Soviet support for Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War

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During the Iran-Iraq War, the Soviet Union sold or gave the greatest amount of military equipment and supplies to Iraq, as well as providing military advisers. Their public position, especially in the early phases of the war, was officially neutral to both sides, although they clandestinely provided a smaller amount of support to Iran. Later in the war, they more visibly supported Iraq, but still maintained an official position of neutrality. They actually had relations with both sides; see Soviet support for Iran during the Iran-Iraq War.

France was the second greatest supplier to Iraq, and tended to supply higher-technology equipment than the Soviets. [1] This does not mean that many other nations did not either provide materials or encourage client states to do so, or that there was not a brisk business by private arms traders.

At the start of the Iran-Iraq War, the Soviet Union stopped overt, and most covert, arms shipments to Iraq while Iraq was on the offensive, for the next 18 months. [2]. This may have been less because the Soviet Union wanted to help Iran, and more due to Moscow's irritation with Saddam, who had refused the Soviets more access to Iraqi ports in exchange for arms. Nevertheless, Soviet prestige was at stake if its arms were defeated, so the Soviets began to provide spare parts and ammunition. They later would replace complete vehicles and weapons on a one-to-one exchange basis. [3]

The Soviets allowed the Iraqi Communist Party, driven from Iraq by the security state, to broadcast, from the Soviet Union, calls for ending the war. [2] Again, this may have been more a matter of Soviet irritation than a serious attempt to hurt Iraq, since Iran was not seen as pro-Soviet, and the Iraqi Communist Party was unlikely to have overcome Saddam's security apparatus.

"Although the Soviets might not receive payments for several years, the sale of military hardware remained a critical source of revenue for them, and they have tried to retain Iraq as a customer. In May 1987, for example, the Soviets provided Iraq with better financial terms in a successful effort to prevent Iraq from buying sixty French Mirage 2000 fighters for an estimated US$3 billion. An additional US$3 billion in sales of helicopters and radar equipment may also have been denied to the French, although it was not possible to determine whether the Soviets agreed to fulfill both requirements. In early 1988, Iraq owed the Soviet Union between US$8 billion and US$10 billion in military debts alone.[4]

Export Controls

When the Iran-Iraq broke out, The UN responded with U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for a ceasefire and for all member states to refrain from actions contributing in any way to the conflict's continuation.

The Soviets, opposing the war, cut off arms exports to Iran and to Iraq, its ally under a 1972 treaty. While there still were strong policy disagreements, the Soviet Union was concerned about the reputation of its weapons, and deliveries resumed in 1982.

A key resolution, in 1987, was UN Security Council Resolution 598.

Timmerman quotes "World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers," United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Washington, DC, 1985, conservatively estimates Iran's arms imports over the 1979-83 period at $975 million from the Soviet Union.

C3I and external information support

Iraqi command was highly centralized under Saddam Hussein, who appointed officers above the rank of colonel. the Iraqi pilots were less aggressive because of their more conservative Soviet training. Yet, French, Indian and Egyptian trainers indicated that Iraqi pilots could be extremely effective after Western-style training that put the initiative in the air, in the pilot's cockpit and with his flight leader.

Iraq improvised an AWACS using a British Thompson CSF Tiger radar on a Soviet Il-76 airframe, the combination called the Baghdad 1. [5] The Soviets themselves had a much more capable AWACS platform using the Il-76 but more advanced electronics, the Beriev A-50

Moving away from Soviet doctrine also was evident in land warfare, where the Iraqis also learned to place greater emphasis on training and preparation for complex combined arms operations. This was seen in the training provided to new recruits and the use of large-scale battle rehearsals. [6]

Cordesman cites Jane's Defense Weekly December 19, 1987, p. 1400 [7]as reporting that the USSR, had to reschedule its satellite coverage during the more intense periods of tension between Iran and the West.[5] In November and December, 1987, it lowered its Kosmos 1983 photoreconnaissance IMINT satellite to lower it to over the battlefield between Iraq and Iran. Similarly, it altered the orbit of Kosmos 1985 in a way that implied it either had night coverage of the battlefield or was covering U.S. activity at Diego Garcia. Lowering orbits reduces time in space.

