Blue Skies in Camelot (Continued): An Alternate 80s and Beyond

Chapter 163
Chapter 163 - Eye in the Sky: The Iran-UAR War Enters its Next Phase
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Above: Iranian Northrop F-5 aircraft during the war (left); UAR T-62 tank wreckage in Khuzestan Province, Iran (right).​

“I am the eye in the sky
Looking at you
I can read your mind
I am the maker of rules
Dealing with fools
I can cheat you blind
And I don't need to see any more to know that
I can read your mind (Looking at you)
I can read your mind (Looking at you)
I can read your mind (Looking at you)
I can read your mind”
- “Eye in the Sky” by the Alan Parsons Project

“The west needs someone to tell the man who walks around with the biggest stick in the world, that that stick can't bring down God's house.” - Saddam Hussein

“To achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East takes guts, not guns.” - Queen Raina of Jordan

The war between the Democratic Republic of Iran and the United Arab Republic, which began on September 22nd, 1980, entered its second year in late 1981. At that time, the conflict appeared to have settled into a stalemate.

Despite a strong initial showing by the Arabs, using their armored divisions to break through poorly organized Iranian defenses in Khuzestan Province, the annexation of which remained one of Baghdad’s principal war goals, Iranian air attacks, particularly on oil refineries and shipping, hobbled the UAR’s economy, and made resupplying their frontlines with food, fuel, and water difficult. Add to these conditions the harsh, mountainous terrain of Iran’s border marches, and an Iranian population hell bent on sending them packing, and Saddam Hussein’s army faced severe setbacks that prevented them from securing their gains in Khuzestan.

On November 29th, 1981, the Iranian army executed a sneak attack on the Arab-occupied town of Bostan. To catch the invaders unawares, the Iranians constructed a road 14 kilometers long through undefended desert sand dunes. This road allowed them to attack the Arab positions from the rear. Lack of supply led to low morale among UAR troops, which was compounded as renewed fighting broke out that seemed to have them surrounded by Iranians. Backed by artillery and air support (including repaired and refueled jet fighters thanks to aid from the United States’ Kennedy administration), the Iranian troops surgically encircled and choked out pockets of Arab resistance, eventually forcing what remained of the armored divisions to retreat. Bostan returned to Iranian hands on December 7th. The fall of Bostan exacerbated the Arabs’ logistical problems, forcing them to use a roundabout route from Ahvaz to the south to resupply their troops. Nearly four-thousand Iranians and over two-thousand, five-hundred Arabs were killed in the operation. Realizing that a wider Iranian counterattack was likely in the works, the UAR high command decided to preempt them with an operation of their own the following spring.

On March 19th, 1982, using a large number of tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets, they attacked a massing group of Iranian forces around the Roghabiyeh pass. Though Saddam and his generals assumed they had succeeded, in reality the Iranian forces remained almost fully intact. Iran counterattacked, driving Arab forces from Khuzestan Province, then massed troops on the border for their own potential counter-invasion of Iraq. As a result, the tide of the war turned against the UAR.

The fighting thus far had battered the UAR’s military. Its strength dwindled from over 300,000 troops to just over half that number by May 1982. Over 40,000 Arab soldiers had already been killed and another 50,000 captured. Over 150 tanks and armored personnel carriers were lost to the Iranians during the retreat to the border as Saddam withdrew from Khuzestan and ordered his men to dig trenches and defend the border. Despite these setbacks, however, not all of the news was grim. The UAR still boasted over 3,000 operable tanks, while Iran could muster only half of that number, though their supplies were increasing thanks to western aid. The Arabs’ air forces were also more or less intact, still capable of bombing raids over Iranian cities. UAR helicopters were also capable of providing transport and air support, especially on defense. Clearly, if Iran was serious about a counter-invasion, they were going to have as many problems taking Arab territory as the Arabs had taking theirs.

On the Homefront, Saddam realized that he needed to secure his internal coalition if he was going to hold onto power. To do this, he employed a number of methods. At first, Saddam attempted to ensure that the UAR’s population suffered from the war as little as possible. There was rationing, but civilian projects that had begun before the war continued. At the same time, the already extensive cult of personality around Saddam's person reached new heights while the regime tightened its control over the military.

In Syria, an Islamist uprising, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, which had begun before unification, reached new heights and spread across the former border into Iraq. While the Sunni middle class opposed the uprising and supported the Baathist Party, many in the working classes supported the Islamists. The Islamists conducted terrorist campaigns in major cities, particularly Damascus, and attempted to disrupt the flow of oil to Syrian ports on the Mediterranean, which would have strangled the Republic’s economy, which was more reliant than ever on oil sales to fund its war effort. These pipelines (to the Syrian ports and north, to Turkey) were the only means of exporting UAR oil besides the port of Basra on the Shatt al-Arab near the Persian Gulf. Given that Basra was under more or less constant air attacks by Iran, the pipelines took primacy. Saddam Hussein used these Islamist attacks as justification to dispatch his Republican Guard to brutally “pacify” Syria and Northern Iraq. Fighting between the UAR government and Brotherhood-backed militias continued thereafter throughout the war.

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Above: Seal of the Muslim Brotherhood (left); President Saddam Hussein and Vice President Hafez al-Assad of the United Arab Republic (right).​

Saddam blamed the uprising on his vice president, Hafez al-Assad (an Alawite Shia), who became increasingly isolated and sidelined from government affairs as Saddam’s cult of personality grew. Saddam allied with Sunni members of the Syrian wing of the Baathist Party to undermine Assad’s authority within the movement, and to ensure the Syrians’ ultimate loyalty to Saddam. This was accomplished by the giving of lavish gifts and the granting of what essentially amounted to “corruption privileges” that is, the government in Baghdad turning a blind eye to blatant graft and warlordism, as well as talking up Assad’s faults to the many enemies he had made over the years in his own rise to power. To the Syrian Sunni Baathists, Saddam represented an opportunity to turn the page on Assad’s failed leadership, which had seen an unsuccessful intervention in the Lebanese Civil War. Assad had also failed to retrieve the Golan Heights from Israel, who continued to occupy the territory in violation of international law. Though Saddam was, ultimately, disinterested in the Arab-Israeli conflict beyond paying lip service to the Palestinian cause and using them as a bargaining chip in his own personal empire building, he knew how to play up his supposed anti-Israeli, anti-western credentials in order to win allies in Syria.

By the time that Assad suffered a heart attack complicated by phlebitis in November of 1983 and subsequently died, his authority (both moral and practical) within the country had all but vanished. Assad’s death assured Saddam’s ascendency, however, by removing his only significant political rival in the Republic. Assad’s family, including his brother and young son, fled the country into exile, so as not to be targeted by Saddam’s paranoid wrath.

In the summer of 1982, Saddam began the second phase of his efforts to secure the Homefront: a campaign of terror. More than 300 UAR Army officers were executed for their failures on the battlefield. The following year, a major crackdown was launched on the leadership of the Shia community. Ninety members of the al-Hakim family, an influential family of Shia clerics whose leading members were the émigrés Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, were arrested, and 6 were hanged.

To secure the loyalty of the remaining Shia population, Saddam allowed more Shias into the Ba'ath Party and the government, and improved Shia living standards, which had been lower than those of the Sunnis. Saddam had the state pay for restoring Imam Ali's tomb with white marble imported from Italy. The Baathists also increased their policies of repression against the Shia. The most infamous event was the massacre of 148 civilians of the Shia town of Dujail. Despite the costs of the war, Saddam's regime made generous contributions to Shia waqf (religious endowments) as part of the price of buying Shia support. The importance of winning that support was so great that welfare services in Shia areas were actually expanded at a time in which Saddam’s regime pursued austerity in all other non-military fields.

In response to this "carrot or stick" campaign, Iran forged alliances with groups within the UAR who were still opposed to Saddam’s regime. These included: Kurdish militias in the north of Iraq, who sought independence and their own state; Shia Arabs tired of their oppression under the Sunni Saddam; and Syrian nationalists who opposed continued unity with Baghdad. Iran funneled money, training, and logistical support to these groups in the hopes that they would orchestrate uprisings that might topple Saddam’s regime or, at the very least, force him to pull troops off the front lines to put them down. For his part, Saddam responded by funding groups within Iran that were opposed to Yazdi’s government, or constitutional republicanism in general, especially among the socialist and communist left-wing, who were frustrated by Yazdi’s continued reluctance to give them positions in the wartime government. Shia Islamists in Iran were also frustrated by their lack of influence within Yazdi’s coalition, as well as by Yazdi’s insistence on closer ties with the United States of America. Mostafa Khomeini, the son of the late Ayatollah and unofficial leader of the Islamist opposition, also condemned Yazdi’s “reluctance to remove the murderous Saddam from power”.

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Above: Seal of the “Organization of Iranian People’s Fedai Guerrillas” (OIPFG), an underground Marxist-Leninist militia in Iran, opposed to the Yazdi government (left); Ebrahim Yazdi, wartime Prime Minister of Iran (right).

By May, Iran had recaptured most, if not quite all, of its sovereign territory.

On June 20th, Saddam sued for peace, proposing an immediate ceasefire and complete withdrawal from Iranian territory in exchange for Iran’s recognition of UAR ownership of the Shatt al-Arab. Saddam even offered to renounce his claims on Khuzestan province. The more nationalist and islamist elements within his country (who wanted to see Saddam removed from power and his government replaced with one more friendly to Tehran), refused to consider this, however.

If Tehran yielded on the very issue that had started the war in the first place (the Shatt al-Arab), they claimed, then the new republic would be seen as weak and overly deferential to Saddam and the Arabs. Many in Tehran felt that Saddam needed to be “taught a lesson” for beginning the war in the first place. This was not to say that elements of the Yazdi government did not support peace. The prime minister himself was actually disposed toward accepting the ceasefire on Saddam’s terms. Most of the Iranian military high command felt that invading Iraq was a fool’s errand for logistical reasons. But Yazdi lacked the political capital necessary to oppose the forces favoring invasion, which included his defense minister, his interior minister, and the country’s President, the popular cleric Hussein-Ali Montazeri, who had already lost one son in the fighting. Another of his sons had lost an eye defending Khuzestan Province. Thus, preparations for an invasion continued.

The offer of a ceasefire represented a rare thing indeed for Saddam: a somewhat shrewd geopolitical play.

