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I Persian Gulf War: Iraqi Invasion of Iran, September 1980
By Tom Cooper & Farzad Bishop, with additional details from N. R.
Sep 9, 2003, 06:33

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Iraqi Army (IrA)

1400hrs, 22 September 1980: the T-62s of the 6th AD crossing the Iranian border. With the air strikes of the Iraqi air force, and the drive of the Iraqi ground troops, the war started. It was to end only eight years later, after terrible losses and immense destruction upon both, Iraq and Iran. (all photos Tom Cooper collection)

In August 1980 the Iraqi Military had 212.000 troops, 2.000 tanks, 1.000 artillery pieces, 370 combat aircraft, and 230 helicopters.

The Order of Battle of the Iraqi Army was as follows:

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.

Standard Iraqi armored division (AD) of the time had two armored (equipped with 300 T-62 MBTs) and one mechanized brigade (with BMP-1 ICVs), a single artillery brigade (with self-propelled artillery), and support elements. A standard Iraqi mechanized division (MD) had one armored brigade (equipped with 200 T-54/55s), one mechanized brigade (equipped with Czech OT-64s APCs or BTR-50s), and one artillery brigade, as well as support elements.

According to Western sources, in September 1980 the IrA operated some 100 T-72 tanks, probably attached to the 10th Independent Armored Brigade, based at al-Rashid Barracks, in Baghdad. Some Iraqi sources state that the first shot of the war was in fact fired by their T-72s. However, there is no firm confirmation yet that the Iraqi Army indeed operated T-72s at this stage of the war. Their first confirmed appearance occurred only in 1982.

All Iraqi ADs and MDs had also an organic air defense regiment, consisting of at least one SA-6 SAM-site (contrary to many wrong reports, the Iraqi SA-6s always remained under the Army control), SA-9s, and ZSU-23-4s. At later stages of the war the SA-13s replaced SA-9s in most of the mechanized formations.

Within only few days after the start of the war, the Iraqi troops already learned to fear the attacks of the Iranian air force - especially the AGM-65 Maverick-armed F-4Es: the crew of this BMP-1 is evacuating their vehile in hurry because of two Phantoms that appeared over the horizont.

Iraqi Army Air Corps (IrAAC)

The IrAAC at the time operated two “Composite Combat Transport Wings” (the 1st and the 2nd) with a total of eight squadrons of helicopters. Each of the squadrons had several flights, each of which was equipped with a different types of helicopters, so that every squadron had a number of Mi-8s, SA.342L Gazelles, and SE.316 Alouette IIIs on order. The exception from this rule was the “4th Assault, Transport, Training, and Special Operations Squadron” (4th ATTSOC), which, beside the Mi-8s and SA.342Ls, also operated all the 17 Mi-25s available to the Iraqis at the time, as equipment of the “4th Squadron’s Special Operations Unit” (4th SSOC). Also, the “3rd Assault, Transport, and Training Squadron” operated the handful of remaining Wessex HU.Mk.52 helicopters. The main base of the IrAAC was al-Taji, but different flights from different squadrons were deployed at many different sites throughout the country. The 4th ATTSOC/4th SSOC, for example, had usually pairs of Mi-25s based at Basrah International, near the Presidential palace in Baghdad, al-Kut, Kirkuk, Nassiriyah, Jalibah, Ruthbah, and Tallil. Very early after its establishment in 1980, the Mi-25s of the 4th SSOC were armed with chemical weapons, and the unit would usually have at least a pair of Mi-25s armed with chemical bombs based at Samara, Baiji, Mawsil, and/or Falluja. Later, the same unit was to get Bo.105 helicopters, some of which were also armed with tanks for spraying chemicals. Also later during the war, at the times of the larger Iranian offensives and after more Mi-25s were delivered to Iraq, the 4th SSOC established permanent detachments at each of these bases, at which the Hinds equipped with chemical weapons stood constant alerts.

Theoretically, the IrAAC was under IrA control, but effectivelly it was put directly under the control of regime already at these times.

The IrAAC did not control all the Iraqi helicopter assets: a VIP-Transport unit, flying SA.342s and Mi-8s, was responsible for transportation of important political and military figures, while a squadron of some 14 (out of 16 originally delivered) SA.321G/H Super Frelons, some of which were compatible with AM.39 Exocet anti-ship missiles, was assigned to the Iraqi Navy.

With some 40 examples in service, the SA.342 Gazelle was the main type of attack helicopter with the Iraqi Army Aviation early during the war. While well armed, the type proved too vulnerable to any kind of anti-aircraft fire, and losses were heavy.

As the Soviets were slow to deliver more Mi-25s, the Iraqis were slow to introduce these to service. Besides, by the end of 1980, out of six examples delivered to Iraq, four were lost in combat (including one to IRIAF F-14As and two by IRIAA AH-1J Cobras).