There have been numerous reports that Iraq received intelligence from third countries, especially satellite imagery from the U.S.[8] The Jane's article suggests that the Soviets also might have provided imagery. Iraq itself had little IMINT capability, initially from cameras on fighters operating in daylight. By 1987-1988, both sides used unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for IMINT. Processing and interpretation of the images was slow, and often overruled on political grounds. Iraq's quality of interpretation improved from 1986 on. Both sides also bought commercial satellite imagery. [5]

Air Warfare

MiG-25 in Algerian Air Force colors

The Iraqis and Soviets have different priorities for waging air warfare, evidenced by the way each assigns their best pilots to certain aircraft types. The different topics did conflict with Saddam Hussein's strict control of the Iraqi military, but, over the course of the war, some flexibility did emerge.[6] The Iraqis considered ground attack their most important air warfare mission, and put their best pilots into their Mirages, as opposed to their Soviet air superiority aircraft such as the MiG-25 and MiG-29[9]

Helicopters, which the Iraqis sometimes used efficiently for close air support belonged to Iraqi Army Aviation. (see below)

At the start of the war, the Iranian air arm had superior equipment to what, again at the beginning of the war, was largely Soviet equipment in Iraqi hands. Both sides had purged technically competent personnel, but the purges in both command & control, and advanced system maintenance, seemed to hurt Iran even worse. At the outset of the war, it would appear that the Iraqi Air Force was in a position to make a significant impact on hostilities. While the Iranian Air Force outnumbered Iraq’s in the number of airframes available, many of these could not be flown because of supply and technical problems. However, the Iraqi Air Force proved incapable of achieving air supremacy throughout the war. The failure to do so was a result of Iraq’s lack of a proper strategy and doctrine to use its air force. The effectiveness of most air forces relies on sound leadership, good command and control and a viable force structure. Just as in the army, the command and control of the Iraqi Air Force was highly centralized to prevent a coup attempt against Saddam Hussein. Consequently, the air force was very tightly controlled with an adverse impact on combat readiness. Indeed it was virtually grounded in 1982 after a purge following a reported coup attempt against the Iraqi leader.

The same restrictions from Saddam also hurt training. "As in the army, lateral communication among officers was restricted. This had a terrible impact on air force readiness and combat capability as Iraqi pilots were prevented from flying in large strike formations and encouraged to operate in isolation. Consequently, individual and squadron combat skills fell significantly below even Soviet standards. The one exception occurred when Iraqi pilots were exposed to realistic French Air Force training to transition to the Mirage F1 and the Super Etendard."[6]


In early 1987, Moscow delivered a squadron of twenty-four MiG-29 Fulcrums to Baghdad. Considered the most advanced fighter in the Soviet arsenal, the MiG-29 previously had been provided only to Syria and India. The decision to export the MiG-29 to Iraq, also assured Iraq a more advantageous payment schedule than any offered by the West and it reflected Soviet support for one of its traditional allies in the Middle East. Caught in a financial crisis, Baghdad needed the low-interest loans Moscow extended for this equipment.[4]

The Iraqis used the Soviet air defense model, which gave pilots relatively little initiative.

Ground Support

Su-22 version of Su-17

In the ground support role, the IQAF provided aircraft for close air support and strike roles and, to a limited extent, for air superiority over the immediate battlefield. In 1980, the Iraqi air force had 12 ground attack squadrons-4 equipped with MiG-23Bs, 2 with Su-7 (NATO reporting name FITTER), 4 with Su-20s (i.e., the export version of the Su-17 FITTER C), and 1 with British Hawker Hunters. They also had some Su-22's, the final upgrade of the Su-17 with Russian/French avionics. Also, the IQAF had two bomber squadrons equipped with Tu-22s (NATO reporting name BLINDER) and Il-28s (NATO reporting name BEAGLE) respectively, though the latter were probably inoperable.


Iraq had two transport squadrons whose primary aircraft were Soviet Il-76s (NATO reporting name CANDID) andAn-12s (NATO reporting name CUB). [10]


Mi-24 attack and transport helicopter

The 11 helicopter squadrons included Soviet Mi-8s (NATO reporting name HIP) and Mi-24s (NATO reporting name HIND), as well as western European-designed models.[10] Soviet attack helicopter design historically differed from that of the West, in that ater Vietnam, and especially into the 1990s, US Army, and some Soviet, attack helicopters became more and more optimized for the antitank mission[11]. The US Marine Corps continued to see the helicopter, as well as its fixed-wing aviation assets, in the close support role, although the Marines did dedicate a close-support helicopter in the form of the AH-1 Cobra and AH-1 Super Cobra. Soviet helicopters, however, retained troop transport capability than being attack-only.

