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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 September 2005, 09:25 GMT 10:25 UK
Iran-Iraq war veterans: Head-to-head
Thursday, 22 September, marks 25 years since the outbreak of war between Iran and Iraq.

More than one million people died during the bitter eight-year conflict. Here two veterans of the war - one Iraqi and one Iranian - debate who was responsible and what the two countries have learned from the conflict.

These pieces were translated from BBCArabic.com and BBCPersian.com.

Khaled Annakshabandi, former officer, Iraqi special forces

Khaled Annakshabandi
I was an officer in the Iraqi army in the Maghaweer - special forces - and I took part in the battles of Sheeb and Teeb and al-Fakka on the border.

I was injured in the leg by a mine blast, and have been disabled since then. I have six brothers - four of us were officers in the Iraqi army.

Who bears responsibility for starting this war?

In my view the war was caused by Iran, despite my intense hatred of Saddam Hussein.

In 1980 my brother Nizar, who was a colonel at the time serving in an Iraqi unit stationed at the border with Iran, told us of skirmishes on the border, and said that Iran was bombing the border villages on the Iraqi side.

Even though Iran is responsible for the outbreak of war, Saddam's way of dealing with it was wrong
He also said that he expected war to break out. My friends from the village of Mandali in the Diala province on the border also said that they had to leave because of Iranian artillery fire, and that was all before the war formally started.

The most significant reason for the outbreak of war was Ayatollah Khomeini and his statements about exporting the revolution, based on his ideological belief in the rule of the clerics.

Even though Iran is responsible for the outbreak of war, Saddam's way of dealing with it was wrong.

He reacted strongly, despite advice to the contrary from all the military leadership and politicians at the time, who advised him to take defensive positions and mobilise reinforcements.

Why did the war last so long?

Iran is also to blame for that, but again, Saddam bears some responsibility.

His goal was always to be in the spotlight, and he always acted contrary to the advice he received because he believed that by being unpredictable the aura surrounding him would be magnified in the media.

None of the disasters of the war would have happened were it not for the stupidity of Khomeini first, and Saddam second.

What were the mistakes on both sides?

Saddam never studied military warfare, and yet he always insisted on interfering in everything, which resulted in a string of blunders.

One example is the failure of the Iraqi army in the Jumra battle in the Ahwaz region, which was meant to provide Saddam with a victory to celebrate during the anniversary of the revolution.

The most significant thing I learned from the war is that governments trade with the feelings of their people, especially religious fervour and nationalism
However, it was never approved by military commanders and it failed - as they expected - and ended in disaster.

Saddam ordered the execution of the commander who participated in the battle, Salah al-Kadi, along with around 350 officers, including my brother, Colonel Nizar Annakshabandi.

When Saddam discovered there were simply too many executions to carry out without eliminating all Iraqi officers, he devised a system to reward the officers or punish them, by either promoting them or dramatically demoting them, which led to general chaos in the Iraqi army.

You can imagine when your commander who is a brigadier general suddenly becomes a sergeant led by those he used to command!

The Iranians also made use of people's naivety and ignorance. Waves of volunteers flooded the minefields to blow the mines up so that the regular Iranian army could follow and sustain as few casualties as possible. They died in their thousands.

What lessons were learned from this war?

The most significant thing I learned is that governments trade with the feelings of their people, especially religious fervour and nationalism.

It was all a game. For example the Iraqi army recovered the al-Fao area on the border only after cutting a deal with the Iranians, who pulled out quietly. But the media trumpeted the battle as a resounding victory.

We should all guard against those who toy with the emotions of the masses.

Mohammad Sadeq Javadi-Hesar fought as a soldier in the Iranian army for most of the war

Mohammad Sadeq Javadi-Hesar
I was a university student in Mashhad, Iran, when the war broke out. I joined the war effort with a group of friends.

Who bears responsibility for starting this war?

No independent official authority has yet issued a verdict about who actually started the war.

But the evidence shows that the Iraqi army did it.

In the run-up to the war, there were random hostilities and battles on the borders between the two countries.

Saddam Hussein claimed Iraq was engaged in the war because of "Iran's interventions". But it is known that the war started officially with an Iraqi air raid.

The Baathist regime in Iraq under Saddam's government had some territorial and legal claims over Iran and was always looking for an opportunity to regain its "trampled rights".

With the chaos in Iran after the Islamic Revolution the civil and military systems were damaged.

Saddam felt that this was a good opportunity to capitalise and at least capture some part of Iran, specifically the Khuzestan province.

I think his international supporters who felt hurt by the Islamic Revolution were influential in provoking him to attack Iran.

Why did the war last so long?

There were two camps during the war: the ordinary people who felt it was their duty to defend their country against the aggressor enemy.

They fought with heartfelt sincerity. But did not have any say in the future of the war.

The second group were the commanders and the statesmen who made decisions about the war. But not all of them had the same opinion about it.