Iraqi Air Force (IrAF)

(Note: The following Order of Battle for the Iraqi Air Force and the Iraqi Army Air Corps were upgraded with additional informations, which were not available at the time the book “Iran-Iraq War in the Air, 1980-1988” was published by Schiffer Military Publishing, Atglen, PA, in December 2002):

IrAF/Support Command
(Deployment as from north towards south, and from west towards east)

Kirkuk Fighter-Bomber Wing
- No. 1 FBS, Su-20, at al-Hurriyah AB (Kirkuk)
- No. 5 FBS, Su-22M, at al-Hurriyah AB (Kirkuk)
- No. 17 FS, MiG-21MF, at al-Hurriyah AB (Kirkuk)
- No. 44 FBS, Su-22M & Su-22M-3R, at al-Hurriyah AB (Kirkuk)

Mosul Fighter-Bomber Wing
- No. 11 FS (Det.), MiG-21MF, at Firnas AB (Mosul)

Qayyarah West Wing (in formation; not operational)
- No. 63 FS, MiG-23MLA, at Qayyarah West (moved to Tahmmouz AB after the start of the the war)
- No. 79 FS, Mirage F.1EQ (not yet delivered)
- No. 92 FS, Mirage F.1EQ (not yet delivered)

Bomber Wing
- 7th Sqn, Tu-22B/U, at Tahmmouz AB ("al-Taqaddum", near Habbaniyah)
- 8th Sqn, Tu-16/Tu-16K-11-16, at Tahmmouz AB (the 7th and 8th Squadrons were later combined into the 10th Squadron). A handful of Il-28s were at Tahmmouz AB as well; their condition at the moment of Iraqi invasion remains unclear: according to one source they were not operational any more but used as decoys; according to others they were deployed in combat.
- No. 39 FS "Defenders of Baghdad", MiG-23MS, Tahmmouz AB
- No. 84 FRS, MiG-25RB, Tahmmouz AB (in formation; not operational)
- No. 96 FS, MiG-25PDS, Tahmouz AB (in formation; not operational)

Flying Leaders School
- Detachment ?, Hunter F.Mk.59A/B at Rashid AB (Baghdad)
- Detachment ?, Jet Provost T.Mk.52 at Rashid AB (Baghdad)

al-Rashid Fighter Wing
- No. 9 FS, MiG-21PFM, at Rashid AB (Baghdad)
- No. 11 FS, MiG-21bis, at Rashid AB (Baghdad)
- No. 70 FRS, MiG-21RF, at Rashid AB (Baghdad)

H-3/al-Wallid Wing
- No. 84 Sqn (actually detachment), MiG-23MS, at al-Wallid AB
- No. ?? Sqn (actually detachment), MiG-21bis/MF, at al-Wallid AB

al-Kut Fighter-Bomber Wing
- No. ?? FBS, Su-7BMK, at Abu Ubaida al-Jarrah AB ("al-Kut" or "al-Jarrah" AB)
- No. 23 FBS, MiG-23BN, at Abu Ubaida al-Jarrah AB ("al-Kut" or "al-Jarrah" AB)

Nasseriyah Fighter-Bomber Wing
- No. 73 FS, MiG-23MF, at Ali Ibn Abu-Talib AB ("Tallil") (in formation; not operational)
- No. 77 FBS, MiG-23BN, at Ali Ibn Abu-Talib AB

Shoibiyah Fighter-Bomber Wing
- No. ?? FS, MiG-21MF, at al-Wihda/Shoibiyah AB
- No. 109 FBS, Su-22M, at al-Wihda/Shoibiyah AB

The IrAF/ADC also operated almost 120 SA-2 and SA-3 sites (soon to be reinforced by at least four batteries of Roland-2 SAMs, delivered from France), as well as all the AAA over caliber 57mm. While SA-2s and SA-3s were operated as complex sites, Rolands were to be deployed as single firing units.

It must be added that a sizeable contingent of Soviet air force was operational with the IrAF at the time of invasion. This consisted of 24 MiG-25R/RB/RBShs, at least 12 MiG-21MFs and at least eight MiG-23MLAs, all based at as-Shoibiyah AB, near Basrah, which was effectivelly put under Soviet control. Original intention was to test these aircraft against Iranians, before gradually putting them under Iraqi command. For example, between August 1980 and April 1981 four MiG-25s were put under Iraqi control, and the MiG-23MLA-unit consisted of Soviet but also Iraqi pilots, while the MiG-21MFs were eventually all given to the IrAF after the war started. The Iranians, however, did not care very much about Soviet or Iraqi plans, but four F-4Es from TFB.3 raided as-Shoibiyah heavily already in their first strike in response to the Iraqi invasion, on the late afternoon of 22 September. Additional strikes were flown on the following two days, and eventually the Soviets were forced to evacuate all MiG-25s to H-3/al-Wallid AB, in western Iraq, while all the MiG-23MLAs were moved to Qayyarah West AB, in north-western Iraq.