Air Defense

Iraqi air defense radar and aircraft were under the Air Force, while anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles a belonged to their Army.

SA-6 launcher in desert camouflage
Ten thousand of the 38,000 IQAF personnel were dedicated to the air defense mission. "In confronting the Iraqi air defense, Iran soon discovered that a low-flying group of two, three, or four F-4s could hit targets almost anywhere in Iraq. Iranian pilots overcame Iraqi S-75 Dvina (NATO reporting name SA-2 GUIDELINE)
SA-2 on camouflaged launcher
and S-125 (NATO reporting name SA-3 GOA) antiaircraft missiles, using American tactics developed in Vietnam; they were less successful against Iraqi SA-6s optimized for low and medium altitude engagements. Iran's Western-made air defense system seemed more effective than Iraq's Soviet-made counterpart."[12]

Air-to-Surface Missiles

Iraq's ground-based air defense suffered both from poor leadership, and both a lack of understanding of the Soviet operational doctrine and technical characteristics of their Soviet SA-2, SA-3, and SA-6 surface-to-air missiles. "Even senior Iraqis privately admit that the top command levels of Iraq's ground-based air defenses was a political sinecure at the start of the war." [13] "Iraq adopted Soviet deployment and fire techniques and relied on the Soviet "book" without adaptation of the overall SAM system to Iraqi needs. Iraq maintained low, if not appalling, training and readiness standards, in comparison with similar powers like Egypt and Syria. It also failed to test the weaknesses in Iran's C3I and [battle management] system and deployment pattern.

The SA-2, and SA-3 were designed for a medium- to high-altitude threat, which the Iranian Air Force rarely if ever used. By the time of the 1988 cease-fire, Iraq had obtained, from the USSR, approximately 120 SA-2 launchers, 150 SA-3 launchers, 25-60 SA-6 launchers.
SA-3 surface-to-air missile
Of the Soviet weapons, however, they depended on a low-altitude system of anti-aircraft artillery with SA-7, SA-8, and SA-9 missiles, and eventually the SA-14.

Partially because the Iranians flew primarily at low level, it is difficult to say if the medium and heavy SAMs were ineffective due to the wrong sort of target for their capabilities, or because the failed to merge warning and missile use into an integrated air defense system. Iranian air attacks were so infrequent after the early 1980s that it is difficult to make precise judgments. Even in 1988, however, it was clear that Iraq was unable to keep its SA-2 and SA-3 missile defenses on continuous alert without burning out some of its electronics and seriously degrading the operational capabilities of its missiles. Iraq was still experiencing systems integration problems. Iraq only seemed to be able to use its Crotales, Rolands, and SA-6 on a target of opportunity, or individual fire unit basis. [13] Some Israeli experts came to regard Iraqi ability to manage the command and control and electronic warfare aspects of their Soviet supplied surface-to-air missile systems as far inferior to those of Syria, even considering the poor Iraqi performance in 1982.[14]

Interceptors and air-to-air missiles

Each interceptor squadron was deployed at a separate base for defense of a specific target . Their five interceptor squadrons had limited all-weather capability and were all equipped with MiG-21s (NATO reporting name FISHBED). [10]

"In confronting the Iraqi air defense, Iran soon discovered that a low-flying group of two, three, or four F-4s could hit targets almost anywhere in Iraq. Iranian pilots overcame Iraqi SA-2 and SA-3 antiaircraft missiles, using American tactics developed in Vietnam; they were less successful against Iraqi SA-6s. Iran's Western-made air defense system seemed more effective than Iraq's Soviet-made counterpart."[12]

The Iraqis were also displeased with Soviet air-to-air missiles . Pakistani technicians were reported to have helped the Iraqis modify some MiG-21 s to carry the French-made R550 Magic air-to-air missile. The Iraqis claimed to have used a MiG-21 so equipped to down an F-14. [10]

Iraqi leaders seemed very displeased with Iraqi defensive performances and seemed inclined to blame their Soviet-supplied equipment rather than admit their own organization and training problems, caused in part by Saddam Hussein's tight control and insistence on political reliability over military skill. While Soviet equipment may have been inferior to others, it could be effective when handled properly. The Iraqis, however, moved to supplement or replace it with French equipment. The competition between France and the Soviet Union as an arms supplier was a continuing issue for Iraq. Baghdad approached the French in late 1980 with requests to buy Crotale and Roland surface-to-air missile systems to augment their depleted Soviet SAM arsenal.[10]

