Iraq and Iran water border dispute

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The infamous war of attrition between the two neighboring countries, Iraq and Iran, was triggered by different factors, the old rivalry between Arabs and Persians, the Islamic revolution in Iran being a threat to the bath party in Iraq, and the continuous Iranian support of the Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq. However, the pretext of the war was the control of Shat Al Arab, Iraq’s water access to the Persian Gulf. On March 6, 1975, the president of Iraq Saddam Hussein and the Shah of Iran met in Algiers. The meeting has concluded a treaty between both sides in which multiple issues were agreed upon. To start with, the frontier between both countries would be adjusted including Shat Al Arab, the Iranians would stop supporting the Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq, and both countries would stop the war of propaganda against each other. Furthermore, Iraq would end its active opposition of Iranian occupation of the three islands in the gulf along with no interference in each other’s internal affairs.

The treaty was breached after the Iraqi offensive in 1980 on Iran after the toppling of the Shah led by Islamic revolutionists headed by Ayatollah Khomeini. The Iraqi regime thought that a war was in place due to the incompatibility of an Islamic state neighboring country causing a definite threat to the bath party’s regime. The Iraqi president perceived Iran after the revolution to be weak living in turmoil and chaos making it an easy parry. The Iranian military was viewed as vulnerable and weak because of revolutionary measures taken by the new government in Tehran resulting in extensive purges against military personnel loyal to the ousted Shah ; nevertheless, the end of military supply and training acquired by the US, a major Iranian supplier prior to the revolution. 

The scope of what Iraq wanted to accomplish throughout the war was economic and territorial gains by overstretching its portal access to the Persian golf. That was clearly stated by the Iraqi government in justifying its offensive on the 22 of September 1980 against Iran claiming that it wanted to recover rights of exclusive navigation of Shatt-Al-Arab, and to regain several islands held by Iran since 1971. The overthrowing of Khomeini and the control of Iran’s oil rich Khuzistan province through liberation of the Arabs there would have been a bonus added to Iraq’s war achievements. Shatt Al Arab is a 120 mi long junction of both the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers flowing through the south eastern part of Iraq making its way to the Persian Gulf, forming part of the southern borders with Iran. The Shatt al Arab surrounding area is rather swampy; however, it was drained for political reasons mainly for controlling the Arab Shiites who inhabited the area. Iraq is a big garage with a small door with almost no portal access to the world. The Shatt Al Arab ordeal and border problems between Iraq and both Iran and Kuwait have been a problem long before the Bath party and long after its departure. Both Iran and Kuwait have coastal lines stretching for hundreds of miles while Iraq does not. Therefore, either countries giving up few miles to Iraq to help grant Iraqis some access to the waters of the Persian Gulf is a just concession, a justification behind Iraq’s claim over exclusive rights of Shatt Al Arab that sounds legitimate and convincing to Iraqis and others

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