Although Moscow was time and again stressing its neutral stance regarding this war, its contingent remained in Iraq until April 1981: it was actually evacuated only after the MiG-23MLA-unit suffered heavy losses in air combats with Iranians (including four MiG-23MLAs to a single IRIAF F-14A, on 29 October 1980; two additional examples were lost while fighting Iranian counteroffensives in 1981), and several MiG-25s were destroyed and/or damaged on the ground by Iranian Phantoms in the "H-3 Blitz", on 4 April 1981.

IrAF/Training Command
Air Force Academy, Tikrit
Basic Training
- 1st Flying School, A.202A Bravo
- 2nd Flying School, A.202A Bravo
- 3rd Flying School, Mi-2, Mi-4, SA.342 Gazelle

Primary Training (partially conducted from al-Rashid AB)
- 4th Flying School, L-29
- 5th Flying School, L-29

Weapons Training
- 6th Flying School, PC-7
- 7th Flying School, Jet Provost T.52, at al-Rashid AB

IrAF/Transport Command
Transport Brigade
- 31st Sqn/A Flight, Il-76MD, at Baghdad/Saddam International
- 31st Sqn/B Flight, An-12B, al-Rashid AB
- 32nd Sqn/A Flight, An-2, miscellaneous airfields

Most of the transport aircraft – except all the An-12Bs, but including all Il-76MDs – were operated in the colors of the Iraqi national airline, “Iraq Airways”. The same company also operated numerous An-24TVs, most of which, however, were used for military purposes, and quite a few of which were cached and destroyed on the ground during early Iranian air strikes.

Iraqi Navy (IrN)

Naval Aviation
- No. ?? NS, SA.321GV Super Frelon, at NAS Umm-ol-Qassr
- No. ?? NS, AB.212ASW, (in formation; not operational; helicopters never delivered)


Islamic Republic of Iran Army (IRIA)

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 a considerable chaos within the chain of command, which led to a situation in which most of larger units were scattered into small battle-groups, that fought in cooperation with local militias and without a coherent overall command.

In September 1980 the IRIA had following units garrisoned along the Iraqi border:

- 16th Armored Division, based in Ghazvin, with three ABs equipped with M-60A-1 MBTs and M-113 APCs, including 1st in Ghazvin, 2nd in Zanjan, and 3rd in Hamedan.

- 81st Armored "Kermanshah" Division, with three ABs equipped with Chieftain MBTs and M-113 APCs, including 1st in Kermanshah, 2nd in Islam-Abad-Gharb, and 3rd in Sar-e-Pol-e-Zahab.

- 92nd Armored "Khuzestan" Division, with three ABs equipped with Chieftain MBTs and M-113 APCs (including 283rd Arm Cav. Bn), including 1st west of Khorramshahr and south of Ahwaz, 2nd west of Dezful, and 3rd west of Ahwaz.

- 21st Infantry Division, based in Tehran, established as combination of the 2nd Guards Brigade and the 1st Infantry division in Tehran, with total of four mechanized formations (including brigades of the former 1st Guards Division and Independent Guards Brigade, and 141 Infantry Battalion)

- 28th Infantry Division, with one AB (equipped with M-60A-1s MBTs), two MBs (equipped with M-113s), and a reconnaissance regiment (equipped with Scorpion LTs and M-113s), deployed in the areas of Sanandaj, Saquez and Marivan.

- 64th Infantry Division, garrisoned in Orumiyeh, and covering the Oromiyeh, Mahabad, Piransahr and Salmas areas.

- 77th Infantry Division, consisting of one AB (equipped with M-47s) and two MBs (equipped with BTR-50s), garrisoned in Khorasan, and covering the Soviet and Afghan borders, as well as remaining eastern Iran.

- 37th Armored Brigade, based in Shiraz

- 88th Armored Brigade, based in Zahedan (equipped with Chieftain MBTs), covering the borders to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

- 30th Infantry Brigade, with HQ in Gorgan.

- 84th Infantry Brigade, with HQ in Khoramabad, but deployed in field and covering the Ilam area, connecting the positions of the 81st and 92nd ADs.

- 23rd Special Forces Brigade, with HQ in Tehran, deployed along the Iraqi border in 13 separate detachments.

- 55th Airborne Brigade, based in Shiraz, with a battalion deployed in Sardasht, and a company each in Sanandaj and Dezful.

- 11th Independent Artillery Group, deployment area unknown.

- 22nd Independent Artillery Group, deployed in Khuzestan.

- 33rd Independent Artillery Group, deployment area unknown.

- 44th Independent Artillery Group, deployment area unknown.

- 55th Independent Artillery Group, deployed in Khuzestan.

