Operation Mersad

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Operation Mersad
Part of Iran–Iraq War
Mersad.jpg
Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (MEK) army was destroyed in 1988
Date 26 – 30 July 1988
Location Western borders of Iran
Result End of the Iran–Iraq War
  • Overall military stalemate along the entire frontier
  • Iraqi invasion of Iran fails
  • Iranian invasion of Iraq fails
  • Defeat of the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (MEK) and destruction of their army
Territorial
changes
Borders return to pre-war status except along the Shatt Al Arab waterway which falls under Iraqi control until 1991 when Iraq gave Iran the right to use the waterway in exchange for a promise not to invade Iraq while it was busy in Kuwait.
Belligerents
National Liberation Army (MEK)
 Iraq
 Iran
Flag of Kurdistan.svg Peshmerga (only in the northern sector)
Commanders and leaders
Massoud Rajavi Iran Ali Sayad Shirazi
Strength
110,000 soldiers
300 tanks
unknown number of artillery pieces and aircraft
400,000 soldiers
800 tanks
unknown number of artillery pieces and aircraft
Casualties and losses
4,500 KIA (Iranian claim)
2,000 KIA (independent estimate)[1]
several thousand hanged for treason[2][3]
400 KIA (Iranian claim)
Mujahedeen was killed in Operation Mersad by Pasdaran in Kermanshah at 1988

Operation Mersad was the name given by the Iranian government, taken from the Persian word meaning 'ambush' was the last major military operation of the war, ending in a decisive victory for Iran. The operation involved a successful counterattack against a July 1988 military incursion from Iraq, by the bulk of the Iraqi army in the south west, and a military force of about 7000 members of the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (MEK). The MEK soldiers were armed, equipped and given air support by Iraq and other foreign states. Led by Lt. General Ali Sayad Shirazi, Operation Mersad began on 26 July 1988 and lasted only a few days, where the Iranian Armed Forces crushed the Iraqi Army and MEK in what was the last military operation of any significance of the Iran–Iraq War.

Both Iran and Iraq had accepted United Nations Security Council Resolution 598, which would end the war on 20 July 1988. However, shortly thereafter Iraq decided to violate the ceasefire and launch a new attack, wishing to permanently occupy Khuzestan and western Iran, overthrown the Iranian government, thus reaching its goals from the beginning of the war.[4] The Iraqi army attacked Khuzestan province, beginning with chemical weapons and air strikes, and once again pushed towards Khorramshahr, while the Iraqi supported Mujahedeen-e-Khalq militant group attacked central Iran. Both attacks were decisively defeated by the Iranian military.[4]

Prelude[edit]

After almost eight years of bloody warfare, the Iran Iraq War was coming to an end under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 598, which was passed 20 July 1987. Iran had suffered several defeats in southern Iraq during the Second Battle of Al Faw and Operation Tawakalna ala Allah, and had decided to accept the UN ceasefire. However, made confident by recent Iraqi victories, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein decided to violate the ceasefire agreement and launch a new invasion of Iran itself.

The attack agreed upon by the Iraqi leadership would be a three pronged assault. The first would attack Khuzestan province in Iran (for the first time since 1982). They would attempt to capture the province, as was their objectives from the beginning of the war. Another group would attack forces in Iranian and Iraqi Kurdistan, the latter area still within Iranian and Peshmerga hands. When the Iranian armies moved to fight those two major incursions, the renegade Iranian militant group the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), supported by Iraqi armor and air power, would launch a large scale incursion into the central portion of Iran, aiming towards the heart of Iran. The MEK under their leader Massoud Rajavi harbored the hope that the attack would lead to a general uprising against the Islamic government of Ayatollah Khomeini. Rajavi would lead the Mujahedeen with Iraqi support in an attack on the western borders of Iran.[5]

While Operation Mersad only specifically applies to the Iranian counterattack against the Mujahedeen attack, this article covers all of the post ceasefire attacks from Iraq as well.

Iraq attack on Khuzestan[edit]

Shortly after Iran accepted the UN ceasefire the Iraqi army began their offensive, attacking Khuzestan province beginning with chemical weapons and air strikes. The first Iraqi attack, launched from Shalamcheh, Khuzestan was defeated.

Shortly after, Iraq's main offensive began. Large tank armies entered into Khuzestan, capturing territory for the first time since 1982. The tanks, heavily supported by aircraft and helicopters, pushed through the border regions and captured the main Ahvaz–Khorramshahr highway. The Iraqis advanced towards the cities of Ahvaz, Abadan and Khorramshahr. However, Iran had anticipated the attack, and used their remaining air force in conjunction with surface-to-air missiles to defeat the larger Iraqi air force. The Iranians mobilised their "Mohammad Corps", a large infantry reserve force consisting of 200,000 Basij and Revolutionary Guards in Khuzestan province. They were supported by 50,000 regular army troops, along with many new volunteers. While Iranian morale had been declining since 1987, the new offensive caused a new spur of patriotism and religious devotion, and large amounts of new volunteers began to arrive at the front. In spite of the flat terrain which supported tank warfare, Iranian anti-tank commandos, supported by artillery and AH-1 Cobra helicopters, stopped the Iraqi armour in front of Ahvaz. The Iraqis were bogged down in fire-fights and the Iranians gained the upper hand. The Iraqi invasion of Khuzestan was effectively halted.

