Why did the Iran-Iraq war last for so long?

What factors that have caused tension in the Middle East?

  • OIL (control over oil supplies and exports)

    1. Iraq and Iran both wanted control of an important waterway called the Shat al-Arab Waterway as it gave access to the Persian Gulf and would help to increase oil exports. Although they had agreed to share the waterway under the Algiers Agreement of 1975, Saddam wanted control of the whole waterway.

    2. Saddam saw an opportunity to seize Iranian oil fields in Khuzestan, a region in south-east Iran. This region accounted for around 60% of Iran’s oil reserves. Controlling this oil would have made Iraq wealthy and powerful.

  • LEADERS (conflict and rivalries between the leader of countries)

    1. Saddam had tried to improve relations with Iran after the revolution. However, Khomeini had rejected these attempts. Instead, Khomeini called on Iraqi Shiites to overthrow Saddam who Khomeini called an “atheist”.

    2. Iraqi Shiittes had tried to assassinate Saddam and other Ba’ath Party leaders. Saddam believed that the Ayatollah Khomeini was behind these plots because he wanted to spread the Islamic revolution to Iraq.

    3. Khomeini had become increasingly popular in the Arab world after the turning Iran into an Islamic state. As Saddam wanted to be seen as the leader of the Arab world, he saw the war as an opportunity to reduce Khomeini’s power and influence in the region. (also Nationalism)

  • RELIGION (conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims)

    1. Shia Muslims were often discriminated against in Iraq as Saddam’s Ba’ath Party were mostly Sunni Muslims. As most people in Iran were Shiites, this caused tension between the two countries.

  • NATIONALISM (a desire for increased territory and influence in the region)

    1. Iraq had one of the largest armed forces in the Gulf. After the revolution, Khomeini had purged the Iranian army of any officers that were loyal to the Shah and had ended a military alliance with the USA. Therefore, Saddam believed the Iranian armed forces were weak. He thought that he could win a quick war against Iran, increase Iraqi territory and become the dominant power in the Gulf region.

    2. After the revolution, an Islamic regime was set up in Iran. The US embassy hostage crisis that followed led to many western countries imposing sanctions on Iran. Therefore, Saddam believed that Iran was economically weak. He thought that he could win a quick war against Iran, increase Iraqi territory and become the dominant power in the Gulf region.

    3. Khomeini had become increasingly popular in the Arab world after the turning Iran into an Islamic state. As Saddam wanted to be seen as the leader of the Arab world, he saw the war as an opportunity to reduce Khomeini’s power and influence in the region. (also Leaders)

What factor do you think was the most important in causing the war?

I think religion and nationalism were both just as important reasons for causing the war. This is because they seem very closely related as religions want to hold power so they can increase their influence, which is religious nationalism and they want Iran wants the Shiites to take over rule of Iraq.

Why did these factors lead to the war lasting for so long?

  1. Iranian military tactics

  • They were able to store their Air Force safely and use it against Iraq

  • Fierce fighting around the town gave more time for 200,000 volunteer soldiers to arrive to fight.

  • They continued to attack in waves while Iraq built trenches are defended themselves


  1. The role of Khomeini

  • After Iran had pushed Iraq back to the border, Saddam asked for peace, but Khomeini refused. He declared he wished to continue the war until the Ba’ath regime had been replaced by an islamic government.


  1. Foreign intervention from countries in the Middle East

  • Saudi Arabia provided 40 billion dollars of subsidy to Iraq

  • Other countries allowed Iraq to export oil through them

  • Syria provided help to Iran

  • Libya also supported Iran


  1. Foreign intervention from countries in the West

  • The US provided intelligence about Iran to Iraq

  • The US provided weapons and sent battleships to the Persian Gulf.


he majority of this page was created / the information was collected by Mr Joshua Tillott.