Brief Overview of the Iran-Iraq War

On the 22 September 1980 Iraq declared war on Iran.

It was a conflict that was to last eight long and bloody years. The origins of what Iranians call the “Imposed War” were many and varied. Looking back at the history of the time, these two ancient peoples – each with complicated histories both of their own and with each other – fought over a combination of border disputes and highly-contested political and religious narratives.

Perceptions from the interviewees for this oral history project, who are uniformly Iranian, and the Secretary General of the United Nations, paint a picture of Iraq as the aggressor. And indeed the first military attacks did come from Saddam’s regime. However, as in all conflicts, there is a counter-narrative among Iraqis – and some Iraqi historians.

There can be no disputing the war’s ultimate result. Effective geopolitical stalemate. Battlefield stalemate. Futility. Wrecked lives on both the fighting front, and the home front. A legacy of sadness which endures to this day in both countries.

This is the story of a dozen human beings who were scarred – quite literally – by the worst excesses of that war. It is a story of trauma, indignity, hope and common humanity.

The Tehran Peace Musem’s oral history project team feel privileged to have been asked to give a voice to these stories which also tell of determination, dignity and triumph.

The human cost of the Iran-Iraq War – for both sides – was brutal and expensive. For Iran, there was, and still is today, a heavier burden to bear as a result of Saddam Hussein’s extensive use of prohibited chemical weapons.

Although Iran and Iraq were both signatories to the 1925 Geneva Protocol, Iraq violated the treaty and, by the end of the war, had dropped approximately 20,000 chemical bombs. Iraq also fired 54,000 chemical artillery shells and 27,000 short-range chemical rockets into Iran. Between the years 1983-1988, Iraq “consumed” 1,800 tonnes of sulphur mustard gas, 140 tonnes of Tabun and 600 tonnes of Sarin . “Consumed” is a euphemism for ‘used on Iran’. Two-thirds of these chemicals were used in the last 18 months of the war.

Over one million Iranians were exposed to chemical weapons – in one way or another – during the Iran-Iraq War. Of this number, 5,500 victims died immediately after the attacks and 100,000 survivors were treated for high dose exposure. Due to the heinous, life-long consequences of chemical weapons, many thousands of survivors are still suffering from the long-term health effects of exposure to chemical weapons agents. Currently, 75,000 of these survivors are registered by the Government of Iran and receive medical care.

Only a handful of these survivors have been able to tell their stories.

They are here on the Tehran Peace Museum’s website.


[1] UN Doc S/23273, 2 Dec 1991 (report of the Secretary General on the Implementation of Security Council resolution 598), paragraphs 6 and 7

[2]  Iran signed the Geneva Protocol on 5th November 1929, and Iraq signed on 8th September 1931

[3]  UNMOVIC Working Document (6 March 2003) Unresolved Disarmament Issues: Iraq’s Proscribed Weapons Programmes (Page 145)

[4] Tabun and Sarin are both lethal nerve agents.

[5] UNMOVIC Working Document (6 March 2003) Unresolved Disarmament Issues: Iraq’s Proscribed Weapons Programmes (pp145-146)

[6] Inai, Dr. Kouki: (2012) Atlas of Mustard Gas Injuries: Building bridges between Iran and Japan through the relief of victims exposed to mustard gas (pp 23-25)

[7] Khateri, Dr. Shahriar: (October 2014) Gassed: from the trenches of Khorramshahr to the Imperial War Museum. Essay submitted to The British Council.