Iranian forces took the offensive on 25 July 1988 and re-obtained 600 km2 (230 sq mi) of their own territory.

Iraq attack on Kurdistan[edit]

In the north, Iraq also launched an attack into Iranian and Iraqi Kurdistan, which was rapidly blunted by the Iranians with the help of their Kurdish allies.

MEK launches Operation Forough Javidan[edit]

While the Iranian forces were fighting (and defeating) the Iraqis on other fronts, the central sector had been largely cleared of troops. As a result, the stage was set for the Mujahedeen attack.

On 26 July 1988, the MEK, with the support of the Iraqi army, started their campaign, Operation Forough Javidan (Eternal Light) in central Iran. The Mujahedeen worked with the Iraqi air force, armour, and chemical weapons to attack western Iran, advancing towards Kermanshah. With few Iranian troops in the field, the MEK advanced very rapidly, seizing and destroying the towns of Qasr-e Shirin, Sarpol-e Zahab, and Islamabad-e-Gharb, and pushing towards the provincial capital city of Kermanshah. The Mujahedeen expected the Iranian population to rise up and support their advance; however, the uprising never materialised. Except for an Iranian Kurdish resistance, the Mujahedeen and Iraqis drove through unopposed, pushing 145 km (90 mi) deep into Iran. Iran's Kurdish fighters did manage to slow the Iraqi supported Mujahedeen advance, allowing time for the Iranians to prepare their counteroffensive.

The Iranians focused on defeating the Iraqi incursion first, which they had managed to do by the time Forough Javidan had begun. But Iran did not launch an immediate attack against the Mujahedeen. Instead they waited until they were deep enough inside of Iran that Iraq's air support could no longer effectively support their advance. The MEK continued to advance, reaching as far as 145 km (90 mi) deep into Iran, and the road to Tehran seemed to be wide open.

Operation Mersad[edit]

At this point, the Iranian military launched its counter-attack, Operation Mersad, under Lieutenant General Ali Sayyad Shirazi.

The Iranians waited until the opposing forces reached deep enough where Iraqi air support would be unable to properly support the advance. Afterwards, Iranian paratroopers landed behind the MEK lines while the Iranian Air Force F-4 Phantoms bombed the Mujahedeen vehicles on the Kermanshah highway. Afterwards, helicopters launched an air attack using anti-tank missiles. By this time, most of the enemy armour was destroyed, in a miniature version of the Highway of Death during the Gulf War. The MEK advance had been abruptly and completely halted.

The Iranian army and Revolutionary Guard then moved north from Khuzestan, encircling and suppressing the remaining resistance in the city of Kerend-e Gharb on 29 July 1988.

On 31 July, Iran drove the Iraqis and MEK forces out of Qasr-e-Shirin and Sarpol Zahab, though Iraq claimed to have "voluntarily withdrawn" from the towns. Iran estimated that 4,500 Mujahedeen and Iraqi soldiers were killed, while 400 Iranian soldiers died. The Iranian successes during Operation Mersad were partially due to their decision to establish a unified command structure and permanently quash the differences between the Army and the Revolutionary Guard.

Aftermath[edit]

With the Iraqi defeat, any hope of an Iraqi victory to the war died. Aside from their defeat, under pressure from other Arab states Saddam did not launch any more attacks on Iran. Operation Mersad was the last battle of the Iran–Iraq War.

The last notable combat actions of the war took place on 3 August 1988, in the Persian Gulf when the Iranian navy fired on a freighter and Iraq launched chemical attacks on Iranian civilians, killing an unknown number of them and wounding 2,300.[99]

Both sides eventually withdrew to the international border in the coming weeks, with Resolution 598 becoming effective on 8 August 1988, ending all combat operations between the two countries.[102] By 20 August 1988, peace with Iran was restored.[102] UN peacekeepers belonging to the UNIIMOG mission took the field, remaining on the Iran–Iraq border until 1991. While the war was now over, Iraq spent the rest of August and early September clearing the Kurdish resistance. Using 60,000 troops along with helicopter gunships, chemical weapons (poison gas), and mass executions, Iraq hit 15 villages, killing rebels and civilians, and forced tens of thousands of Kurds to relocate to forced settlements.[99] Many Kurdish civilians immigrated to Iran. By 3 September 1988, the anti-Kurd campaign ended, and all resistance had been crushed.[99] 400 Iraqi soldiers and 50,000 Kurdish civilians and soldiers had been killed.[99] [105]

At least in part as a response to the invasion, Iran executed several thousand political prisoners across the country for treason, mainly members of the MEK, but even also some members of the Tudeh Party (Communist Party) and other opposition groups.[6] The estimates for number of executions vary from as little as 1,400[7] to as high as 12,000. The most likely number was given by dissident Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri, as being between 3,800–4,500. [8] The death toll may have been higher for those MEK executed by frontline court-martials or dying in prison.

The remnants of the MEK, with Iraqi support continued to carry out sabotage and attacks on Iran after the war. They also assassinated General Sayyad Shirazi in 1999, in revenge for the destruction of their army during Operation Mersad eleven years earlier.

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