A landmark television series aired by Al Arabiya has revealed rare footage of the Iran-Iraq War, providing new insights into one of the region’s most important events 40 years since it began.
The Iran-Iraq war pitted Saddam Hussein’s Iraq against the Islamic Republic under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei and evolved from a surprise blitzkrieg to a total war that threatened to escalate into a global conflict. It was the longest conventional war of the 20th century, lasting from 1980 to 1988, with consequences that shaped the region today.
“The Iran-Iraq War,” a new eight-part series aired on Al Arabiya this week in Arabic, revisits the war with footage unseen for decades and eyewitnesses’ interviews recounting stories from the front line.
With insights from French historian Pierre Razoux, “The Iran-Iraq War” is the first in-depth TV series about the conflict, according to OR Media. The creative team behind the project has produced hit series including BBC’s “Time Watch” and “Inside the Bomb Squad.”
Episode one aired on Friday and showed how relations between Khomeini, who had come to power following the Islamic Revolution in 1979, and Hussein deteriorated, resulting in Iraq’s poorly trained army invading Iran on September 22, 1980.
Further episodes use witness testimony and archival footage to tell the war’s full story.
With contributions from State Department diplomat Barbara Bodine and Saudi Arabian intelligence chief Turki al-Faisal among others, the series traces the tragic development of the war as it sucked in a range of regional actors, including the US.
Under first President Jimmy Carter, then Ronald Reagan, the US became deeply involved in the war. Wary of provoking Iran, where the Iran hostage crisis was still playing out, the US initially stayed out of the war before then selling arms to Iraq while it looked like Hussein’s forces had the momentum. But behind the scenes, the Reagan administration was secretly selling arms to Iran – a global scandal exposed in the Iran-Contra Affair.
As Iraq’s invasion faltered, the tide of the war turned and Iranian forces gained the upper hand, driving the invasion back and crossing into Iraqi territory. In a foreshadowing of his later persecution of Iraq’s Kurdish minority, Hussein used chemical weapons – including against his own people – to drive back the Iranians.
The US eventually attacked Iran’s fleet in Operation Praying Mantis, launched after an Iranian mine hit the USS Samuel B Roberts, killing 10 Americans.
Following offensives and counter-offensives, both sides eventually found themselves exhausted financially and militarily. The war finally came to an end August 20, 1988, when Iran accepted a UN-brokered ceasefire.
But with thousands dead and both countries left in ruin in the war’s aftermath, the series concludes by asking: What was it all for?
Al Arabiya’s “The Iran-Iraq War” episode one aired on September 25. The eight-part series will be broadcast every Friday and Saturday for four weeks at 8 p.m. GMT (12 a.m. Dubai time) and is available on the channel’s website or live television service.