Islamic Republic of Iran Army Aviation (IRIAA)

Kermanshah/Bakhtaran Army Aviation Group, main base Shahid Ashrafi Esfahani, in Kermanshah
- ? Company, AB.205 and AB.206
- ? Company, Bell 214C
- ? Company, Bell 209/AH-1J

Esfahan Army Aviation Group, main base Shahid Vatanpour (named so in 1981), near Esfahan, and Shahid Ashtari/4th Army Aviation Support Base
- ? Company, AB.206
- ? Company, Bell 214C
- ? Company, Bell 209/AH-1J
- ? Company, CH-47C

Kerman Army Aviation Group, main base Masjed-Suleyman
- ? Company, Bell 214C
- ? Company, Bell 209/AH-1J

Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF)

* TFB.1, Mehrabad IAP (Tehran)
11th TFW
- 11th OCU "Instructors", F-4E & RF-4E (detachment at TFB.4 in 1981)
- 12th TFS, F-4E & RF-4E

1st ERW
- ?? TRS, (E)C-130E
- ?? TRS, RF-4E and RF-5A (only nominally: all aircraft were deployed with different units of 21st, 31st and 61st TFWs)

?? TTW
- 11th TTS, C-130E/H
- 12th TTS, C-130E/H
- Tanker Squadron, Boeing 707-3J9C and Boeing 747-2J9F
- Base Flight, Bell 214A & HH-43
- ?? TTS, Fokker F.27M

?? Training Wing
- ?? TS, T-33A
- ?? TS, Beech F33

* TFB.2, Tabriz IAP (Tabriz)
21st TFW
- 21st TFS, F-5E/F
- 22nd TFS, F-5E/F
- 23rd TFS, F-5E/F
- Detachment, RF-5A (assigned to any of the three TFS')
- Detachment, C-130H
- ?? COIN Sqn, O-2A
- Base Flight, Bell 214A

* TFB.3, Shahid Nojeh AB (former Shahorkhi AB, near Hamedan)
31st TFW
- 31st TFS, F-4E & RF-4E
- 32nd TFS, F-4E & RF-4E
- Base Flight, Bell 214A

32nd TFW
- 306th TFS, F-4D (sent to 71st TFS in December 1980)
- 308th TFS, F-4D (sent to 72nd TFS in December 1980)
- 33rd TFS, F-4E & RF-4E (from December 1980, with F-4Es from 71st TFS; detachment at TFB.4 from early 1981)
- 34th TFS, F-4E (from December 1980, with F-4Es from 91st
and 101st TFWs; detachment at TFB.9 in 1988)
- Base Flight, Bell 214A

* TFB.4, Vahdati AB (Dezful)
41st TFW
- 41st TFS "Lions", F-5E/F
- 42nd TFS "Devils", F-5E/F
- 43rd TFS "Tigers", F-5E/F
- 306th Detachment (71st TFS), F-4D (periodically from October 1980)
- 308th Detachment (72nd TFS), F-4D (periodically from October 1980)
- Detachment from 21st TFW, F-5E (temporarily deployed in October/November 1980)
- Base Flight, Bell 214A

* TFB.5, Kermanshah (by 1980 used by IRIAF only as emergency airfield; instead, TFB.5 became one of main IRIAA bases)
- no units permanently deployed

* TFB.6, Bushehr IAP (Bushehr)
61st TFW
- 61st TFS, F-4E & RF-4E
- 62nd TFS, F-4E & RF-4E
- 61st TTW, C-130H
- Base Flight, Bell 214A

* TFB.7, Hor AB (Shiraz)
71st TFW
- 71st TFS, F-4E (replaced for F-4Ds from 32nd TFW)
- 72nd TFS "Flying Lions", F-14A (replaced by F-4Ds from 32nd TFW; all F-14s to 73rd TFS' detachment at Mehrabad in 1981)
- 73rd TFS, F-14A

71st TTW
- 71st TTS, C-130E/H
- 72nd TTS, C-130E/H
- 73rd TTS, Fokker F.27M
- Base Flight, Bell 214A

- VP-??, P-3C

* TFB.8, Khatami AB (later Shahid Baba'ie AB; Esfahan)
81st TFW
- 81st TFS, F-14A
- 82nd TFS, F-14A
- Base Flight, Bell 214A

* TFB.9, Bandar Abbas AB (Bandar Abbas)
91st TFW
- 91st TFS "Sharks", F-4E
- 92nd TFS, F-4E

* TFB.10, Chah Bahar AB (Chah Bahar)
101st TFW
- 101st TFS, F-4E (disbanded in 1980, crews sent to TFB.3; reformed in the 1990s with remaining F-4Ds)
- 101st TTS, C-130E/H

* TFB.11 Omidiyeh AB (Aghajari) (construction incomplete and not operational at the start of the war; was to see larger deployment of IRIAF units only from 1981)
51st TFW (in formation)
- 51st TFS, F-5E/F (in formation)
- 52nd TFS, F-5E/F (in formation)

* TFB.12 Masjed Soleyman (used by IRIAF as dispersal airfield or for basing of an F-5E-detachment from 41st TFW, as well as for larger detachment of IRIAA helicopters)
- no units permanently deployed

Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN)

- 3 Marine Battalions

Islamic Republic of Iran Naval Aviation (IRINA)
* NAS Chahbahar
- HC-?, Bell 206
- HM-?, MH-53
- HS-?, AB.212ASW

Iranian Deployment in Khuzestan

For the defence of Khuzestan, which was the main target of the Iraqi invasion, the IRIA had following units at hand:

92nd Armored Division was covering 400km of front (which was attacked by five Iraqi divisions and something like five brigades). This unit was at 50% of its nominal menpower, but reinforced by following elements:

- 37th Armored Group, composed of parts of the 37th Armored Brigade deployed to support the 2nd AB/92nd AD west of Dezful.