Though Grigori Romanov had not yet committed the blunder of entering his own undeclared war with Sweden, Saddam still doubted the Soviets’ commitment to financially backing his own war effort long-term. He understood that if he was going to survive the potential onslaught of sustained Iranian counterattacks, he needed to court new allies (or at least financial backers), preferably ones a little closer to home.

Prior to the war, the UAR’s relations with the Gulf States (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, etc.) were notoriously awful. The Ba’athist ideology, explicitly secular, socialist, and Arab nationalist, seemed to threaten the foundation of the Gulf States’ monarchies. The Iranian Revolution changed the geopolitical calculus for these states, however. The Iranian constitution, also (largely) secular, declared monarchy to be an “illegitimate form of government”, in reference to the Shah. There was growing fear in Riyadh and the other Gulf State capitals that if Iran successfully invaded Iraq and/or Syria and overthrew Saddam, that Tehran’s influence across the Middle East would pose an even greater threat to the Gulf States' continued stability than Baghdad. The people of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States might turn to Iran as a possible revolutionary example to emulate. This could not be allowed. Just as Saddam’s military withdrew to the UAR’s borders and dug trenches in the spring of 1982, Saddam traveled to Riyadh to meet with King Faisal and hash out their differences.

On a personal level, Faisal loathed Saddam. The King saw much of his brother, Saud, whom he had removed from power nearly twenty years earlier in him. Saddam was a bully, a brute, who understood only violence. But, Faisal reasoned, he could be necessary as a counterweight, a bulwark against Iranian influence in the region, a “useful idiot”, if you will. Faisal was also troubled by American aloofness to himself and his Kingdom under the administration of President Robert Kennedy. Though Faisal had managed to soothe Kennedy’s human rights concerns with promises of continued reform, and had supplemented the Kingdom’s arsenal with modernized weapon systems from France, the Americans’ refusal to sell AWACs to Riyadh had shaken their confidence in Washington as an ironclad security guarantor. London and Paris would serve well enough in the role, Faisal thought, but would they have the resources and ability to project power into the Middle East on land, as well as by air and by sea in the event of Iranian invasion? Furthermore, if the US decided that the Democratic Republic of Iran was to be the “Natural hegemon” of the Persian Gulf, that could only stand to hurt Saudi interests.

In Riyadh, Saddam was on his best behavior. He charmed Faisal’s court and promised to be a “protector of peace” in the Middle East, if victorious over the Iranians. Attempting to appeal to Faisal’s staunch support of the Palestinian people, Saddam promised that after his war with Iran had concluded, he would turn the UAR’s attention westward (toward Israel), where his “true interests” lay. Saddam pitched a vision of the Middle East with the UAR and Saudi Arabia as the “two pillars” of an anticolonial coalition.

For the time being, however, Faisal kept his distance from such an overarching scheme.

His vision for his Kingdom required the continued presence of foreign, and especially, French workers to expand and maintain the Saudi oil fields. He did, however, agree to float Saddam’s government a number of loans necessary for the continued prosecution of the war. Those loans, combined with the UAR’s existing oil wealth, shipped via pipeline to Aleppo or north into Turkey, would buy everything from ammunition to uniforms. The Saudis were also interested in pivoting away from Egypt under President Anwar al-Sadat, whom they viewed as a “traitor to the Arab cause” for recognizing Israel and making a strategic shift toward the United States, placing Egyptian interests above those of Arab unity. While Faisal trusted Saddam even less than he did Sadat, he worked closely with his heir apparent and half-brother, Fahd, to keep the Kingdom’s options open when it came to protecting the Kingdom’s interests. Saddam, despite all odds, had made a friend, even if only temporarily.

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Above: King Faisal (left) and his half-brother and successor, King Fahd (right). The House of Saud became one of Saddam Hussein’s chief backers in the United Arab Republic’s war against Iran.

The Saudis weren’t the only ones nervous at the prospect of an Iranian invasion and the potential collapse of Saddam’s regime.

The Republic of Turkey, led by President Kenan Evren since the military coup that brought him to power two years earlier, viewed Saddam’s potential ouster as a “near apocalyptic-level threat”. Why? Simple: the Kurds. An Iranic ethnic group native to the mountainous region of Kurdistan in Western Asia, which spans southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iran, northern Iraq, and northern Syria, the Kurds had long represented a sizeable ethnic minority in Turkey, and indeed, were considered in Ankara to be among the republic’s most notable security risks. The Kurds were, as of 1982, the world’s largest ethnic group without a nation-state of their own. Suppressed by both Saddam in the UAR and Evren’s regime in Turkey, the Kurds desperately wanted a state of their own to secure a future for their people. They hoped to create one out of the northern regions of the UAR, which used to be Iraq. No doubt, the Kurds would demand this as a precondition for assisting the Iranians in overthrowing Saddam’s regime.

Such a turn of events would put this hypothetical Kurdish state, if founded, directly on the border with Turkey, however. The Turks feared that if a Kurdish state were thus founded, Turkish Kurds might rise up in rebellion or attempt to break their home regions away to join this upstart country. Many of Turkey’s river systems that comprised the country’s fresh water supply were to be found in regions of Anatolia occupied by the Kurds. Given the ethnic ties between the Kurds and the Iranians, the Turks also feared that this new Kurdish state would become little more than a client-state for Tehran, extending Turkish influence, theoretically not only to Turkey’s doorstep, but through control of its fresh water supply, directly into the heart of its civilization. This was deemed totally unacceptable in Ankara. They would do whatever was in their power to prevent the Kurds from obtaining a homeland, even if it meant doing business with an “unsavory” dictator like Saddam Hussein. Hence, Turkey sent food, financial support, and even surplus small arms and ammunition to the UAR.

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Above: Flags of Turkey (left) and the proposed nation of Kurdistan (right); fears of the creation of a Kurdish homeland led Turkey to support the United Arab Republic in its war with Iran.

Even among Iran’s erstwhile allies - western nations like the United States and United Kingdom - the decision not to accept Saddam’s ceasefire offer was greeted with surprise and not a small amount of suspicion.

US Secretary of State Ed Muskie paid a visit to Tehran over the summer of 1982 to “remind” Prime Minister Yazdi and his government that US aid to Iran was predicated on the idea that the republic was defending itself from invasion by a Soviet-backed aggressor. “My fellow Americans are not interested in cutting you a blank check to do anything else.” Muskie told Yazdi coldly during a meeting in early July, 1982.

While the US certainly stood by Iran’s right to defend itself from attack, it did not want to see Iran do anything to destabilize the overall balance of power in the Middle East. Saddam might be a madman, but removing him from power would create a gigantic power vacuum. One need only look to Lebanon, with its myriad competing factions and bloody streets to see what might rush in to fill the void. Within the Kennedy National Security Council, headed by Zbiginew Brzezinski, concern was growing that the war could spread beyond the boundaries of the two belligerents. A National Security Planning Group meeting was called, chaired by President Kennedy, to review U.S. options. It was determined that there was a high likelihood that the conflict would spread into Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, but that the United States had little capability to defend the region. “Zbig” summed up the feelings of many within the administration that, when it came to the Iran-UAR war, “It’s a pity they can’t both lose.” It was determined that a prolonged war in the region would induce much higher oil prices and threaten the fragile world recovery which was just beginning to gain momentum. This would threaten not only President Kennedy’s chances at reelection come 1984, but also overall world stability, right at a time when tensions between the superpowers were at their highest.

Back in Tehran, Muskie implied that if Iran went through with the invasion and attempted to topple Saddam’s regime, the US might recall the $5 billion in low-interest loans that Washington had floated the Iranians as part of the aid package passed by Congress the year before. Yazdi countered that if he accepted a ceasefire on Saddam’s terms, it would inevitably mean the collapse of his government. Iran, he argued, was winning the war. With Washington’s help (he was quick to credit the efficacy of US aid), they had driven the invaders from their soil and defended their national sovereignty. Accepting that the Shatt al-Arab belonged exclusively to the UAR would be seen as tantamount to surrender. Iranian national honor would not stand for it. The national unity coalition Yazdi headed was shaky at best. Even members of his own coalition, particularly the conservatives and nationalists, were leery of Yazdi pursuing overly close relations with Washington. If he accepted Saddam’s terms at the behest of his “American handlers” he would be promptly ridiculed as a puppet of Washington and removed by a vote of no-confidence. Instead, he offered a compromise: he would delay the proposed invasion for as long as he could and attempt to get Saddam to the negotiating table to drop his remaining demands and offer concessions which might prove acceptable to the more jingoistic elements in Yazdi’s government.

Muskie relayed this offer to President Kennedy, who reluctantly agreed. It was time for some more containment. The war would continue throughout the rest of 1982, but its character changed dramatically.

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Above: US Secretary of State Ed Muskie (left); USS Ranger, the nuclear-powered carrier which served as the flagship of the US fleet sent to protect Iranian shipping in the Persian Gulf during the war.

Following Muskie’s trip, a US Navy carrier strike group, based around the USS Ranger (a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier) was dispatched by President Kennedy to the Persian Gulf. Its primary mission was to protect shipments of oil on Iranian tankers bound for Europe and East Asia from Arab missile attacks. The United States Navy also offered to provide protection to foreign tankers sailing to Iran reflagged and flying the U.S. flag starting March 7th, 1983, in Operation Argonaut. Neutral tankers shipping to the UAR were not protected by Argonaut, resulting in reduced foreign tanker traffic to Basra, since they risked attacks by Iranian aircraft. Saddam bitterly accused the US of aiding Iran through this, but Muskie explained the decision by saying that “the UAR were the aggressors in this war. It can end the minute they drop their unreasonable territorial demands”.

In a rare case of cooperation between the Cold War superpowers, the Soviet Union also agreed to charter tankers, though they likewise favored Baghdad, their ally in the proxy war. This increased security around the Persian Gulf prevented oil prices from skyrocketing, secured the global insurance market (which saw its costs shoot up over covering vessels near the Gulf), and protected the fragile economic recovery in the West. Another foreign policy victory for President Kennedy.

Meanwhile, the respective militaries involved began to rethink their plans. With an invasion of the UAR delayed indefinitely, the Iranian military shifted its strategy to sabotage and domestic subversion of Saddam’s regime. Tehran increased shipments of arms and supplies to Kurdish and Islamist militants, who promised to begin armed rebellions in the northern and southern regions of Iraq, respectively. The Iranian air force continued to target centers of economic activity with bombing raids and missile strikes, most notably oil fields and refineries in Iraq and mines in eastern Syria.

