in Iraq. The Iraqi regime was particularly aware of its own internal opposition and the danger posed by Iran’s revolutionary propaganda and influence for a number of reasons. The Shi’i majority in Iraq constituted a potentially powerful social force. A large part of the population had experienced significant social dislocation as a result of the state-led development programmes of the previous decades. On the other hand, the organisational and political cohesion of the Iraqi ulema, whose social and economic position was also threatened by state-led secular modernisation, provided a focus for revolutionary activity. Signs of this potential had already been manifested in the 1970s in the course of a number of popular struggles.

Protests in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution led to heightened trepidation amongst the ruling clique in Baghdad. The perceived threat of an Iranian-inspired uprising was initially expressed in the execution of the Shi’i leader Baqer al-Sadr, deportation of Iraqis of Iranian origin (called ‘Iranians living in Iraq’), and the support for the Iranian opposition. The Iraqi regime also became concerned about the co-operation of Islamic Da’wah with Iranians in Qum to draw up plans for the overthrow of the Iraqi government and Khomeini’s calls for the transfer of Najaf’s seminaries to Qum. The increased activity of opposition groups was apparent also in assassination attempts on the lives of Iraqi officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz in April 1980 and Saddam Hussein in June 1980, leading to severe responses by the Ba’th regime. Under these conditions, the Iraqi regime, clearly threatened by the impact of the Iranian Revolution in Iraq and the revolutionary potential of the Iraqi masses under the leadership of the clergy, resorted to violence and repression of opposition at home. It also engaged directly in activities against the neighbouring regime, including both support of the exiled Iranian opposition and eventual invasion of Iran in September 1980.

The Iraqi regime had begun to assist exiled Iranians even before the events described above.28 In summer 1979 the National Movement of Iranian Resistance (NAMIR) was formed by the exiled former Prime Minister of Iran, Shahpour Bakhtiar, with the goal of replacing the Iranian regime with a ‘government of national unity’. Between 1979 and 1980, while the belief that the regime could easily be overthrown was maintained, NAMIR was funded largely by the business community, including the shah’s entourage. As the Islamic Republic gradually became stronger, the tactics of the organisation altered accordingly. A secret NAMIR-affiliated political-military organisation, Neghab, infiltrated the Iranian military establishment with the aim of engineering a military coup in 1980. The role of Iraqi assistance in this operation was crucial. In May 1980 NAMIR began broadcasting the clandestine ‘Radio Iran’ under the aegis of the regime in Baghdad, which also provided financial assistance estimated at around $30–70 million and a monthly additional budget of $200,000 to $250,000. Strategically the Iraqi regime assisted the plotters by keeping the Iran–Iraq border in a constant state of mobilisation and allowing the plotters access to fully armed fighter planes ready for take off. The foiling of a coup planned by NAMIR (the Nojeh Coup) by the Iranian regime and failures of the organisation in this period no doubt contributed to the eventual Iraqi decision to launch a full-scale attack on its revolutionary neighbour.

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