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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 September 2005, 15:19 GMT 16:19 UK
Iranians mull new battlefront
Roxana Saberi
BBC News, Tehran

Iranian paramilitary members march during a parade marking the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war
Iran has been reflecting on its war with Iraq
As Iran commemorates its war with Iraq 25 years ago, Fatemeh recalls how she lost her only son, Hamid, in the bloody conflict.

"He really wanted to go to the war," she said, sitting beside his grave at a cemetery for war veterans in northern Tehran.

"After my son was martyred, his father said he wanted to avenge the blood of his son. Three months after my husband went to war, he was exposed to chemical weapons. A year later he died."

Hamid was one of hundreds of thousands of Iranians who went to the battlefront after Iraqi forces invaded Iran on September 22, 1980.

Then-president Saddam Hussein wanted to settle a long history of border disputes.

He also wanted to suppress calls by Iran's new Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, for Iraqis to overthrow the Baathist regime.

Defending the revolution

Saddam Hussein expected a quick victory over the fledgling Islamic Republic. He hadn't foreseen the fervour with which many Iranians would heed the battle call.

September 1980
Iraqi forces invade Iran
June 1982
Iran counterattacks, rejects ceasefire offer
May 1984
Iran attacks Gulf shipping, escalating Tanker War
Bombing of civilian centres in War of the Cities
July 1987
UN resolution 598 calls for ceasefire
July 1988
US carrier shoots down Iranian civilian airliner, claiming it thought it was an Iranian fighter
August 1988
Ceasefire agreed
When the war began, Mojtaba Shakeri was a 22-year-old guard for Ayatollah Khomeini.

He soon joined the country's new Revolutionary Guard forces and went to western Iran.

"In 1981, we were working on a series of mines in [Iranian] Kurdistan," he said. "We wanted to deactivate them. One exploded in my hand. I lost my two hands and became blind, and my teeth were knocked out."

Five years later, Shakeri went back to the battlefront.

"It was our duty to defend our country, and they wanted to eliminate our revolution," he said. "But did we obtain all the goals of our revolution [through this war]?

"I must say we have obtained a part of them. There are some parts that still have not been achieved."

Growing pressure

Even after the eight-year war ended in a ceasefire, relations between Iran and Iraq remained tense, so many Iranians rejoiced when US-led forces overthrew Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Iranian soldiers pass the bodies of Iraqis during the Iran-Iraq war
Millions died during the eight-year conflict with Iraq
They blamed him for the Iran-Iraq war, and they hoped his ouster might lead to better economic, cultural, and religious ties with the Iraqi people.

In recent months, however, Iranians have been watching the rising violence in Iraq with dismay.

They have put off plans for business deals and pilgrimages to Iraqi holy sites. Many say they feel pity for the Iraqi people.

Washington claims Iran has had a hand in inciting sectarian violence in Iraq - a charge Tehran denies.

Today the possibility of another battle is not far from the minds of Iranians like Shakeri.

Tehran is facing growing international pressure over its nuclear programme. Although Iran denies it is pursuing nuclear weapons, Washington has not ruled out military action against the Islamic Republic.

"They are always making excuses that they are being harmed by Iran, but they don't attack," Shakeri said.

"This shows they have no power anymore. Anyway, they couldn't do anything in Iraq, let alone Iran, which is a big and powerful country. Our armed forces are ready."

'A strong nation'

Many Iranians, however, are too young to remember the war.

Some, like 23-year-old Ayeh Azizi, say they hope their country won't get caught up again in a military conflict.

"If we don't go to war, young people won't be killed," she said. "I'm not opposed to having nuclear energy, but it shouldn't be in such a way that everything gets messed up."

Still, war veterans like Taghi Aghaie believe Iranians would rally to their country's defence if it were threatened by an outside attack.

The 43-year-old lost his hand after joining the Iran-Iraq war as a member of the youthful, hardliner volunteer forces called the Basij.

Today he runs Iranian Ziggurat Tour and Travel Company in Tehran, which helps to bring tourists to Iran from all over the world, including the United States.

"The first business that would be affected would be our business," said Aghaie, who learned English and taught himself how to write with his left hand after the war.

"But you know, no matter what happens, the majority of the people of Iran do like their independence and want to be a strong nation.

"I think we deserve to use our own [nuclear] power, which is quite peaceful."

What are your memories of the Iran-Iraq war? Send us your comments using the form below:

I have to say that I just don't see the Bush administration as being foolish enough to even consider military action against Iran, caught up as it is in numerous quagmires both abroad and on the domestic scene. But, then again, the neocons are full of surprises! The long term tragedy of the situation is this though: The more the US makes hawkish advances against Iran (The axis of evil and nuclear paranoia, for example) the more it forces the Iranian people to rally behind the clerical leadership, thus extending this awful regime's lifespan.
Sohrab, Brownsville, TX, USA

Although I was very young, I do remember the bombings, the broken windows and the drills in the middle of the night. Although I do love my country, I blame the Islamic regime ruling it for everything that happened. In June 1982, Iraqi forces withdrew from Iranian territory to behind the international borders. From then on, only Khomeini and his regime insisted on perpetuating the war. Coining slogans about "liberating Qods via Karbala," the regime made the most of the conflict to clamp a lid on domestic dissent. I am glad it's over now and I hope my country never has to face such a war again.
Laleh Tarighi, London, UK

For those of us who remember the war, the hypocrisy of all the current hype on Iran's nuclear endeavours is very obvious. I remember every time the radio broadcast the red alert sirens, my aunt would run into the shower, turn the water on and hide under a plastic cover. We were all terrified of what would happen to us if a chemical bomb landed in our neighbourhood. Where were these anti-WMD advocates that have taken over the airwaves nowadays? Did they even care to mention Iran's plight? My two cousins were both hit by mustard gas. While we were being hit in the thousands by these weapons, the only things one could see on European TV was the latest hits by the Bananarama or the latest fashion of Benetton. We did not even exist back then for the West. Such memories vex even the most apathetic of Iranian dissidents.
Nima K., San Antonio, Texas, USA

I was seven when the war started. I remember the constant siren warnings, blackouts and loud and terrifying anti-aircraft artilleries and explosions. It became worse in 1986 when Iraq acquired Scud missiles and had the full capability of hitting Tehran. I lost friends and a very good teacher in that war. My teacher died from chemical weapon exposures which was supplied by the west to Iraq. He had a painful death. We the Iranian people are peaceful and courageous. No matter how much I hate the current government I will defend my motherland anytime.
Amir Nasiri, Cincinnati, USA

My wife is Iranian. Although we were really too young to remember the Iran-Iraq war, every time we go to Iran we are reminded of it. My wife's father was killed in the early days of the war in south-eastern Iran, but his body was never recovered. To commemorate his memory, my wife and I invited three chemical weapons victims of the war to witness our marriage in Tehran in 2002. My mother-in-law told me that one of them has since succumbed to his injuries. These serve as reminders of this brutal conflict and its tragic human toll.
Mark, Ottawa, Canada

I am an Irish-Australian based in Dubai for the last four years. My fiance is Iranian who lived in Shiraz during the Iran/Iraq conflict but seldom speaks about it. Horror, brutality, savagery, futility, words too weak to describe the war. I recall a news item in the mid-80's which followed a group of Iranian youths as they said goodbye to their families. They prayed with them for the last time as they queued aboard a bus and were driven to the front, knowing they were heading towards certain death. Many of them were in tears. After eight years of bloodshed neither side gained. It's such a terrible waste.
Peter Breslin, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

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