In Baghdad, Saddam ordered his troops to build fortifications along the border with Iran and continued to develop his war chest and the surveillance apparatus of his burgeoning police state. In the northeast of his country, in the Zagros Mountains near the border with Iran, the Feyli Kurds rose up in armed rebellion against Saddam’s regime in the fall of 1982. Largely, this was in response to Saddam’s policy of forced “Arabization”, in which he ordered the army to abduct Kurdish men and boys from the region (as many as 8,000 by one estimate) and use them as hostages to blackmail their fellow Kurds into abandoning their homes in the region. The Feyli Kurds, armed by the Iranian military, began shooting at the UAR troops who arrived to abduct their brothers, fathers, and sons, and refused to recognize Saddam’s authority over them. Over the next several years, Saddam would routinely divert troops from the front to “deal with” the Kurds, whom he believed were being used as a proxy by the Iranians. Most infamously, this rebellion was put down with a series of chemical weapons attacks in the mid to late 1980s. In Iran, Saddam supported left-wing groups like the Mujahedin e-Khalq (MEK), as well as Shia Islamist groups, both of whom opposed the secular, constitutional government in Tehran.

On both sides, stockpiles of weapons were expanded, including the chemical precursors to mustard gas and other chemical weapons, sold to Baghdad by the French, who feared that an outright Iranian victory in the war might jeopardize their own developing relationship with the Saudis. West Germany meanwhile provided technical support to the Iranians, whom they felt more comfortable doing business with than Saddam. The Chinese, who were by this time beginning to emerge as a developing industrial power, sold material, including weapons, freely to both sides. The Soviet Union and North Korea sold artillery shells and, in the case of the Soviets, new jet fighters to Baghdad.

Even as a strategic stalemate set in, it was clear that the Iran-UAR War was, tragically, far from over.

Next Time on Blue Skies in Camelot: 1982 in Pop Culture
 
Chapter 163 - Eye in the Sky: The Iran-UAR War Enters its Next Phase
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Above: Iranian Northrop F-5 aircraft during the war (left); UAR T-62 tank wreckage in Khuzestan Province, Iran (right).​

“I am the eye in the sky
Looking at you
I can read your mind
I am the maker of rules
Dealing with fools
I can cheat you blind
And I don't need to see any more to know that
I can read your mind (Looking at you)
I can read your mind (Looking at you)
I can read your mind (Looking at you)
I can read your mind”
- “Eye in the Sky” by the Alan Parsons Project

“The west needs someone to tell the man who walks around with the biggest stick in the world, that that stick can't bring down God's house.” - Saddam Hussein

“To achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East takes guts, not guns.” - Queen Raina of Jordan

The war between the Democratic Republic of Iran and the United Arab Republic, which began on September 22nd, 1980, entered its second year in late 1981. At that time, the conflict appeared to have settled into a stalemate.

Despite a strong initial showing by the Arabs, using their armored divisions to break through poorly organized Iranian defenses in Khuzestan Province, the annexation of which remained one of Baghdad’s principal war goals, Iranian air attacks, particularly on oil refineries and shipping, hobbled the UAR’s economy, and made resupplying their frontlines with food, fuel, and water difficult. Add to these conditions the harsh, mountainous terrain of Iran’s border marches, and an Iranian population hell bent on sending them packing, and Saddam Hussein’s army faced severe setbacks that prevented them from securing their gains in Khuzestan.

On November 29th, 1981, the Iranian army executed a sneak attack on the Arab-occupied town of Bostan. To catch the invaders unawares, the Iranians constructed a road 14 kilometers long through undefended desert sand dunes. This road allowed them to attack the Arab positions from the rear. Lack of supply led to low morale among UAR troops, which was compounded as renewed fighting broke out that seemed to have them surrounded by Iranians. Backed by artillery and air support (including repaired and refueled jet fighters thanks to aid from the United States’ Kennedy administration), the Iranian troops surgically encircled and choked out pockets of Arab resistance, eventually forcing what remained of the armored divisions to retreat. Bostan returned to Iranian hands on December 7th. The fall of Bostan exacerbated the Arabs’ logistical problems, forcing them to use a roundabout route from Ahvaz to the south to resupply their troops. Nearly four-thousand Iranians and over two-thousand, five-hundred Arabs were killed in the operation. Realizing that a wider Iranian counterattack was likely in the works, the UAR high command decided to preempt them with an operation of their own the following spring.

On March 19th, 1982, using a large number of tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets, they attacked a massing group of Iranian forces around the Roghabiyeh pass. Though Saddam and his generals assumed they had succeeded, in reality the Iranian forces remained almost fully intact. Iran counterattacked, driving Arab forces from Khuzestan Province, then massed troops on the border for their own potential counter-invasion of Iraq. As a result, the tide of the war turned against the UAR.

The fighting thus far had battered the UAR’s military. Its strength dwindled from over 300,000 troops to just over half that number by May 1982. Over 40,000 Arab soldiers had already been killed and another 50,000 captured. Over 150 tanks and armored personnel carriers were lost to the Iranians during the retreat to the border as Saddam withdrew from Khuzestan and ordered his men to dig trenches and defend the border. Despite these setbacks, however, not all of the news was grim. The UAR still boasted over 3,000 operable tanks, while Iran could muster only half of that number, though their supplies were increasing thanks to western aid. The Arabs’ air forces were also more or less intact, still capable of bombing raids over Iranian cities. UAR helicopters were also capable of providing transport and air support, especially on defense. Clearly, if Iran was serious about a counter-invasion, they were going to have as many problems taking Arab territory as the Arabs had taking theirs.

On the Homefront, Saddam realized that he needed to secure his internal coalition if he was going to hold onto power. To do this, he employed a number of methods. At first, Saddam attempted to ensure that the UAR’s population suffered from the war as little as possible. There was rationing, but civilian projects that had begun before the war continued. At the same time, the already extensive cult of personality around Saddam's person reached new heights while the regime tightened its control over the military.

In Syria, an Islamist uprising, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, which had begun before unification, reached new heights and spread across the former border into Iraq. While the Sunni middle class opposed the uprising and supported the Baathist Party, many in the working classes supported the Islamists. The Islamists conducted terrorist campaigns in major cities, particularly Damascus, and attempted to disrupt the flow of oil to Syrian ports on the Mediterranean, which would have strangled the Republic’s economy, which was more reliant than ever on oil sales to fund its war effort. These pipelines (to the Syrian ports and north, to Turkey) were the only means of exporting UAR oil besides the port of Basra on the Shatt al-Arab near the Persian Gulf. Given that Basra was under more or less constant air attacks by Iran, the pipelines took primacy. Saddam Hussein used these Islamist attacks as justification to dispatch his Republican Guard to brutally “pacify” Syria and Northern Iraq. Fighting between the UAR government and Brotherhood-backed militias continued thereafter throughout the war.

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Above: Seal of the Muslim Brotherhood (left); President Saddam Hussein and Vice President Hafez al-Assad of the United Arab Republic (right).​

Saddam blamed the uprising on his vice president, Hafez al-Assad (an Alawite Shia), who became increasingly isolated and sidelined from government affairs as Saddam’s cult of personality grew. Saddam allied with Sunni members of the Syrian wing of the Baathist Party to undermine Assad’s authority within the movement, and to ensure the Syrians’ ultimate loyalty to Saddam. This was accomplished by the giving of lavish gifts and the granting of what essentially amounted to “corruption privileges” that is, the government in Baghdad turning a blind eye to blatant graft and warlordism, as well as talking up Assad’s faults to the many enemies he had made over the years in his own rise to power. To the Syrian Sunni Baathists, Saddam represented an opportunity to turn the page on Assad’s failed leadership, which had seen an unsuccessful intervention in the Lebanese Civil War. Assad had also failed to retrieve the Golan Heights from Israel, who continued to occupy the territory in violation of international law. Though Saddam was, ultimately, disinterested in the Arab-Israeli conflict beyond paying lip service to the Palestinian cause and using them as a bargaining chip in his own personal empire building, he knew how to play up his supposed anti-Israeli, anti-western credentials in order to win allies in Syria.

By the time that Assad suffered a heart attack complicated by phlebitis in November of 1983 and subsequently died, his authority (both moral and practical) within the country had all but vanished. Assad’s death assured Saddam’s ascendency, however, by removing his only significant political rival in the Republic. Assad’s family, including his brother and young son, fled the country into exile, so as not to be targeted by Saddam’s paranoid wrath.

In the summer of 1982, Saddam began the second phase of his efforts to secure the Homefront: a campaign of terror. More than 300 UAR Army officers were executed for their failures on the battlefield. The following year, a major crackdown was launched on the leadership of the Shia community. Ninety members of the al-Hakim family, an influential family of Shia clerics whose leading members were the émigrés Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, were arrested, and 6 were hanged.

To secure the loyalty of the remaining Shia population, Saddam allowed more Shias into the Ba'ath Party and the government, and improved Shia living standards, which had been lower than those of the Sunnis. Saddam had the state pay for restoring Imam Ali's tomb with white marble imported from Italy. The Baathists also increased their policies of repression against the Shia. The most infamous event was the massacre of 148 civilians of the Shia town of Dujail. Despite the costs of the war, Saddam's regime made generous contributions to Shia waqf (religious endowments) as part of the price of buying Shia support. The importance of winning that support was so great that welfare services in Shia areas were actually expanded at a time in which Saddam’s regime pursued austerity in all other non-military fields.

In response to this "carrot or stick" campaign, Iran forged alliances with groups within the UAR who were still opposed to Saddam’s regime. These included: Kurdish militias in the north of Iraq, who sought independence and their own state; Shia Arabs tired of their oppression under the Sunni Saddam; and Syrian nationalists who opposed continued unity with Baghdad. Iran funneled money, training, and logistical support to these groups in the hopes that they would orchestrate uprisings that might topple Saddam’s regime or, at the very least, force him to pull troops off the front lines to put them down. For his part, Saddam responded by funding groups within Iran that were opposed to Yazdi’s government, or constitutional republicanism in general, especially among the socialist and communist left-wing, who were frustrated by Yazdi’s continued reluctance to give them positions in the wartime government. Shia Islamists in Iran were also frustrated by their lack of influence within Yazdi’s coalition, as well as by Yazdi’s insistence on closer ties with the United States of America. Mostafa Khomeini, the son of the late Ayatollah and unofficial leader of the Islamist opposition, also condemned Yazdi’s “reluctance to remove the murderous Saddam from power”.