Land Warfare

As for Iraq, the Soviet Union initially cutoff supplies in response to being caught by surprise, but this position was later reversed.[6]

Significantly, they made significant use of tank and AFV transporters. This reduced non-combat related maintenance problems. The improvement of this aspect of Iraqi capabilities was quite dramatic. The Iraqis have expanded their inventories from about 200 tank transporters in 1973, to approximately 1,200 in 1984, and 1,700 in 1988. They also are reported to be in possession of a large number of transports for AFVs. [15]


Iraq was not prepared for effective infantry combat when the war began. In accordance with Soviet doctrine, the Iraqis placed great stress on the use of tanks and mechanized units during the first stages of the war. The initial Iraqi invasion involved brigades and support elements from four armored divisions and two mechanized division. These forces thrust into the Khuzistan region without the support of large nonmechanized infantry units. However, the presence of a large numbers of water barriers and strong defenses in urban areas provided poor conditions for tank and mechanized warfare. This, coupled to the C3I problems described earlier, delayed the Iraqi advance in the critical early days of the war.

Tanks and armored fighting vehicles

Soviet doctrine emphasizes tanks, and Iraq followed its example. It consistently improved its skills with tanks, both Soviet-made and Chinese copies. It also used its attack helicopters with some of the Soviet "flying tank" methods.

File:Type59 Iraq 2.jpg
T-59 tank in Iraqi colors, captured in 1991 war

Most Iraqi tanks were Soviet, or Chinese copies of Soviet tanks, with more and more acquired during the war. They started, in 1979, with approximately 2,500 older T-55 tank and T-62 tank model Soviet tanks, and a few (probably less than 100) more advanced T-72 tanks. Iraq had roughly 2,750 tanks in late 1980. In early 1988, it had more than 4,500 Soviet T-54s, 55s, 62s, and 72s, some 1,500 Chinese T-59s and T-69-IIs (copies/derivatives of the Soviet T-54), 60 Romanian M-77s, and some captured Iranian British-made Chieftains.

Iraq had about 2,500 other armored vehicles in late 1980. As of late 1985, Iraq had about 3,000 AFVs. It had about 5,100 such systems in early 1988, including roughly 1,000 models of the Soviet BMP-1 and BMP-2 armored fighting vehicle.

File:Us ord museum 005.JPG
Captured Iraqi BMP-2

Even during the opening stages of the war, Saddam Hussein was aware that these Soviet tank types were individually inferior to those used by the Iranians. In October 1980, he said: "Their (Iran’s) cannons are greater in number, their tanks more advanced, their navy can reach long distance targets, and they have better arms." Comparative tank technology and numbers of armored weapons never had anything like the impact on the fighting one might normally expect. Iraqi tanks did not rely on speed and shock, effectively using supporting infantry in armored fighting vehicle, but moved cautiously into "hull down" positions prepared by Iraqi engineers, and waited to move only after their target area had been saturated by artillery. These tactics were effective against poorly armed Kurds in the 1980s, but were not enough to overcome the more capable Iranians. [15]

Iraq did not conduct deep armored strikes in the tradition of blitzkrieg until the 1988 offensive. They also tended to regard tank guns as mobile artillery, rather than using either self-propelled artillery or quickly moved towed guns (see French artillery), which wore out tank guns. Such misuse of tanks persisted in the Iraqi defenses of Faw in 1986 and of Basra in 1987. Iraqi armor also did poorly in urban positions where Iranian rocket launchers and anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) were used effectively. The Iraqis were unprepared for urban warfare, even using Soviet methods that cost the Soviets heavily in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution

Iraq's tanks were more effective against Iranian helicopter gunships. The Soviet 12.5mm antiaircraft machine guns on the Iraqi tanks were of adequate range and lethality to hold Iranian helicopters out of the range of their most lethal ATGM. The Iraqis did suffer serious armor losses when Iranian helicopters have flown nap-of-the-earth and pop-up attacks, but these attacks were rare after the first few months of the fighting. At least part of Iran’s problems in using attack helicopters seem to have been caused by the disruption of its C3I system and command structure, and a tendency to employ small unit tactics without a clear overall knowledge of the battlefield.[15]