- 151 Fortification Battalion, manning the main fortifications north of Khoramshahr and 27 other fortifications developed along the border to Iraq (usually built some three kilometres from the border); this unit was equipped with 80 M-4 Sherman and M-24 Chaffee tanks, emplaced in a number of static fortifications (each "fort" had two tank-emplacements), 106mm recoilles guns, anti-aircraft artillery and anti-tang guided missiles; it should have counted some 1.300 troops in total, but was badly understrenght.

- 1 infantry battalion from 21st ID

- 1 infantry battalion and 1 armored company from 77th ID

- 1 armored battalion from 88th AD

- 1 battalion of IRIN Marines (deployed at Khoramshahr Naval Base).

Iranian Army Chieftain seen moving towards the front near Abadan: a single company of these tanks remained inside the city after it was put under a siege by the Iraqis.

Iraqi Invasion

The Iraqi operations between 22 and 30 September 1980 developed as follows:

I Army Corps
- 1st and the 11th IDs mainly operated against the Kurds
- 4th ID started actually the first attack into Iran, capturing Panjwin after two days of fierce fighting against Iranian border troops, gendarmerie, and the local Pasdaran, Basij, and Mostafazin units (which were joined under the unitary “Revolutionary Guards Command” as per 1 January 1981) even before the invasion was officially started, on 22 September. Once the Iraq invaded Iran, the 4th ID started a drive into Iranian Kurdestan, with the task of capturing Orumiyeh and Sandandaj.

II Army Corps
- 7th MD advanced towards Qassre-Shirin, capturing the city after much fighting in which the place was completely destroyed; then advanced towards the provincial capital Kermanshah (renamed Bakhtaran after the revolution in Iran, but renamed back to Kermanshah after the war with Iraq).
- 2nd ID captured Mehran, threatened Ilam, and reached the foothills of the Zagros Mountains, thus cutting off the road network connecting northern Iran with Dezful and the rest of Khuzestan.
- the task of two armored divisions belonging to this corps was to capture Dezful and sever the road connections between northern and southwestern Iran.
- 10th AD was to drive deep into Iran together with the 9th AD. However, it was swiftly stopped by counterattacks mounted by the Iranian Army Aviation (IRIAA) and the Air Force (IRIAF). The IRIAA deployed a large number of Bell AH-1J Cobra attack helicopters - which made excessive use of AGM-71A TOW ATGMs – and the IRIAF the Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II fighters, armed with Mk.82s, napalm, and cluster bombs, as well as 68mm rocket launchers. In a series of air strikes during the first five days of the war, almost 50% of the vehicles belonging to the 10th AD were destroyed.
- 9th AD managed a much deeper penetration, driving over 40kms into Iran within the first week. In the process of the advance, it captured the strategically important early warning radar station some 15km southwest of Dezful, and directly threatened the Vahdati AB (“TFB.4” in Iranian military parlance), which was put under heavy artillery attacks. The drive of this unit, however, was also stopped by the stubborn resistance of the IRIAA and the IRIAF, which while trying to buy time for the heavier Iranian Army units to be mobilized, effectively neutralized the 9th AD as a combat-capable unit, destroying over 200 of its MBTs and APCs.

III Army Corps
Task of the units belonging to this corps was the actual target of the whole invasion: the capture of the Iranian oil-rich province of Khuzestan, in order to secure the waterway of Shatt-al-Arab for Iraq, enlarge the Iraqi reach into the Persian Gulf, and secure additional oil resources. Topography of the area favored invaders and the use of tanks and other armored vehicles.

- 1st MD was tasked with an offensive from al-Amarah towards Ein-e-Khoosh and Fakeh, with aim of reaching and capturing Andimeshk and Dezful, in turn isolating Ahwaz from the north; this unit became stuck only few kilometres from the border and was not able to advance until the 10th AD penetrated deep into Iran, in turn causing IRIA units to pull back in good order behind Pol-Naderi bridge on Karakeh River.

Parts of the 1st MD advancing towards Dezful, in late September 1980.

- 10th AD was to push along a route parallel to the 1st MD, on its northern flank, towards via Dehloran and Musian to Malavi, Andimeshk and Dezful, isolating Dezful from the north in the process. The division successfully accomplished the deepest Iraqi penetration of the war: it's elements were the first to reach the Karakeh River, some 75km behind the border, on the seventh day of the war.

- 6th AD was to do the same, but along a southern route: it was to penetrate Iran near Bostan, then pass north of Susangerd and capture Ahwaz. In a drive similar to that of the 10th AD, the unit reached northern suburbs of Ahwaz by the end of the first week of the war.