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Above: Seal of the “Organization of Iranian People’s Fedai Guerrillas” (OIPFG), an underground Marxist-Leninist militia in Iran, opposed to the Yazdi government (left); Ebrahim Yazdi, wartime Prime Minister of Iran (right).

By May, Iran had recaptured most, if not quite all, of its sovereign territory.

On June 20th, Saddam sued for peace, proposing an immediate ceasefire and complete withdrawal from Iranian territory in exchange for Iran’s recognition of UAR ownership of the Shatt al-Arab. Saddam even offered to renounce his claims on Khuzestan province. The more nationalist and islamist elements within his country (who wanted to see Saddam removed from power and his government replaced with one more friendly to Tehran), refused to consider this, however.

If Tehran yielded on the very issue that had started the war in the first place (the Shatt al-Arab), they claimed, then the new republic would be seen as weak and overly deferential to Saddam and the Arabs. Many in Tehran felt that Saddam needed to be “taught a lesson” for beginning the war in the first place. This was not to say that elements of the Yazdi government did not support peace. The prime minister himself was actually disposed toward accepting the ceasefire on Saddam’s terms. Most of the Iranian military high command felt that invading Iraq was a fool’s errand for logistical reasons. But Yazdi lacked the political capital necessary to oppose the forces favoring invasion, which included his defense minister, his interior minister, and the country’s President, the popular cleric Hussein-Ali Montazeri, who had already lost one son in the fighting. Another of his sons had lost an eye defending Khuzestan Province. Thus, preparations for an invasion continued.

The offer of a ceasefire represented a rare thing indeed for Saddam: a somewhat shrewd geopolitical play.

Though Grigori Romanov had not yet committed the blunder of entering his own undeclared war with Sweden, Saddam still doubted the Soviets’ commitment to financially backing his own war effort long-term. He understood that if he was going to survive the potential onslaught of sustained Iranian counterattacks, he needed to court new allies (or at least financial backers), preferably ones a little closer to home.

Prior to the war, the UAR’s relations with the Gulf States (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, etc.) were notoriously awful. The Ba’athist ideology, explicitly secular, socialist, and Arab nationalist, seemed to threaten the foundation of the Gulf States’ monarchies. The Iranian Revolution changed the geopolitical calculus for these states, however. The Iranian constitution, also (largely) secular, declared monarchy to be an “illegitimate form of government”, in reference to the Shah. There was growing fear in Riyadh and the other Gulf State capitals that if Iran successfully invaded Iraq and/or Syria and overthrew Saddam, that Tehran’s influence across the Middle East would pose an even greater threat to the Gulf States' continued stability than Baghdad. The people of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States might turn to Iran as a possible revolutionary example to emulate. This could not be allowed. Just as Saddam’s military withdrew to the UAR’s borders and dug trenches in the spring of 1982, Saddam traveled to Riyadh to meet with King Faisal and hash out their differences.

On a personal level, Faisal loathed Saddam. The King saw much of his brother, Saud, whom he had removed from power nearly twenty years earlier in him. Saddam was a bully, a brute, who understood only violence. But, Faisal reasoned, he could be necessary as a counterweight, a bulwark against Iranian influence in the region, a “useful idiot”, if you will. Faisal was also troubled by American aloofness to himself and his Kingdom under the administration of President Robert Kennedy. Though Faisal had managed to soothe Kennedy’s human rights concerns with promises of continued reform, and had supplemented the Kingdom’s arsenal with modernized weapon systems from France, the Americans’ refusal to sell AWACs to Riyadh had shaken their confidence in Washington as an ironclad security guarantor. London and Paris would serve well enough in the role, Faisal thought, but would they have the resources and ability to project power into the Middle East on land, as well as by air and by sea in the event of Iranian invasion? Furthermore, if the US decided that the Democratic Republic of Iran was to be the “Natural hegemon” of the Persian Gulf, that could only stand to hurt Saudi interests.

In Riyadh, Saddam was on his best behavior. He charmed Faisal’s court and promised to be a “protector of peace” in the Middle East, if victorious over the Iranians. Attempting to appeal to Faisal’s staunch support of the Palestinian people, Saddam promised that after his war with Iran had concluded, he would turn the UAR’s attention westward (toward Israel), where his “true interests” lay. Saddam pitched a vision of the Middle East with the UAR and Saudi Arabia as the “two pillars” of an anticolonial coalition.

For the time being, however, Faisal kept his distance from such an overarching scheme.

His vision for his Kingdom required the continued presence of foreign, and especially, French workers to expand and maintain the Saudi oil fields. He did, however, agree to float Saddam’s government a number of loans necessary for the continued prosecution of the war. Those loans, combined with the UAR’s existing oil wealth, shipped via pipeline to Aleppo or north into Turkey, would buy everything from ammunition to uniforms. The Saudis were also interested in pivoting away from Egypt under President Anwar al-Sadat, whom they viewed as a “traitor to the Arab cause” for recognizing Israel and making a strategic shift toward the United States, placing Egyptian interests above those of Arab unity. While Faisal trusted Saddam even less than he did Sadat, he worked closely with his heir apparent and half-brother, Fahd, to keep the Kingdom’s options open when it came to protecting the Kingdom’s interests. Saddam, despite all odds, had made a friend, even if only temporarily.

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Above: King Faisal (left) and his half-brother and successor, King Fahd (right). The House of Saud became one of Saddam Hussein’s chief backers in the United Arab Republic’s war against Iran.

The Saudis weren’t the only ones nervous at the prospect of an Iranian invasion and the potential collapse of Saddam’s regime.

The Republic of Turkey, led by President Kenan Evren since the military coup that brought him to power two years earlier, viewed Saddam’s potential ouster as a “near apocalyptic-level threat”. Why? Simple: the Kurds. An Iranic ethnic group native to the mountainous region of Kurdistan in Western Asia, which spans southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iran, northern Iraq, and northern Syria, the Kurds had long represented a sizeable ethnic minority in Turkey, and indeed, were considered in Ankara to be among the republic’s most notable security risks. The Kurds were, as of 1982, the world’s largest ethnic group without a nation-state of their own. Suppressed by both Saddam in the UAR and Evren’s regime in Turkey, the Kurds desperately wanted a state of their own to secure a future for their people. They hoped to create one out of the northern regions of the UAR, which used to be Iraq. No doubt, the Kurds would demand this as a precondition for assisting the Iranians in overthrowing Saddam’s regime.

Such a turn of events would put this hypothetical Kurdish state, if founded, directly on the border with Turkey, however. The Turks feared that if a Kurdish state were thus founded, Turkish Kurds might rise up in rebellion or attempt to break their home regions away to join this upstart country. Many of Turkey’s river systems that comprised the country’s fresh water supply were to be found in regions of Anatolia occupied by the Kurds. Given the ethnic ties between the Kurds and the Iranians, the Turks also feared that this new Kurdish state would become little more than a client-state for Tehran, extending Turkish influence, theoretically not only to Turkey’s doorstep, but through control of its fresh water supply, directly into the heart of its civilization. This was deemed totally unacceptable in Ankara. They would do whatever was in their power to prevent the Kurds from obtaining a homeland, even if it meant doing business with an “unsavory” dictator like Saddam Hussein. Hence, Turkey sent food, financial support, and even surplus small arms and ammunition to the UAR.

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Above: Flags of Turkey (left) and the proposed nation of Kurdistan (right); fears of the creation of a Kurdish homeland led Turkey to support the United Arab Republic in its war with Iran.

Even among Iran’s erstwhile allies - western nations like the United States and United Kingdom - the decision not to accept Saddam’s ceasefire offer was greeted with surprise and not a small amount of suspicion.

US Secretary of State Ed Muskie paid a visit to Tehran over the summer of 1982 to “remind” Prime Minister Yazdi and his government that US aid to Iran was predicated on the idea that the republic was defending itself from invasion by a Soviet-backed aggressor. “My fellow Americans are not interested in cutting you a blank check to do anything else.” Muskie told Yazdi coldly during a meeting in early July, 1982.

While the US certainly stood by Iran’s right to defend itself from attack, it did not want to see Iran do anything to destabilize the overall balance of power in the Middle East. Saddam might be a madman, but removing him from power would create a gigantic power vacuum. One need only look to Lebanon, with its myriad competing factions and bloody streets to see what might rush in to fill the void. Within the Kennedy National Security Council, headed by Zbiginew Brzezinski, concern was growing that the war could spread beyond the boundaries of the two belligerents. A National Security Planning Group meeting was called, chaired by President Kennedy, to review U.S. options. It was determined that there was a high likelihood that the conflict would spread into Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, but that the United States had little capability to defend the region. “Zbig” summed up the feelings of many within the administration that, when it came to the Iran-UAR war, “It’s a pity they can’t both lose.” It was determined that a prolonged war in the region would induce much higher oil prices and threaten the fragile world recovery which was just beginning to gain momentum. This would threaten not only President Kennedy’s chances at reelection come 1984, but also overall world stability, right at a time when tensions between the superpowers were at their highest.

Back in Tehran, Muskie implied that if Iran went through with the invasion and attempted to topple Saddam’s regime, the US might recall the $5 billion in low-interest loans that Washington had floated the Iranians as part of the aid package passed by Congress the year before. Yazdi countered that if he accepted a ceasefire on Saddam’s terms, it would inevitably mean the collapse of his government. Iran, he argued, was winning the war. With Washington’s help (he was quick to credit the efficacy of US aid), they had driven the invaders from their soil and defended their national sovereignty. Accepting that the Shatt al-Arab belonged exclusively to the UAR would be seen as tantamount to surrender. Iranian national honor would not stand for it. The national unity coalition Yazdi headed was shaky at best. Even members of his own coalition, particularly the conservatives and nationalists, were leery of Yazdi pursuing overly close relations with Washington. If he accepted Saddam’s terms at the behest of his “American handlers” he would be promptly ridiculed as a puppet of Washington and removed by a vote of no-confidence. Instead, he offered a compromise: he would delay the proposed invasion for as long as he could and attempt to get Saddam to the negotiating table to drop his remaining demands and offer concessions which might prove acceptable to the more jingoistic elements in Yazdi’s government.

Muskie relayed this offer to President Kennedy, who reluctantly agreed. It was time for some more containment. The war would continue throughout the rest of 1982, but its character changed dramatically.

