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1980: War breaks out between Iran and Iraq

Three weeks of border clashes between Iran and Iraq appear to have finally erupted into all-out war.

Iraq has bombed several Iranian air and military supply bases, including Tehran's international airport.

The rise in hostilities comes after Iraq tore up a 1975 border agreement with Iran over sovereignty of the Shatt al-Arab waterway.

The southern end of the river forms part of the border between the two countries, leading into the Gulf, and is a vital supply line for oil to the West.

Forces advancing

Iraqi and Iranian ships exchanged fire in the disputed estuary yesterday and Iraq claimed to have sunk eight Iranian patrol boats.

Iranian reports say Iraqi forces shelled the Iranian naval base of Khorramshahr, 20 miles (32kms) south of Abadan, and site of the world's largest oil refinery. There are also reports of ground forces advancing into surrounding Iranian territory.

Iraqi officials say Iranian guns hit Iraqi economic installations in the Shatt al-Arab waterway. Some reports say they fired at an Iraqi oil reservoir in the Basra area in southern Iraq and set it on fire.

Iraq has announced the call-up of all army, police, public security and customs reservists.

It is also reported to have moved bombers and transport aircraft into neighbouring Jordan.

Western diplomats believe Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is seeking to take advantage of the post-revolution turmoil in Iran to seize control of the waterway and other territory handed over to Tehran as part of the 1975 agreement.

In return Iran agreed to end support for a Kurdish rebellion in northern Iraq.

President Hussein also appears intent on destroying the new Islamic leader, Ayatollah Khomeini's, grip on Iran and the majority Shia Muslim population amid fears they may arouse discontent among Iraq's Shia majority community.

A senior member of the Iraqi government, Tariq Aziz, is in Moscow for talks in what appears to be a move to seek for more arms.

Iran may be forced to seek support from its traditional ally, the United States. Part of the price for that support would be a demand to release the 52 US hostages who have been held by Islamic fundamentalists in Tehran since November last year.

Oil experts in London say the conflict spells no immediate threat to supplies.

In Context
The Iran/Iraq war lasted eight years, despite the limited military capabilities of the two sides.

The two superpowers, the USA and the USSR, declared neutrality. The USA, under President Jimmy Carter was committed to keeping the oil supply route open. The Soviets had paid to arm Iraq but shared a common border with Iran.

Iraq's superior military equipment initially gave it the upper hand in the fighting, but Iran fought back and even advanced to occupy some Iraqi territory in 1984 and 1986.

Both sides eventually agreed to the terms of a United Nations ceasefire in August 1988. Official reports say more than 400,000 were killed and 750,000 wounded.

In 1990 Iran and Iraq restored diplomatic relations, but they are still working on written agreements on border demarcation, prisoners-of-war, and freedom of navigation and sovereignty over the Shatt-al-Arab waterway.

In 2005 the Iraq's transitional Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafaari visited Iran at the start of what was seen as a new era of co-operation between the two countries.

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