Iraq still kept most of its helicopters in its air force at the beginning of the war -- which created major problems because of a lack of effective coordination between the air force and forward deployed army units. In mid-1980, it had 35 Mi-4s, 15 Mi-6s, 78 Mi-8s, 18- 34 Mi-24s, 47 Aloutte IIIs, 10 Super Frelons, 40 Gazelles, 3 Pumas, and 7 Wessex Mk- 52s. By early 1988, it had a strong Army Aviation Corps with 150-200 [[armed helicopters]], including 40-80 Soviet Mi-24s (Western designation: HIND) with the 3M11 Falanga (NATO reporting name AT-2 SWATTER), and the rest French, and 86 U.S. designs (either U.S. made or built under license) lightly armed helicopters: 26 Hughes 530F, 30 Hughes 500D, and 30 Hughes 300C. [15]

These were somewhat effective, but never reached full capability for deep strike or troop insertion rather than close air support. It tended use helicopters for more than the most narrow tactical purposes, often deploying them like forward artillery at the battle front or FEBA and firing at advancing Iranian troops.

Part of the problem was that Iraqi forces had serious problems with target acquisition. As a result, Iraqi pilots often found it difficult to acquire enough targets to merit risking the helicopter in combat, and to survive long enough to acquire and attack other targets in the rear. Their helicopters lacked efficient night vision devices, mast-mounted sights, and other modern targeting equipment. Their problems were compounded by an inability to fly and fight at night, and to easily acquire and kill targets in mountain areas, marsh areas, and built-up areas. "Pop-up" tactics often worked against unsupported Iranian armored fighting vehicles, but they do not seem to work well against dug-in or scattered infantry heavily equipped with automatic weapons and man-portable surface-to-air missiles.

Precision guided munitions

view through MILAN optical sight

Like Iran, Iraq never claimed high kill probabilities from any type of ATGM. Iraq fired 6 to 8 MILAN and Euromissile HOT missiles per vehicle hit, and Iraq only scored about one hit per 20 to 30 Sagger missiles fired, although this may be more a function of tactics and training than technology.

File:Long Range Anti-tank Weapon HOT 3 - ILA2002-clean.jpg
HOT, a vehicle or helicopter launched missile
One of the lessons of the war, according to Cordesman, is that the Iraqis, as well as the Iranians, used ATGMs heavily against both fixed targets and against infantry. They lacked portable mortars and grenade launchers. [15] Some additional insights regarding ATGMs which emerge from the Iraqi side, characteristic of Soviet ATGMs of the time:
  • Troops using them fired more for psychological effect than a "sniper" quality kill. This applied both to RPGs and ATGMs.
  • Iraqi infantry preferred to fire ATGMs while dismounted and under cover, not from vehicles.
  • As many ATGMs and rocket launchers have been fired at static defensive, mountain and urban positions as at armor. These are the primary hard target kill weapon of land forces. While ATGMs can be effective in this role, well-managed artillery and air strikes are preferred.
  • Weapons with simple sighting, tracking and fire control are essential. The complex method of tracking both the missile and target used in most Soviet missiles greatly reduced effectiveness.
  • both launcher and missile numbers are critical. ATGMs and rocket launchers must be provided throughout the force and to rear area and support forces.
  • [unguided, handheld] Rocket launchers such as the RPG-7, remain a critical weapon in spite of ATGMs. It would be highly desirable to have an area of anti-infantry rounds available for such systems to supplement light mortars and machine guns.
RPG-7: less powerful and accurate than ATGM, but easily portable

Ordinary rocket launchers have also played an important anti-armor and infantry support role. Both Iraq and Iran used the RPG-7, and was effective in close combat against the treads or other vulnerable areas of all of the tank types engaged.

Both sides preferred "third generation" Western guidance systems (sight-on-target-only) to the awkward and complex first and second generation guidance systems (sight on both missile and target) of Soviet ATGMs.


Iraqi artillery was not only a battlefield support weapon, but a strategic weapon against cities, key targets such as the refinery at Abadan, and rear areas. They were well-equipped with Soviet, French, and Chinese medium artillery with range greater than the equivalent U.S. cannon of the time. Saddam saw urban bombardment as a means of breaking Iranian will, without a need for precision.[6]

Before attacking into cities such as in Khuzistan, they would deliver heavy barrages, not precisely targeted. The concept seemed to be that barrages up to a day in length would suppress defense, but, as U.S. forces found at the Battle of Monte Cassino in the Second World War, the rubble produced by the bombardment simply provided better defensive cover, with relatively few casualties. Direct support of troops also was not effective, except when firing on massed Iranian infantry.

