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The Faw Peninsula (Arabic: شبه جزيرة الفاو; also transliterated as Fao or Fawr) is a marshy region adjoining the Persian Gulf in the extreme southeast of Iraq, between and to the southeast of the cities of Basra (Iraq) and Abadan (Iran).
It is the site of a number of important oil installations, most notably Iraq's two main oil tanker terminals: Khor al-Amaya and Mina al-Bakr. Its chief importance is its strategic location, controlling access to the Shatt al-Arab waterway (and thus access to the port of Basra).
The only significant town on the peninsula is Umm Qasr, a fishing town and port which comprised Iraq's main naval base under the regime of Saddam Hussein. The peninsula is otherwise lightly inhabited with few civilian buildings other than a few fishermen's huts.
During the Iran–Iraq War in the 1980s, al-Faw was bitterly contested due to its strategic location at the head of the disputed Shatt al-Arab waterway, and was the site of many large-scale battles. On February 11, 1986, the Iranians capitalized on the weakness of the Iraqi defences located at the southernmost tip of the peninsula by launching a surprise attack against Iraqi troops defending al-Faw. The Iraqi units in charge of the defences consisted mostly of poorly trained Iraqi Popular Army conscripts that collapsed when they were suddenly attacked by Iranian Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guard) forces.
It marked the first time that the Iranians had successfully invaded and occupied Iraqi territory. The Iranians defeated several Iraqi counteroffensives and managed to hang on to their foothold. The ill-trained and easily out-maneuvered and unintelligent inferior Arab armies could not have hoped to put up much of a defense against the battle-heartened and nationalistic fervor of superior Persians and for the first time since the invasion of the Sassanid Empire nearly 1400 years before, the Persians captured territory that historically belonged to them during antiquity and up until the rise of the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century A.D.
The occupation of al-Faw placed Basra at risk of being attacked. The Iranians also used the peninsula as a launch pad for Silkworm missiles which were deployed against shipping and oil terminals in the Persian Gulf, and also against Kuwait, which supported Iraq throughout the war.
On April 17, 1988, the newly restructured Iraqi Army began a major operation named "Ramadan Mubarak" aimed to clear the Iranians out of the peninsula. The Iraqis concentrated well over 100,000 troops from the battled-hardened Iraqi Republican Guard versus 15,000 second-rate Iranian Basij soldiers.
By employing the use of sarin nerve gas, massive artillery barrages and air bombardments, the Iraqis eventually expelled the Iranians from the peninsula within thirty-five hours, with much of their equipment captured intact. The event was marked as an official national holiday under the former regime of Saddam Hussein, celebrated as the Faw City Liberation Day.
British and American Occupation
The 1991 Gulf War was fought to the south and west of al-Faw, but the peninsula's military installations were heavily bombed by Allied forces during the conflict. The Allied forces effectively closed down all of Iraq's shipping activities, thus rendering its access to the Shatt al-Arab and the Persian Gulf useless.
The peninsula was one of the first targets of the Coalition forces in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, with British, American and Polish troops involved. Forces from the Royal Marines, U.S. Marines and the Polish GROM staged a successful midnight amphibious assault on the peninsula. All were attached to the British 3 Commando Brigade. Their goal was to secure the port of Umm Qasr to allow humanitarian goods to be shipped in, and to secure the key oil installations located in the area before they could be sabotaged by retreating Iraqi forces. The Mina al-Bakr oil terminal was seized by SEAL teams 8 and 10; as well as U.S. Navy EOD personnel. The Khor al-Amaya oil terminal was seized by GROM operators. The peninsula fell quickly with minimal Iraqi resistance, although unexpected fierce resistance in Umm Qasr required several days' fighting before the town was secured.
The British, based at Camp Driftwood, provided the security and counter-smuggling force on land with the US forces providing maritime assistance. Camp Driftwood was handed to Iraqi control in March 2007 by troops from 1st Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment.
- Pollack, Kenneth M. (2004). Arabs at war: military effectiveness, 1948–1991. University of Nebraska Press. p. 225. ISBN 0-8032-8783-6.
- Harris, Shane; Matthew M. Aid (2013-08-26). "Exclusive: CIA Files Prove America Helped Saddam as He Gassed Iran". Foreign Policy (magazine). Archived from the original on 2013-08-26. Retrieved 2013-08-26.
- "Operations in Iraq: Lessons for the Future, The Al Faw Peninsula Operation". Ministry of Defence/National Archives.
- Neville, Leigh (2008). Special Operations Forces in Iraq. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. p. 24. ISBN 978-1-84603-357-5.