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Above: US Secretary of State Ed Muskie (left); USS Ranger, the nuclear-powered carrier which served as the flagship of the US fleet sent to protect Iranian shipping in the Persian Gulf during the war.

Following Muskie’s trip, a US Navy carrier strike group, based around the USS Ranger (a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier) was dispatched by President Kennedy to the Persian Gulf. Its primary mission was to protect shipments of oil on Iranian tankers bound for Europe and East Asia from Arab missile attacks. The United States Navy also offered to provide protection to foreign tankers sailing to Iran reflagged and flying the U.S. flag starting March 7th, 1983, in Operation Argonaut. Neutral tankers shipping to the UAR were not protected by Argonaut, resulting in reduced foreign tanker traffic to Basra, since they risked attacks by Iranian aircraft. Saddam bitterly accused the US of aiding Iran through this, but Muskie explained the decision by saying that “the UAR were the aggressors in this war. It can end the minute they drop their unreasonable territorial demands”.

In a rare case of cooperation between the Cold War superpowers, the Soviet Union also agreed to charter tankers, though they likewise favored Baghdad, their ally in the proxy war. This increased security around the Persian Gulf prevented oil prices from skyrocketing, secured the global insurance market (which saw its costs shoot up over covering vessels near the Gulf), and protected the fragile economic recovery in the West. Another foreign policy victory for President Kennedy.

Meanwhile, the respective militaries involved began to rethink their plans. With an invasion of the UAR delayed indefinitely, the Iranian military shifted its strategy to sabotage and domestic subversion of Saddam’s regime. Tehran increased shipments of arms and supplies to Kurdish and Islamist militants, who promised to begin armed rebellions in the northern and southern regions of Iraq, respectively. The Iranian air force continued to target centers of economic activity with bombing raids and missile strikes, most notably oil fields and refineries in Iraq and mines in eastern Syria.

In Baghdad, Saddam ordered his troops to build fortifications along the border with Iran and continued to develop his war chest and the surveillance apparatus of his burgeoning police state. In the northeast of his country, in the Zagros Mountains near the border with Iran, the Feyli Kurds rose up in armed rebellion against Saddam’s regime in the fall of 1982. Largely, this was in response to Saddam’s policy of forced “Arabization”, in which he ordered the army to abduct Kurdish men and boys from the region (as many as 8,000 by one estimate) and use them as hostages to blackmail their fellow Kurds into abandoning their homes in the region. The Feyli Kurds, armed by the Iranian military, began shooting at the UAR troops who arrived to abduct their brothers, fathers, and sons, and refused to recognize Saddam’s authority over them. Over the next several years, Saddam would routinely divert troops from the front to “deal with” the Kurds, whom he believed were being used as a proxy by the Iranians. Most infamously, this rebellion was put down with a series of chemical weapons attacks in the mid to late 1980s. In Iran, Saddam supported left-wing groups like the Mujahedin e-Khalq (MEK), as well as Shia Islamist groups, both of whom opposed the secular, constitutional government in Tehran.

On both sides, stockpiles of weapons were expanded, including the chemical precursors to mustard gas and other chemical weapons, sold to Baghdad by the French, who feared that an outright Iranian victory in the war might jeopardize their own developing relationship with the Saudis. West Germany meanwhile provided technical support to the Iranians, whom they felt more comfortable doing business with than Saddam. The Chinese, who were by this time beginning to emerge as a developing industrial power, sold material, including weapons, freely to both sides. The Soviet Union and North Korea sold artillery shells and, in the case of the Soviets, new jet fighters to Baghdad.

Even as a strategic stalemate set in, it was clear that the Iran-UAR War was, tragically, far from over.

Next Time on Blue Skies in Camelot: 1982 in Pop Culture
Splendid update Mr. President. My god, both sides are conducting invasion and counter-invasion, subterfuge and counter-subterfuge, and massive stockpiling of weapons amidst the stalemate. Also, poor Kurds, they really had it at the end of the stick, don't they, no matter what the timeline. And of course, every major geopolitical player in the Cold War had to get indirectly involved in the conflict. The French, in particular, continued their time-honored tradition of selling weapons to shady regimes.

Note: I almost forgot; it seems like Bashar al-Assad would never enter politics in this timeline.
 
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Splendid update Mr. President. My god, both sides are conducting invasion and counter-invasion, subterfuge and counter-subterfuge, and massive stockpiling of weapons amidst the stalemate. Also, poor Kurds, they really had it at the end of the stick, don't they, no matter what the timeline. And of course, every major geopolitical player in the Cold War had to get indirectly involved in the conflict. The French, in particular, continued their time-honored tradition of selling weapons to shady regimes.

Note: I almost forgot; it seems like Bashar al-Assad would never enter politics in this timeline.
If I read right, before being groomed to take over as Syrian President, he was studying to be an eye surgeon, but, after his older brother, who's name escapes me died in a car crash...
 
If I read right, before being groomed to take over as Syrian President, he was studying to be an eye surgeon, but, after his older brother, who's name escapes me died in a car crash...
Yep. In London i believe. At this point in the timeline, however, i think he's still a high school student.
 
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A great update as always @President_Lincoln!
Chapter 163 - Eye in the Sky: The Iran-UAR War Enters its Next Phase
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Above: Iranian Northrop F-5 aircraft during the war (left); UAR T-62 tank wreckage in Khuzestan Province, Iran (right).​

“I am the eye in the sky
Looking at you
I can read your mind
I am the maker of rules
Dealing with fools
I can cheat you blind
And I don't need to see any more to know that
I can read your mind (Looking at you)
I can read your mind (Looking at you)
I can read your mind (Looking at you)
I can read your mind”
- “Eye in the Sky” by the Alan Parsons Project

“The west needs someone to tell the man who walks around with the biggest stick in the world, that that stick can't bring down God's house.” - Saddam Hussein

“To achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East takes guts, not guns.” - Queen Raina of Jordan

The war between the Democratic Republic of Iran and the United Arab Republic, which began on September 22nd, 1980, entered its second year in late 1981. At that time, the conflict appeared to have settled into a stalemate.

Despite a strong initial showing by the Arabs, using their armored divisions to break through poorly organized Iranian defenses in Khuzestan Province, the annexation of which remained one of Baghdad’s principal war goals, Iranian air attacks, particularly on oil refineries and shipping, hobbled the UAR’s economy, and made resupplying their frontlines with food, fuel, and water difficult. Add to these conditions the harsh, mountainous terrain of Iran’s border marches, and an Iranian population hell bent on sending them packing, and Saddam Hussein’s army faced severe setbacks that prevented them from securing their gains in Khuzestan.

On November 29th, 1981, the Iranian army executed a sneak attack on the Arab-occupied town of Bostan. To catch the invaders unawares, the Iranians constructed a road 14 kilometers long through undefended desert sand dunes. This road allowed them to attack the Arab positions from the rear. Lack of supply led to low morale among UAR troops, which was compounded as renewed fighting broke out that seemed to have them surrounded by Iranians. Backed by artillery and air support (including repaired and refueled jet fighters thanks to aid from the United States’ Kennedy administration), the Iranian troops surgically encircled and choked out pockets of Arab resistance, eventually forcing what remained of the armored divisions to retreat. Bostan returned to Iranian hands on December 7th. The fall of Bostan exacerbated the Arabs’ logistical problems, forcing them to use a roundabout route from Ahvaz to the south to resupply their troops. Nearly four-thousand Iranians and over two-thousand, five-hundred Arabs were killed in the operation. Realizing that a wider Iranian counterattack was likely in the works, the UAR high command decided to preempt them with an operation of their own the following spring.

On March 19th, 1982, using a large number of tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets, they attacked a massing group of Iranian forces around the Roghabiyeh pass. Though Saddam and his generals assumed they had succeeded, in reality the Iranian forces remained almost fully intact. Iran counterattacked, driving Arab forces from Khuzestan Province, then massed troops on the border for their own potential counter-invasion of Iraq. As a result, the tide of the war turned against the UAR.

The fighting thus far had battered the UAR’s military. Its strength dwindled from over 300,000 troops to just over half that number by May 1982. Over 40,000 Arab soldiers had already been killed and another 50,000 captured. Over 150 tanks and armored personnel carriers were lost to the Iranians during the retreat to the border as Saddam withdrew from Khuzestan and ordered his men to dig trenches and defend the border. Despite these setbacks, however, not all of the news was grim. The UAR still boasted over 3,000 operable tanks, while Iran could muster only half of that number, though their supplies were increasing thanks to western aid. The Arabs’ air forces were also more or less intact, still capable of bombing raids over Iranian cities. UAR helicopters were also capable of providing transport and air support, especially on defense. Clearly, if Iran was serious about a counter-invasion, they were going to have as many problems taking Arab territory as the Arabs had taking theirs.

On the Homefront, Saddam realized that he needed to secure his internal coalition if he was going to hold onto power. To do this, he employed a number of methods. At first, Saddam attempted to ensure that the UAR’s population suffered from the war as little as possible. There was rationing, but civilian projects that had begun before the war continued. At the same time, the already extensive cult of personality around Saddam's person reached new heights while the regime tightened its control over the military.

In Syria, an Islamist uprising, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, which had begun before unification, reached new heights and spread across the former border into Iraq. While the Sunni middle class opposed the uprising and supported the Baathist Party, many in the working classes supported the Islamists. The Islamists conducted terrorist campaigns in major cities, particularly Damascus, and attempted to disrupt the flow of oil to Syrian ports on the Mediterranean, which would have strangled the Republic’s economy, which was more reliant than ever on oil sales to fund its war effort. These pipelines (to the Syrian ports and north, to Turkey) were the only means of exporting UAR oil besides the port of Basra on the Shatt al-Arab near the Persian Gulf. Given that Basra was under more or less constant air attacks by Iran, the pipelines took primacy. Saddam Hussein used these Islamist attacks as justification to dispatch his Republican Guard to brutally “pacify” Syria and Northern Iraq. Fighting between the UAR government and Brotherhood-backed militias continued thereafter throughout the war.