The Iraqi artillery used very large amounts of ammunition, more characteristic of Soviet mass fire doctrines than the more precise U.S. model. "In describing the use of artillery at the Gzuyl sector (northeast of Basra) during 1984, one journalistic source reported hundred of thousands of dollars worth of ammunition being used per hour. Artillery was fired as frequently as every two seconds." [6]

It was only after 1984 that the Iraqis improved their fire control such that they could shift fires as Iranian troops advanced, and that they could fire counterbattery missions against Iranian artillery. Their performance improved when they received self-propelled artillery, principally French but still used with the Soviet doctrine of mass. "While Iraq never achieved the level of combined arms capability common to most Western and Soviet-bloc forces, it was able to substantially improve its performance and this was an important contribution to its victories in 1988."[6] Iraqi guns fired over 400 rounds per day in checking Iran’s break out of Faw in early 1986. While the data are uncertain, Iraq routinely expended about one U.S. Army "week" of munitions per weapon per day when it is in intense combat. Put differently, Iraq expended about as much ammunition per gun per week in early 1986 and 1987 as NATO countries have per gun in their entire inventory.[15](see Logistics.


The Iraqis made logistic oversupply a key operational principle. They operated on the Soviet system of "supply push", rather than the U.S. system of "demand pull". Iraqi forces at the front were given massive ammunition stocks and war reserves. This was necessary given their Soviet-style extremely heavy artillery bombardments.

Iraq seems to have carefully considered the logistic implications of a war with Iraq well before the fighting actually started. [15]Ammunition, water, gasoline, oil and lubricants sites were constructed throughout the corps areas where they would be most needed. The Iraqis also did their best to maintain a logistic pipeline that would give commanders freedom of action once the war was underway.

When the Iraqis were in Iran, they constructed a paved highway from the southern sector, through Ahvaz, then north to Dezful. Since they have gone on the defensive, miles of lateral roads have been built behind the front in Meisan province, and then throughout much of the central and southern front. Many lateral roads have also been improved. These roads were built in order to enable combat reserves to move quickly into position to deal with any Iranian threat.

Another line of up to six lane highways, further in the year, has been rushed into completion. This seems to be in response to the Iranian victory at Faw in 1986, and the siege of Basra in 1987.

Their use of tank and AFV transporters was another example of logistical efficiency. [15]

The Iraqi Army had about 200,000 men under arms in September 1980, with another quarter-million in the reserves. It was equipped with almost three thousand Soviet-built tanks, including about 100 T-72's, approximately 2,500 armored fighting vehicles (AFV's), and about 1,000 tubes of artillery. The tank force was a mixture of T-34/55/62's and PT-76's of Soviet origin and some 100 French AMX-30's, of which more were on order.

Mechanized forces included Soviet BTR 50/60/152's, and BMP's, French Panhards and British Ferrets.[16]

"By the end of 1982, Iraq had been resupplied with new Soviet materiel, and the ground war entered a new phase. Iraq used newly acquired T-55 tanks and T-62 tanks, BM-21 Stalin Organ rocket launchers, and Mi-24 helicopter gunships to prepare a Soviet-type three-line defense, replete with obstacles, minefields, and fortified positions. The Combat Engineer Corps proved efficient in constructing bridges across water obstacles, in laying minefields, and in preparing new defense lines and fortifications.[12]

Naval Warfare

The Iraqi Navy numbered about 4,000 men and consisted of submarine chasers, patrol boats, missile boats, torpedo boats and minesweepers of Soviet, British and Yugoslavian origin. The two main naval bases were at Basra and Um Qasr, neither of which is in a secure position militarily.