Saddam was very proud of his military might and he made a mistake in his assessment of Iranian power
In both countries there were forces who really thought they were right and would not be happy without the complete destruction of the opposite side.

In the beginning of the war, Iraq and its international supporters thought it was so easy to defeat Iran and the war would soon finish. But Iran showed that it could resist heavy pressure.

The Iranian military proved it could push the Iraqis out of the country and after taking Khorramshar back from the Iraqis, some political figures believed the war should end, but some others insisted that it should continue until the collapse of the Saddam government.

The latter convinced Imam Khomeini, then leader of the revolution, to continue the war.

What were the mistakes on both sides?

Saddam was very proud of his military might and he made a mistake in his assessment of Iranian power.

He never wanted peace with honesty and basically he was not amenable to negotiation or conciliation.

A large part of the country was destroyed. It took years to rebuild. But the psychological and mental injuries remain
I think after forcing Iraqis to leave, Iranians were insensibly proud. We should have used more diplomacy.

Today, everyone is aware of Saddam's aggressive and violent nature. During the war, we could have alerted the world to this more. But we did not do enough in this regard.

What lessons were learned from this war?

Iranians learned two big lessons from the war. They realised how much power they had. They understood that if they have self-confidence and unity they can do big things.

The war management, for a country which had just has come out of a revolution, was not easy. But the government of Mir Hussein Musavi, the then prime minister, effectively managed to do it.

The second lesson is that people became familiar with the ugly face of war. Our nation lost their best children to it.

The war took thousands of lives. Many were PoWs and many others were left disabled. Now that the war has finished, we can feel the pain of the wounds it has left even more.

Because of the war, a large part of the country was destroyed. It took years to rebuild. But the psychological and mental injuries remain.

I am sure Iranians have reached an understanding that they never want to engage in another war unless they are forced to.

The following comments reflect the balance of views received:

What I have read above is the truth about the effects war has on people. I have and had friends who were soldiers who served in those horrible years. Some lost their lives and others were affected mentally and physically. Personally, I was dealing everyday with the thought of my family; were they safe or not? Not being able of doing anything about it was one of the worst things. I do not really know who the aggressor was, whether it was Iran who started the war or the Iraqis. All I know is the war is finished now and we have to make sure it stays that way.
Reza, Northampton, England

I must concur with Mr Annakshabandi's assessment of war when he said "we should all guard against those who toy with the emotions of the masses." Most wars arise because of leaders and their egos. It is usually those of us on the street that have to pay with our lives or the lives of our countrymen to accommodate them. I believe the "toying of emotions of the masses" is what lead to the war we are all witnessing in Iraq.
Christopher Della Torre, Ridgewood, NJ, US

Above everything else, Iran-Iraq war was a personal contest between Saddam and Khomeini since both hated each other and both exploited their people for their personal twisted aim of "moral victory" against each other. It resulted only in destruction and loss of innocent life. I hope people of Iran and especially Iraq have learned from their terrible losses and will not get involved again in the Sunni-Shia conflict which is being engineered in Iraq these days.
Asad, Toronto, Canada

It is ridiculous to suggest Iran started the war when, on the first day, over 150 Iraqi jet planes simultaneously bombed every airport in Iran, including that of the capital city just before divisions of the Iraqi army, amassed at the border, started their push into Iranian territory. For days and days the Iraqis advanced deep into Iranian territory with no sign of the Iranian army. Besides, the UN has already identified Iraq as the aggressor. The point to remember, however, is the support and encouragement Saddam got from the West, not to mention the financial and moral support from Kuwait and other neighbouring states whose generosity was incidentally rewarded by Saddam. If Saddam had not been supported so blindly the world would have been spared of so much death, destruction and misery.
JF, Copenhagen, Denmark

The Iran-Iraq War was one of the darkest episodes of the late 20th century. The story of a revolutionised and traumatised nation being attacked by an opportunist madman (Saddam). The role of the West in this war should never be underestimated, since it was them that supplied Saddam with the weapons that avoided his downright defeat. This created a monster that came back to bite them as he failed with Iran. The sacrifice Iranians brought to save their country is now in my opinion haunting not only Iraq but has put a strong destructive leash on the West for supporting Saddam in that uneven war.
Keyvan, UK London

I have always been sad to see the killings on both sides. I have Iraqi and Iranian friends. At the time the war broke we were all good friends studying in England, then we started to see divisions. I still feel the division between Arabs and Iranians despite the fact my son is married to an Iranian girl. My wish is for all peoples to be united as Muslims.
Ahmad Hmoud, Jordan/Swindon, UK

The naive comments seem to ignore the role of the EU and the US in the build up to the conflict and their role in sustaining it. The destruction of Iran and Iraq was the outcome of the war - neither country gained - but where is the analysis of the real gainers.. the US, Israel and the EU ?
Joseph, London UK

Iran-Iraq talks heal old wounds
17 Jul 05 |  Middle East


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