T-62s of the 6th Iraqi AD seen on the Karakeh Plain, in March 1982: weeks later, this unit was almost annihiliated by Iranian attacks which turned the course of the war against Iraq.

- 5th MD attacked directly towards and to the north of Abadan: it's original objective was advance on and the capture of Ahwaz. The unit achieved only a minimal penetration and was not able to do more than support the 3rd AD in its advance. Nevertheless, these two units achieved an encirclement of Khoramshahr.

- 3rd AD was to build the third prong of this attack, with the target of driving some 40km deep into Iran, then turning south and isolating Khoramshahr. It was stopped by exceptionally heavy Iranian air attacks while advancing north of Khoramshahr, and managed a penetration of only some 15-20 kilometers. As a result, it was barely able to cut the road connecting Khoramshahr with Ahwaz in the northeast. It's 12th "Abu-al-Wallid" Armored Brigade was held back as Corps reserve, and did not participate in combat.

Battle of Karoun River

The battle of Karoun River erupted on 11 October 1980, when elements of the 5st MD and 6th AD established a small bridgehead on the eastern side, near Darkhowein, some 15km northeast of Khoramshahr, causing a surprise on the Iranian side and threatening to block local Iranian supply routes. From that point the Iraqis could advance towards east and south, and eventually encircle Dezful.

Battle of Karakeh River

The battle of Karakeh River erupted when elements of the 1st MD, on their advance towards Andimeshk and Dezful, established a bridgehead near Shoush.

On the Iranian side, the frontlines defending Dezful with the Vahdati (TFB.4) and the strategically important Dehloran radar site were held by following units (as seen from the north towards the south, stretching from Beyat, via Nahr-Anbar and Shoush to Fakkeh):

- 283rd Arm Cav Bn/92nd AD
- 2nd AB/92nd AD
- 37th AB (Combat Group)
- 138th Inf Bn/21st ID
- 141st Inf Bn/21st ID (held as reserve at Pol-Naderi bridge)

Failed Experience: Battle of Naderi Bridge, the First Iranian Counter-offensive

Already in early October 1980 the High Command IRIA prepared its first counter-offensive. This was to be based on reinforcements deployed from Tehran into the Dezful and Andimeshk area, foremost on elements from the 21st Division, supported by the 291st Armored Battalion/77th Division. The 2nd Brigade of the 92nd Armored Division was also deployed in the Shoush area, but apparently did not participate in this operation.

The task of this operation was to breach the Iraqi frontlines near Sorkheh Naderi, due south-east of Andimeshk, and launch a two-pronged advance: the northern via Dashe-e-Abas towards Ein-e-Khoosh, and southern via Chenaneh towards Fakkeh, on the Iraqi border. In the case of success, the southern prong would then turn towards south and attack Iraqi rear installations in the Bostan area.

This plan was very bold, calling for a swift advance of few small Iranian Army units (equivalent of one division) against no less but two reinforced Iraqi divisions. Without surprise, this offensive, launched on 15 October 1980, achived only minimal gains, resulting in a small dent in Iraqi lines: while the infantry of the 21st Division advanced for few kilometres, the Hunters of the IrAF Flying Leaders School - flown by some of the most experienced Iraqi pilots - hit the M-60 MBTs and M-113 APCs of the 291st Battalion as these were marshalling for their advance in a valley north-east of Andimeshk, destroying a number of tanks and APCs.

Even more severe was the blow the Iraqi fighters caused by a strike against the supply column of the Iranian battalion, which also caused heavy damage and resulted in the Iranian unit being left without fuel and ammunition. Eventually, the Iranian offensive had to be cancelled before it was properly started.

This was the only significant operation of this war in which the IrAF Hunters are known to have participated. According to Iraqi sources interviewed recently, it was also the last opportunity at which this type saw combat.

It is interesting to note that this was another occassion during this war when the air power delivered at least one of decisive blows: even if the Iranian planning was overenthusiastic, the operation at the Naderi Bridge had a potential to cause severe losses to the 10th Iraqi AD - if the initial attack could breach its left flank. However, the pre-emptive Iraqi air strikes made it impossible for the Iranains to launch their armoured strike.

Battle of Khorramshahr

Iraqi Army Units Involved (Sept/Oct.1980)
- 3AD (35 + 43 AB, 14th MB)
- 31 Special Forces Bde (in particular the 2nd and 3rd Bn)
- 33 Special Forces Bde (in particular the 8th and 9th Bn)
- al-Hassan Tank Bn (detached from 26AB/5MD and attached to 33rd SF Bde)
- 3 Mech Bn (detached from 15AB/5MD - the main body of which was attacking towards Ahwaz on flank of 3AD)
- 1st Bn (detached from 49IB)
- 4th Commando Bn (detached from 2ID)
- 2nd and 3rd Bns (detached from 2IB/2ID)
- 1st Bn/429IB
- Jeish-Al-Shabi Forces (two battalions of paramilitary)
- 1st Bn (detached from 23IB)
- 3rd Republican Guards Special Forces Bn (detached from Republican Guard Brigade)

The first Iraqi operation to enter Khorramshahr was launched by the main body of the 3rd AD. This was stopped and blocked at Pol-No and Nahr Arayez,a nd could not proceed with attack. The next attempt had been launched by the 8th Battalion of the 33rd Special Forces Brigade. This was stopped with heavy losses for Iraqis, causing a shock on the Iraqi side. The IrA commanders reacted by deploying additional commandos, followed by armour support.