The Iraqi Navy was largely ineffective due to a poor state of training and inadequate Soviet weaponry. Most of the Osa class missile boats would be, in Western terms, at the lowest level of training and readiness for operations. [16]

Realizing this, the Iraq is reportedly requested Western assistance in 1978 and 1979. The Navy could count on little support from the Air Force which had received no anti-ship training early in the war, and which could not reach the Iranian naval bases.[16] Later, as the Iraqi Air Force received Exocet-carrying aircraft, there was a squadron well qualified in ship attack.[10]

As with their air force counterparts, the Iraqi naval officers seem to have misunderstood their capabilities and effectiveness against likely enemies, or they chose to overlook some obviously-glaring discrepancies.[16]

Missile Technology

While the Soviets assisted Iraq with long-range missiles like the SCUD, there is little evidence that they helped the Iraqi development of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

Chemical Warfare

The Soviets did assist in chemical defense. A raw, redacted CIA report suggests that the Iraqis did use Soviet chemical defense equipment. [17] All units in the Iraqi army had some chemical defense capability, using principally Soviet equipment. The basic vehicle-mounted system was composed of

  • "BBAR" and "RCH 469" chemical attack detectors
  • "GSP12" chemical concentration measuring device
  • Small chemical laboratory
  • Night flares and flags to signal the direction of attack.

Iraqi Army units of approximately 3,000 men had a 20-man chemical defense unit assigned. This unit was equipped with two "R469" chemical attack detectors; one RS-19, RS-12, or RS-14 vehicle for decontaminating weapons, buildings and roads; and two "DDA" vehicles for decontaminating soldiers.

Smaller-units had one-man chemical defense units with a Soviet chemical attack detector and a German Kärcher pressure washer chine for decontaminating soldiers.

Individual soldiers had Soviet gas masks, and one of three types of chemical defense suits. "Number one" suits, which gave the greatest protection, were used only by chemical units. "Number two" suits which covered torso, hands and legs (in addition to the gas masks), and the "Number three" issued to troops consisted of long gloves. All received Yugoslav first-aid packets with two atropine injectors, "tablets for nuclear radiation", and two bottles for spot cleaning unknown chemicals.


  1. Kenneth Timmerman, Chapter 7: Operation Staunch, "Fanning the Flames: Guns, Greed & Geopolitics in the Gulf War", Iran Brief
  2. 2.0 2.1 Shalom, Stephen R. (Feb. 1990), "The United States and the Gulf War", Z magazine
  3. Sonnenberg, Robert E. (1 Apri1 1985), The Iran-Iraq War: Strategy of Stalemate, Marine Corps Command and Staff College
  4. 4.0 4.1 Metz, Helen Chapin, ed. (1988), Iraq: A Country Study., Federal Research Division, Library of Congress
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Anthony Cordesman (9/26/2003), Chapter XI: Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Battle Management, The Lessons of Modern War: Volume II, The Iran-Iraq War, Center for Strategic and International Studies
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 Clark, Robert (2000), Symmetrical Warfare and Lessons for Future War: the Case of the Iran-Iraq Conflict, Canadian Forces College, Advanced Military Studies Course 3
  7. Jane's Defense Weekly, December 19, 1987, p. 1400
  8. Woodward, Bob (15 December 1986), "CIA Aiding Iraq in Gulf War; Target Data From U.S. Satellites Supplied for Nearly Two Years", Washington Post
  9. United States Gulf War Air Power Survey, vol. IV: Weapons, Tactics, and Training and Space Operations, Air Force Historical Research Agency, 1993
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 Bergquist, Ronald E. (1981), The Role of Airpower in the Iran-Iraq War, Airpower Research Institute, United States Air University
  11. Mazarella, Mark N (1994). Adequacy of U.S. Army Attack Helicopter Doctrine to Support the Scope of Attack Helicopter Operations in a Multi-Polar World (PDF). U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. Retrieved on 2007-12-12.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Iran-Iraq War,
  13. 13.0 13.1 Cordesman, Anthony (9/26/2003), Chapter XIII: The Air and Missile Wars and Weapons of Mass Destruction, The Lessons of Modern War: Volume II, The Iran-Iraq War, Center for Strategic and International Studies
  14. Hurley, Matthew M. (Winter 1989), "The BEKAA Valley Air Battle, June 1982: Lessons Mislearned?", Airpower Journal
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 15.5 15.6 15.7 Cordesman, Anthony (9/26/2003), Chapter XII: The Combined Arms and the Land War, The Lessons of Modern War: Volume II, The Iran-Iraq War, Center for Strategic and International Studies
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 Martinson, Martin J. (1 April 1984), The Iran-Iraq War: Struggle Without End, Marine Corps Command and Staff College
  17. Central Intelligence Agency (1989), Subject: Iraqi Chemical Weapons and Defense Capabilities, CIA 369862