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Above: Seal of the Muslim Brotherhood (left); President Saddam Hussein and Vice President Hafez al-Assad of the United Arab Republic (right).​

Saddam blamed the uprising on his vice president, Hafez al-Assad (an Alawite Shia), who became increasingly isolated and sidelined from government affairs as Saddam’s cult of personality grew. Saddam allied with Sunni members of the Syrian wing of the Baathist Party to undermine Assad’s authority within the movement, and to ensure the Syrians’ ultimate loyalty to Saddam. This was accomplished by the giving of lavish gifts and the granting of what essentially amounted to “corruption privileges” that is, the government in Baghdad turning a blind eye to blatant graft and warlordism, as well as talking up Assad’s faults to the many enemies he had made over the years in his own rise to power. To the Syrian Sunni Baathists, Saddam represented an opportunity to turn the page on Assad’s failed leadership, which had seen an unsuccessful intervention in the Lebanese Civil War. Assad had also failed to retrieve the Golan Heights from Israel, who continued to occupy the territory in violation of international law. Though Saddam was, ultimately, disinterested in the Arab-Israeli conflict beyond paying lip service to the Palestinian cause and using them as a bargaining chip in his own personal empire building, he knew how to play up his supposed anti-Israeli, anti-western credentials in order to win allies in Syria.

By the time that Assad suffered a heart attack complicated by phlebitis in November of 1983 and subsequently died, his authority (both moral and practical) within the country had all but vanished. Assad’s death assured Saddam’s ascendency, however, by removing his only significant political rival in the Republic. Assad’s family, including his brother and young son, fled the country into exile, so as not to be targeted by Saddam’s paranoid wrath.

In the summer of 1982, Saddam began the second phase of his efforts to secure the Homefront: a campaign of terror. More than 300 UAR Army officers were executed for their failures on the battlefield. The following year, a major crackdown was launched on the leadership of the Shia community. Ninety members of the al-Hakim family, an influential family of Shia clerics whose leading members were the émigrés Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, were arrested, and 6 were hanged.

To secure the loyalty of the remaining Shia population, Saddam allowed more Shias into the Ba'ath Party and the government, and improved Shia living standards, which had been lower than those of the Sunnis. Saddam had the state pay for restoring Imam Ali's tomb with white marble imported from Italy. The Baathists also increased their policies of repression against the Shia. The most infamous event was the massacre of 148 civilians of the Shia town of Dujail. Despite the costs of the war, Saddam's regime made generous contributions to Shia waqf (religious endowments) as part of the price of buying Shia support. The importance of winning that support was so great that welfare services in Shia areas were actually expanded at a time in which Saddam’s regime pursued austerity in all other non-military fields.

In response to this "carrot or stick" campaign, Iran forged alliances with groups within the UAR who were still opposed to Saddam’s regime. These included: Kurdish militias in the north of Iraq, who sought independence and their own state; Shia Arabs tired of their oppression under the Sunni Saddam; and Syrian nationalists who opposed continued unity with Baghdad. Iran funneled money, training, and logistical support to these groups in the hopes that they would orchestrate uprisings that might topple Saddam’s regime or, at the very least, force him to pull troops off the front lines to put them down. For his part, Saddam responded by funding groups within Iran that were opposed to Yazdi’s government, or constitutional republicanism in general, especially among the socialist and communist left-wing, who were frustrated by Yazdi’s continued reluctance to give them positions in the wartime government. Shia Islamists in Iran were also frustrated by their lack of influence within Yazdi’s coalition, as well as by Yazdi’s insistence on closer ties with the United States of America. Mostafa Khomeini, the son of the late Ayatollah and unofficial leader of the Islamist opposition, also condemned Yazdi’s “reluctance to remove the murderous Saddam from power”.

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Above: Seal of the “Organization of Iranian People’s Fedai Guerrillas” (OIPFG), an underground Marxist-Leninist militia in Iran, opposed to the Yazdi government (left); Ebrahim Yazdi, wartime Prime Minister of Iran (right).

By May, Iran had recaptured most, if not quite all, of its sovereign territory.

On June 20th, Saddam sued for peace, proposing an immediate ceasefire and complete withdrawal from Iranian territory in exchange for Iran’s recognition of UAR ownership of the Shatt al-Arab. Saddam even offered to renounce his claims on Khuzestan province. The more nationalist and islamist elements within his country (who wanted to see Saddam removed from power and his government replaced with one more friendly to Tehran), refused to consider this, however.

If Tehran yielded on the very issue that had started the war in the first place (the Shatt al-Arab), they claimed, then the new republic would be seen as weak and overly deferential to Saddam and the Arabs. Many in Tehran felt that Saddam needed to be “taught a lesson” for beginning the war in the first place. This was not to say that elements of the Yazdi government did not support peace. The prime minister himself was actually disposed toward accepting the ceasefire on Saddam’s terms. Most of the Iranian military high command felt that invading Iraq was a fool’s errand for logistical reasons. But Yazdi lacked the political capital necessary to oppose the forces favoring invasion, which included his defense minister, his interior minister, and the country’s President, the popular cleric Hussein-Ali Montazeri, who had already lost one son in the fighting. Another of his sons had lost an eye defending Khuzestan Province. Thus, preparations for an invasion continued.

The offer of a ceasefire represented a rare thing indeed for Saddam: a somewhat shrewd geopolitical play.

Though Grigori Romanov had not yet committed the blunder of entering his own undeclared war with Sweden, Saddam still doubted the Soviets’ commitment to financially backing his own war effort long-term. He understood that if he was going to survive the potential onslaught of sustained Iranian counterattacks, he needed to court new allies (or at least financial backers), preferably ones a little closer to home.

Prior to the war, the UAR’s relations with the Gulf States (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, etc.) were notoriously awful. The Ba’athist ideology, explicitly secular, socialist, and Arab nationalist, seemed to threaten the foundation of the Gulf States’ monarchies. The Iranian Revolution changed the geopolitical calculus for these states, however. The Iranian constitution, also (largely) secular, declared monarchy to be an “illegitimate form of government”, in reference to the Shah. There was growing fear in Riyadh and the other Gulf State capitals that if Iran successfully invaded Iraq and/or Syria and overthrew Saddam, that Tehran’s influence across the Middle East would pose an even greater threat to the Gulf States' continued stability than Baghdad. The people of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States might turn to Iran as a possible revolutionary example to emulate. This could not be allowed. Just as Saddam’s military withdrew to the UAR’s borders and dug trenches in the spring of 1982, Saddam traveled to Riyadh to meet with King Faisal and hash out their differences.

On a personal level, Faisal loathed Saddam. The King saw much of his brother, Saud, whom he had removed from power nearly twenty years earlier in him. Saddam was a bully, a brute, who understood only violence. But, Faisal reasoned, he could be necessary as a counterweight, a bulwark against Iranian influence in the region, a “useful idiot”, if you will. Faisal was also troubled by American aloofness to himself and his Kingdom under the administration of President Robert Kennedy. Though Faisal had managed to soothe Kennedy’s human rights concerns with promises of continued reform, and had supplemented the Kingdom’s arsenal with modernized weapon systems from France, the Americans’ refusal to sell AWACs to Riyadh had shaken their confidence in Washington as an ironclad security guarantor. London and Paris would serve well enough in the role, Faisal thought, but would they have the resources and ability to project power into the Middle East on land, as well as by air and by sea in the event of Iranian invasion? Furthermore, if the US decided that the Democratic Republic of Iran was to be the “Natural hegemon” of the Persian Gulf, that could only stand to hurt Saudi interests.

In Riyadh, Saddam was on his best behavior. He charmed Faisal’s court and promised to be a “protector of peace” in the Middle East, if victorious over the Iranians. Attempting to appeal to Faisal’s staunch support of the Palestinian people, Saddam promised that after his war with Iran had concluded, he would turn the UAR’s attention westward (toward Israel), where his “true interests” lay. Saddam pitched a vision of the Middle East with the UAR and Saudi Arabia as the “two pillars” of an anticolonial coalition.

For the time being, however, Faisal kept his distance from such an overarching scheme.

His vision for his Kingdom required the continued presence of foreign, and especially, French workers to expand and maintain the Saudi oil fields. He did, however, agree to float Saddam’s government a number of loans necessary for the continued prosecution of the war. Those loans, combined with the UAR’s existing oil wealth, shipped via pipeline to Aleppo or north into Turkey, would buy everything from ammunition to uniforms. The Saudis were also interested in pivoting away from Egypt under President Anwar al-Sadat, whom they viewed as a “traitor to the Arab cause” for recognizing Israel and making a strategic shift toward the United States, placing Egyptian interests above those of Arab unity. While Faisal trusted Saddam even less than he did Sadat, he worked closely with his heir apparent and half-brother, Fahd, to keep the Kingdom’s options open when it came to protecting the Kingdom’s interests. Saddam, despite all odds, had made a friend, even if only temporarily.

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Above: King Faisal (left) and his half-brother and successor, King Fahd (right). The House of Saud became one of Saddam Hussein’s chief backers in the United Arab Republic’s war against Iran.

The Saudis weren’t the only ones nervous at the prospect of an Iranian invasion and the potential collapse of Saddam’s regime.

The Republic of Turkey, led by President Kenan Evren since the military coup that brought him to power two years earlier, viewed Saddam’s potential ouster as a “near apocalyptic-level threat”. Why? Simple: the Kurds. An Iranic ethnic group native to the mountainous region of Kurdistan in Western Asia, which spans southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iran, northern Iraq, and northern Syria, the Kurds had long represented a sizeable ethnic minority in Turkey, and indeed, were considered in Ankara to be among the republic’s most notable security risks. The Kurds were, as of 1982, the world’s largest ethnic group without a nation-state of their own. Suppressed by both Saddam in the UAR and Evren’s regime in Turkey, the Kurds desperately wanted a state of their own to secure a future for their people. They hoped to create one out of the northern regions of the UAR, which used to be Iraq. No doubt, the Kurds would demand this as a precondition for assisting the Iranians in overthrowing Saddam’s regime.

Such a turn of events would put this hypothetical Kurdish state, if founded, directly on the border with Turkey, however. The Turks feared that if a Kurdish state were thus founded, Turkish Kurds might rise up in rebellion or attempt to break their home regions away to join this upstart country. Many of Turkey’s river systems that comprised the country’s fresh water supply were to be found in regions of Anatolia occupied by the Kurds. Given the ethnic ties between the Kurds and the Iranians, the Turks also feared that this new Kurdish state would become little more than a client-state for Tehran, extending Turkish influence, theoretically not only to Turkey’s doorstep, but through control of its fresh water supply, directly into the heart of its civilization. This was deemed totally unacceptable in Ankara. They would do whatever was in their power to prevent the Kurds from obtaining a homeland, even if it meant doing business with an “unsavory” dictator like Saddam Hussein. Hence, Turkey sent food, financial support, and even surplus small arms and ammunition to the UAR.