The battle of Khorramshahr lasted for 34 days, and saw an immense investment of Iraqi forces, far beyond what Iraqi war plans envisaged. In turn, this battle enabled the Iranians to stablize front-lines at Dezful, Ahwaz and Susangerd, and move reinforcements to Khuzestan: by the time Khorramshahr fell, the Iraqi Army units deployed to capture this province were not longer facing just the Iranian 92nd AD, but also the 16th AD, 21th ID, and 77th ID.

T-62 of the 3rd AD passing down the streets of Khoramshahr: only a handfull of buildings in the city were not destroyed during the fighting in October and November 1980, resulting in Khramshahr frequently being nicknamed "Iranian Stalingrad".


Overall Iraqi plan for invasion of Iran was originally indeed based on similar British plans for an intervention from the 1950s, as reported in several different sources. After almost 30 years, in every of which the planning was updated by Iraqis in accordance to changes on the Iranian side, a completely new plan was developed. According to former high-ranking Iraqi officers, the eventual idea for invasion in 1980 was to drive the Iranian artillery units away from the Iraqi border, so these could not shell Iraqi cities - foremost Basrah. This task was to be completed within a time-frame of between three and seven days, and then Baghdad intended to negotiate with Tehran. This would be completely in accordance with standard Arab war strategy of delivering a heavy "first blow", and then negotiating on the basis of "new situation". Accordingly, the penetration the Iraqi High Command was looking for was not to be deeper but 40km, and there was no intention for holding any Iranian territory for any longer periods of time.

This idea led nowhere, then the Iranians were not ready to negotiate - especially not with Iraqi troops so deep within their territory. Also, the Iranian clergy was interested in extending the war and exploiting it for own purposes - for firming itself in power.

The Iraqi military was well-equipped but actually not completely ready for the war when it was ordered for an invasion of Iran: nevertheless, the Iranians were even less ready. The most important Iraqi units fared surprisingly well: "tank-raids" deep over the open terrain between the Iranian cities several times surprised the Iranian High Command, causing shock and chaos between scattered Iranian units that were badly outnumbered and overstretched in an attempt to defend too large parts of the frontlines.

Although many observers tend to describe the Iraqi operations as "Soviet-style", the Iraqis were far more influenced by the British, and fought accordingly - even if their Army was almost exclusively equipped with Soviet MBTs, APCs, and artillery.

Iranian Chieftain MBT seen early during the war. The Iranians had only one Armored Division stationed in Khuzestan on the start of the war, and this was actually still in organization in 1979, when the Islamic Revolution developed. Consequently, the unit was not ready for fighting when the Iraqi invasion came. Nevertheless, the two of its armored brigades did their best to help stop the Iraqi advance.

The missing link which in the end turned the whole Iraqi operation into a failure was the airpower aspect: the IrAF could never match the Iranian flying services, foremost the IRIAF and the IRIAA. It lacked the firepower, aircraft capability, and training. The Iraqi regime knew this; but, they hoped that the condition of the Iranian Air Force and the Army Aviation would be at least as poor as that of the rest of the Iranian military. There was also a hope that the IrAF could suppress the IRIAF by the first strike against most important Iranian airfields. This hope - fuelled foremost by reports from Iranian officers who defected to Iraq during 1979 and - especially - summer of 1980, was in vain.

Within only 24 hours, the IRIAF turned into a war-fighting machinery, striking not only all over Iraq, but also causing tremendous losses to the Iraqi Army on the ground. Within only three weeks - and it would take less time if there was not a period of bad weather through the early October 1980 - the IRIAF effectivelly stopped the Iraqi invasion by completely destroying its supply, and most of the depots near the front.

Right from the start of the war, transport helicopters of the Iranian Army Aviation and Air Force were very active in moving reinforcements and supplies - as well as evacuating injured - along the front. It was mainly due to the immense efforts of their pilots that the Iranians managed to stop the Iraqi onslaught. Quite a few helicopters (as well as IRIAF aircraft) went into combat still wearing the title of Imperial Armed forces.

The Iraqi Air Force gave its best to put the IRIAF under pressure, but only few of its support operations were effective. The IrAF also suffered considerable losses. Consequently, it turned its attention against targets of propagandistic character. The sole success the Iraqi fliers achieved that far in the war was the disruption of the fuel supply in Iran, which caused shortfalls felt even by the IRIAF - in one moment depleting its strategic reserves of kerosene to a level sufficient for only a few days. In response, the IRIAF mounted a strategic POL-campain, damaging the whole Iraqi oil industry to such a degree that Iraq had to cancell all oil exports. The Iraqi oil industry was not to recover from this blow for several years.