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Above: Flags of Turkey (left) and the proposed nation of Kurdistan (right); fears of the creation of a Kurdish homeland led Turkey to support the United Arab Republic in its war with Iran.

Even among Iran’s erstwhile allies - western nations like the United States and United Kingdom - the decision not to accept Saddam’s ceasefire offer was greeted with surprise and not a small amount of suspicion.

US Secretary of State Ed Muskie paid a visit to Tehran over the summer of 1982 to “remind” Prime Minister Yazdi and his government that US aid to Iran was predicated on the idea that the republic was defending itself from invasion by a Soviet-backed aggressor. “My fellow Americans are not interested in cutting you a blank check to do anything else.” Muskie told Yazdi coldly during a meeting in early July, 1982.

While the US certainly stood by Iran’s right to defend itself from attack, it did not want to see Iran do anything to destabilize the overall balance of power in the Middle East. Saddam might be a madman, but removing him from power would create a gigantic power vacuum. One need only look to Lebanon, with its myriad competing factions and bloody streets to see what might rush in to fill the void. Within the Kennedy National Security Council, headed by Zbiginew Brzezinski, concern was growing that the war could spread beyond the boundaries of the two belligerents. A National Security Planning Group meeting was called, chaired by President Kennedy, to review U.S. options. It was determined that there was a high likelihood that the conflict would spread into Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, but that the United States had little capability to defend the region. “Zbig” summed up the feelings of many within the administration that, when it came to the Iran-UAR war, “It’s a pity they can’t both lose.” It was determined that a prolonged war in the region would induce much higher oil prices and threaten the fragile world recovery which was just beginning to gain momentum. This would threaten not only President Kennedy’s chances at reelection come 1984, but also overall world stability, right at a time when tensions between the superpowers were at their highest.

Back in Tehran, Muskie implied that if Iran went through with the invasion and attempted to topple Saddam’s regime, the US might recall the $5 billion in low-interest loans that Washington had floated the Iranians as part of the aid package passed by Congress the year before. Yazdi countered that if he accepted a ceasefire on Saddam’s terms, it would inevitably mean the collapse of his government. Iran, he argued, was winning the war. With Washington’s help (he was quick to credit the efficacy of US aid), they had driven the invaders from their soil and defended their national sovereignty. Accepting that the Shatt al-Arab belonged exclusively to the UAR would be seen as tantamount to surrender. Iranian national honor would not stand for it. The national unity coalition Yazdi headed was shaky at best. Even members of his own coalition, particularly the conservatives and nationalists, were leery of Yazdi pursuing overly close relations with Washington. If he accepted Saddam’s terms at the behest of his “American handlers” he would be promptly ridiculed as a puppet of Washington and removed by a vote of no-confidence. Instead, he offered a compromise: he would delay the proposed invasion for as long as he could and attempt to get Saddam to the negotiating table to drop his remaining demands and offer concessions which might prove acceptable to the more jingoistic elements in Yazdi’s government.

Muskie relayed this offer to President Kennedy, who reluctantly agreed. It was time for some more containment. The war would continue throughout the rest of 1982, but its character changed dramatically.

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Above: US Secretary of State Ed Muskie (left); USS Ranger, the nuclear-powered carrier which served as the flagship of the US fleet sent to protect Iranian shipping in the Persian Gulf during the war.

Following Muskie’s trip, a US Navy carrier strike group, based around the USS Ranger (a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier) was dispatched by President Kennedy to the Persian Gulf. Its primary mission was to protect shipments of oil on Iranian tankers bound for Europe and East Asia from Arab missile attacks. The United States Navy also offered to provide protection to foreign tankers sailing to Iran reflagged and flying the U.S. flag starting March 7th, 1983, in Operation Argonaut. Neutral tankers shipping to the UAR were not protected by Argonaut, resulting in reduced foreign tanker traffic to Basra, since they risked attacks by Iranian aircraft. Saddam bitterly accused the US of aiding Iran through this, but Muskie explained the decision by saying that “the UAR were the aggressors in this war. It can end the minute they drop their unreasonable territorial demands”.

In a rare case of cooperation between the Cold War superpowers, the Soviet Union also agreed to charter tankers, though they likewise favored Baghdad, their ally in the proxy war. This increased security around the Persian Gulf prevented oil prices from skyrocketing, secured the global insurance market (which saw its costs shoot up over covering vessels near the Gulf), and protected the fragile economic recovery in the West. Another foreign policy victory for President Kennedy.

Meanwhile, the respective militaries involved began to rethink their plans. With an invasion of the UAR delayed indefinitely, the Iranian military shifted its strategy to sabotage and domestic subversion of Saddam’s regime. Tehran increased shipments of arms and supplies to Kurdish and Islamist militants, who promised to begin armed rebellions in the northern and southern regions of Iraq, respectively. The Iranian air force continued to target centers of economic activity with bombing raids and missile strikes, most notably oil fields and refineries in Iraq and mines in eastern Syria.

In Baghdad, Saddam ordered his troops to build fortifications along the border with Iran and continued to develop his war chest and the surveillance apparatus of his burgeoning police state. In the northeast of his country, in the Zagros Mountains near the border with Iran, the Feyli Kurds rose up in armed rebellion against Saddam’s regime in the fall of 1982. Largely, this was in response to Saddam’s policy of forced “Arabization”, in which he ordered the army to abduct Kurdish men and boys from the region (as many as 8,000 by one estimate) and use them as hostages to blackmail their fellow Kurds into abandoning their homes in the region. The Feyli Kurds, armed by the Iranian military, began shooting at the UAR troops who arrived to abduct their brothers, fathers, and sons, and refused to recognize Saddam’s authority over them. Over the next several years, Saddam would routinely divert troops from the front to “deal with” the Kurds, whom he believed were being used as a proxy by the Iranians. Most infamously, this rebellion was put down with a series of chemical weapons attacks in the mid to late 1980s. In Iran, Saddam supported left-wing groups like the Mujahedin e-Khalq (MEK), as well as Shia Islamist groups, both of whom opposed the secular, constitutional government in Tehran.

On both sides, stockpiles of weapons were expanded, including the chemical precursors to mustard gas and other chemical weapons, sold to Baghdad by the French, who feared that an outright Iranian victory in the war might jeopardize their own developing relationship with the Saudis. West Germany meanwhile provided technical support to the Iranians, whom they felt more comfortable doing business with than Saddam. The Chinese, who were by this time beginning to emerge as a developing industrial power, sold material, including weapons, freely to both sides. The Soviet Union and North Korea sold artillery shells and, in the case of the Soviets, new jet fighters to Baghdad.

Even as a strategic stalemate set in, it was clear that the Iran-UAR War was, tragically, far from over.

Next Time on Blue Skies in Camelot: 1982 in Pop Culture
Now to use boxing terms, it seems that the two fighters in the ring have now stepped away and taken a break before getting back at it again.

So Saddam now consolidates his control over the United Arab Republic as a whole. No doubt Saddam and his UAR will be closely watched from this point forward, especially if he entertains any kind of ideas towards Kuwait being added to the United Arab Republic (I mean, in 1961, Iraq under Abdul Karim Qasim made territorial claims towards Kuwait, only to back down due to Britain's Operation Vantage). But I suppose that all depends on how the Iran-UAR war goes on.

Anyways, will most undoubtably be looking forward to what the next chapter has in store! So excited!
So, good luck with the next chapter!
 
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Am curious, in our world, were there any plans by Saddam to merge his Iraq with Assad's Syria?
Well, there's sort of a plan to unite both countries, but the plan was the brainchild of Hafez al-Asad, who worked closely with Saddam's predecessor. When he took power, Saddam abandoned the project, fearing losing power.
 
The war between the Democratic Republic of Iran and the United Arab Republic, which began on September 22nd, 1980, entered its second year in late 1981. At that time, the conflict appeared to have settled into a stalemate.
What a surprise.
Despite a strong initial showing by the Arabs, using their armored divisions to break through poorly organized Iranian defenses in Khuzestan Province, the annexation of which remained one of Baghdad’s principal war goals, Iranian air attacks, particularly on oil refineries and shipping, hobbled the UAR’s economy, and made resupplying their frontlines with food, fuel, and water difficult. Add to these conditions the harsh, mountainous terrain of Iran’s border marches, and an Iranian population hell bent on sending them packing, and Saddam Hussein’s army faced severe setbacks that prevented them from securing their gains in Khuzestan.
Sounds like Saddam bit off more than he could chew.
On November 29th, 1981, the Iranian army executed a sneak attack on the Arab-occupied town of Bostan. To catch the invaders unawares, the Iranians constructed a road 14 kilometers long through undefended desert sand dunes. This road allowed them to attack the Arab positions from the rear. Lack of supply led to low morale among UAR troops, which was compounded as renewed fighting broke out that seemed to have them surrounded by Iranians. Backed by artillery and air support (including repaired and refueled jet fighters thanks to aid from the United States’ Kennedy administration), the Iranian troops surgically encircled and choked out pockets of Arab resistance, eventually forcing what remained of the armored divisions to retreat. Bostan returned to Iranian hands on December 7th. The fall of Bostan exacerbated the Arabs’ logistical problems, forcing them to use a roundabout route from Ahvaz to the south to resupply their troops. Nearly four-thousand Iranians and over two-thousand, five-hundred Arabs were killed in the operation.
GO Iran! Never thought I would say that.
On March 19th, 1982, using a large number of tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets, they attacked a massing group of Iranian forces around the Roghabiyeh pass. Though Saddam and his generals assumed they had succeeded, in reality the Iranian forces remained almost fully intact. Iran counterattacked, driving Arab forces from Khuzestan Province, then massed troops on the border for their own potential counter-invasion of Iraq. As a result, the tide of the war turned against the UAR.
What an epic fail.
Saddam blamed the uprising on his vice president, Hafez al-Assad (an Alawite Shia), who became increasingly isolated and sidelined from government affairs as Saddam’s cult of personality grew.
Dictators always need someone to blame.
This was accomplished by the giving of lavish gifts and the granting of what essentially amounted to “corruption privileges” that is, the government in Baghdad turning a blind eye to blatant graft and warlordism, as well as talking up Assad’s faults to the many enemies he had made over the years in his own rise to power.
Bribery. How quaint.
Though Saddam was, ultimately, disinterested in the Arab-Israeli conflict beyond paying lip service to the Palestinian cause and using them as a bargaining chip in his own personal empire building,
Anything that doesn't benefit Saddam, he could give two hoots about. Definitely not surprised.
By the time that Assad suffered a heart attack complicated by phlebitis in November of 1983 and subsequently died, his authority (both moral and practical) within the country had all but vanished. Assad’s death assured Saddam’s ascendency, however, by removing his only significant political rival in the Republic. Assad’s family, including his brother and young son, fled the country into exile, so as not to be targeted by Saddam’s paranoid wrath.
Guess there'll be no Assad dynasty.
In the summer of 1982, Saddam began the second phase of his efforts to secure the Homefront: a campaign of terror. More than 300 UAR Army officers were executed for their failures on the battlefield.
Jeez.
Ninety members of the al-Hakim family, an influential family of Shia clerics whose leading members were the émigrés Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, were arrested, and 6 were hanged.
That's horrible.
To secure the loyalty of the remaining Shia population, Saddam allowed more Shias into the Ba'ath Party and the government, and improved Shia living standards, which had been lower than those of the Sunnis. Saddam had the state pay for restoring Imam Ali's tomb with white marble imported from Italy. The Baathists also increased their policies of repression against the Shia. The most infamous event was the massacre of 148 civilians of the Shia town of Dujail. Despite the costs of the war, Saddam's regime made generous contributions to Shia waqf (religious endowments) as part of the price of buying Shia support. The importance of winning that support was so great that welfare services in Shia areas were actually expanded at a time in which Saddam’s regime pursued austerity in all other non-military fields.
That civilian massacre is barbaric.
For his part, Saddam responded by funding groups within Iran that were opposed to Yazdi’s government, or constitutional republicanism in general, especially among the socialist and communist left-wing, who were frustrated by Yazdi’s continued reluctance to give them positions in the wartime government. Shia Islamists in Iran were also frustrated by their lack of influence within Yazdi’s coalition, as well as by Yazdi’s insistence on closer ties with the United States of America. Mostafa Khomeini, the son of the late Ayatollah and unofficial leader of the Islamist opposition, also condemned Yazdi’s “reluctance to remove the murderous Saddam from power”.
Yeah this is gonna be a problem.
By May, Iran had recaptured most, if not quite all, of its sovereign territory.
Great some good news.
If Tehran yielded on the very issue that had started the war in the first place (the Shatt al-Arab), they claimed, then the new republic would be seen as weak and overly deferential to Saddam and the Arabs. Many in Tehran felt that Saddam needed to be “taught a lesson” for beginning the war in the first place. This was not to say that elements of the Yazdi government did not support peace. The prime minister himself was actually disposed toward accepting the ceasefire on Saddam’s terms. Most of the Iranian military high command felt that invading Iraq was a fool’s errand for logistical reasons. But Yazdi lacked the political capital necessary to oppose the forces favoring invasion, which included his defense minister, his interior minister, and the country’s President, the popular cleric Hussein-Ali Montazeri, who had already lost one son in the fighting. Another of his sons had lost an eye defending Khuzestan Province. Thus, preparations for an invasion continued.
Yeah, no way that ceasefire is being accepted.
The Iranian Revolution changed the geopolitical calculus for these states, however. The Iranian constitution, also (largely) secular, declared monarchy to be an “illegitimate form of government”, in reference to the Shah. There was growing fear in Riyadh and the other Gulf State capitals that if Iran successfully invaded Iraq and/or Syria and overthrew Saddam, that Tehran’s influence across the Middle East would pose an even greater threat to the Gulf States' continued stability than Baghdad. The people of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States might turn to Iran as a possible revolutionary example to emulate. This could not be allowed. Just as Saddam’s military withdrew to the UAR’s borders and dug trenches in the spring of 1982, Saddam traveled to Riyadh to meet with King Faisal and hash out their differences.
So basically Saudi Arabia is afraid of the Iranian revolution happening to them. To be honest doesn't sound like it would be the worst thing in the world.
Faisal was also troubled by American aloofness to himself and his Kingdom under the administration of President Robert Kennedy. Though Faisal had managed to soothe Kennedy’s human rights concerns with promises of continued reform,
Good at least Bobby is pushing them to be better on that front.
Furthermore, if the US decided that the Democratic Republic of Iran was to be the “Natural hegemon” of the Persian Gulf, that could only stand to hurt Saudi interests.
If it spreads democracy all over the middle east again not the worst thing in the world.
In Riyadh, Saddam was on his best behavior. He charmed Faisal’s court and promised to be a “protector of peace” in the Middle East, if victorious over the Iranians.
Yeah I'm gonna call B.S. on that.
He did, however, agree to float Saddam’s government a number of loans necessary for the continued prosecution of the war. Those loans, combined with the UAR’s existing oil wealth, shipped via pipeline to Aleppo or north into Turkey, would buy everything from ammunition to uniforms.
I'll admit, I'm a little disappointed in Arabia right now.
Even among Iran’s erstwhile allies - western nations like the United States and United Kingdom - the decision not to accept Saddam’s ceasefire offer was greeted with surprise and not a small amount of suspicion.
Yeah this is trouble.
US Secretary of State Ed Muskie paid a visit to Tehran over the summer of 1982 to “remind” Prime Minister Yazdi and his government that US aid to Iran was predicated on the idea that the republic was defending itself from invasion by a Soviet-backed aggressor. “My fellow Americans are not interested in cutting you a blank check to do anything else.” Muskie told Yazdi coldly during a meeting in early July, 1982.
Great way of putting it Secretary Muskie.

Great chapter Mr. President, you were right. This whole conflict is becoming even more complicated. Honestly I'm not sure how this thing can end in a good way. I mean I want Iran to win because they really are one of the only democracies in the middle east and Saddam should not screw that up. My commentary pretty much summed up what my feelings would be if Iran was as put the main power in the Middle east instead of Saudi Arabia.

So basically the only friend Iran has is the United States. And that friendship is shaky at best. It's like one big minefield.

Anyway loved the chapter and I can't wait for the popular culture and what you come up with there.
 
Good stuff. Unlike OTL’s “is there a way both can lose” proposition Im firmly Team Iran here. The dynamic of the Saudis slipping into Iraq’s orbit is also… kind of hilarious/ironic.

The use of Montazeri is an interesting one; seems like we’re probably headed towards a more clerical/religious republic inevitably if he has that much power. I still find the idea of him succeeding Khomeini in ‘89 a fascinating potential POD for a TL
 
Good stuff. Unlike OTL’s “is there a way both can lose” proposition Im firmly Team Iran here. The dynamic of the Saudis slipping into Iraq’s orbit is also… kind of hilarious/ironic.

The use of Montazeri is an interesting one; seems like we’re probably headed towards a more clerical/religious republic inevitably if he has that much power. I still find the idea of him succeeding Khomeini in ‘89 a fascinating potential POD for a TL
Glad to hear I'm not alone in rooting for Iran. With them besides Isreal being the only true democracy in the middle east, Saddam cannot be allowed to take it out. As long as the fringe groups don't take over.
 
With the way that the war is going do we all expect it to last as long as it did in OTL or are we feeling optimistic and saying that it'll end sooner?
 
Thank you for the kind words and feedback everyone! I'm glad you enjoyed the update. :)

What a surprise.

Sounds like Saddam bit off more than he could chew.

GO Iran! Never thought I would say that.

What an epic fail.

Dictators always need someone to blame.

Bribery. How quaint.

Anything that doesn't benefit Saddam, he could give two hoots about. Definitely not surprised.

Guess there'll be no Assad dynasty.

Jeez.

That's horrible.

That civilian massacre is barbaric.

Yeah this is gonna be a problem.

Great some good news.

Yeah, no way that ceasefire is being accepted.

So basically Saudi Arabia is afraid of the Iranian revolution happening to them. To be honest doesn't sound like it would be the worst thing in the world.

Good at least Bobby is pushing them to be better on that front.

If it spreads democracy all over the middle east again not the worst thing in the world.

Yeah I'm gonna call B.S. on that.

I'll admit, I'm a little disappointed in Arabia right now.

Yeah this is trouble.

Great way of putting it Secretary Muskie.

Great chapter Mr. President, you were right. This whole conflict is becoming even more complicated. Honestly I'm not sure how this thing can end in a good way. I mean I want Iran to win because they really are one of the only democracies in the middle east and Saddam should not screw that up. My commentary pretty much summed up what my feelings would be if Iran was as put the main power in the Middle east instead of Saudi Arabia.

So basically the only friend Iran has is the United States. And that friendship is shaky at best. It's like one big minefield.

Anyway loved the chapter and I can't wait for the popular culture and what you come up with there.
Thank you! The geopolitics of the Middle East are always complex, and TTL is no different in that regard. While the US, UK, and West (generally) support Tehran here, there are definitely concerns in Washington, London, and elsewhere, as established in the chapter about Iran achieving hegemony over the region.

Good stuff. Unlike OTL’s “is there a way both can lose” proposition Im firmly Team Iran here. The dynamic of the Saudis slipping into Iraq’s orbit is also… kind of hilarious/ironic.

The use of Montazeri is an interesting one; seems like we’re probably headed towards a more clerical/religious republic inevitably if he has that much power. I still find the idea of him succeeding Khomeini in ‘89 a fascinating potential POD for a TL
Interesting analysis! I agree that Montazeri is likely to push things in a clerical direction, though a lot will depend on how the war progresses under Yazdi's coalition. Generally speaking, leading a post-revolutionary government is difficult, even in favorable circumstances. Having to man the helm during a major war won't be easy, to say the least.
 
Thank you! The geopolitics of the Middle East are always complex, and TTL is no different in that regard. While the US, UK, and West (generally) support Tehran here, there are definitely concerns in Washington, London, and elsewhere, as established in the chapter about Iran achieving hegemony over the region.
Indeed, any nation, regardless of their ideology, that achieves hegemonic status over a such strategic region (**cough** oil **cough**) would certainly become a concern for every major geopolitical player.

Interesting analysis! I agree that Montazeri is likely to push things in a clerical direction, though a lot will depend on how the war progresses under Yazdi's coalition. Generally speaking, leading a post-revolutionary government is difficult, even in favorable circumstances. Having to man the helm during a major war won't be easy, to say the least.
Well, a government staffed with various shades of liberals, socialists or communists, and Islamists is bound to become an unstable house of cards. How to satisfy everyone's agenda would be a Herculean effort for Yazdi.
 
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