The IRIAF campaign against Iraqi POL depots and oil industry was three-fold: the Iranians effectivelly interdicted those oil depots that were supplying fuels and lubricants to the Iraqi military; they blocked the Iraqi ports of al-Faw and Basrah, and then also neutralized the two oil terminals south of al-Faw (al-Omayeh and al-Bakr). Subsequently, the IRIAF hit all the major pumping stations along the oil-pipelines to Turkey, Syria, and Jordan, effectivelly stopping the oil flow.

The KRB3MR-bridge, seen here after being hit and destroyed by GBU-10 LGBs, dropped by IRIAF F-4Ds: although four aircraft each armed with two LGBs were sent into this attack, already the first bomb hit home and the Iraqi advance north of Ahwaz was stopped.

Eventually, the Iraqi offensive had to fail: the Iranian regime could not be crushed from within by a foreign intervention, then the highly patriotic Iranians rallied around regardless which leadership in Tehran to defend their country. Contrary to Iraqi expectations, even Arabs living in Khuzestan - but so also Iranian Kurds, Armenians, and Azerbaijanis - joined the battle for the defence of Iran. Actually, the Iraqi invastion enabled the shaky regime in Tehran to establish itself in power, and thus resulted in exactly the opposite situation then expected.

Although in the state of chaos the Iranian Army and other ground forces (including different formations of the "Revolutionary Guards", Gendarmerie and Police) proved able to improvise stubborn and bitter resistance, which came as a complete surprise for the Iraqis. Consequently, the Iranians caused immense casualties to the inexperienced Iraqi Army. Only a considerable chaos within the regime in Tehran and the leadership in field, foremost caused by the Islamic Revolution of 1979, prevented Iranians from deploying the full power of their military against Iraq already at an early stage in the war. In fact, even in 1980 most Iranians expected this war not to last for longer than few weeks: that this did not happen was one of the most severe blows for many of them. But, at the time of the revolution they were not yet aware of this fact.

Patriotism alone, however, would not have been enough to stop the Iraqis - without the Iranian air power. The IRIAF and the IRIAA, namely, were highly effective in destroying so many Iraqi vehiles, artillery pieces and supplies, that the Iraqi Army's offensive capability was effectivelly neutralized. The Iraqis could not continue their advance despite a decision for their armored and mechanized units to drive deep between the Iranian cities, and so cut these off the rear instead of becoming entangled in urban warfare.

The air power was thus - contrary to what is usually reported about this war - instrumental for the eventual outcome. The Iranian flying services effectivelly won this "Battle of Persia" - even at a price of ultimate sacrifice of many precious crews and aircraft.

The reasons for the success of Iranian air operations are manifold. Although Iraqi sources deny this stubbornly until today, a single squadron of IRIAF F-14s established air superiority over the battlefield in Khuzestan, in mid-October 1980, by downing over a dozen Iraqi fighters within only two days, and in turn enabling the units from Vahdati AB (TFB.4) and Hamedan (TFB.3) - reinforced by elements from Tabriz (TFB.2) - to first neutralize newly-established Iraqi air defence system in the area (consisting of several SA-6-sites), and then destroy the Iraqi supply-net. The IrAF was out of condition to counter F-14s, and even less so to prevent IRIAF F-4s and F-5s, as well as IRIAA AH-1Js from hitting Iraqi ground forces heavily.

To besiege encircled Iranian cities in Khuzestan the Iraqis needed additional resources. These, however, had to be moved along exposed supply communications. The IRIAF hit these heavily and repeatedly. For this reason the Iraqis were eventually able of capturing only one large Iranian city: Khoramshahr - situated only few kilometres from the Iraqi border.

Elsewhere, the advancing Iraqi mechanised columns were put under vicious air strikes that destroyed men and equipment. The bold Iraqi offensive over the Karoun river, in late October, for example, was spoiled despite the moment of surprise and chaos it caused in local Iranian forces - because the IRIAF and the IRIAA, despite all the problems with targeting intelligence, managed to find the Iraqi break-through and destroy any vehicle their pilots could find. The Iranian air operations were frequently so effective, that there are several examples in which a division of four AH-1J Cobras was sufficient to stop advance of a whole Iraqi armoured brigade for hours. Such cases proved decisive.

The City of Khoramshahr was eventually captured by the Iraqis after exceptionally bitter fighting for every house, flour and room - where Iranian air power could not play a dominant role or be effective - but during which the Iraqis suffered such heavy losses that they never attempted anything similar with any other Iranian city again.

By the time Khoramshahr fell, namely, their strategic reserves were drained down to a point where they were not able of re-starting any offensive operations for years to come. Their invasion of Iran therefore died in the face of stubborn Iranian resistance - and then the rainy season of November 1980.

© Copyright 2002-3 by ACIG.org

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