Second Battle of al-Faw
|Second Battle of al-Faw|
|Part of Tawakalna ala Allah Operations of the Iran–Iraq War|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Gen. Hussein Rashid al-Tikriti||General Esmael Shorabi|
|~100,000 Republican Guard soldiers||8,000-15,000 Basij militia|
|Casualties and losses|
|1,000 casualties||Several thousand|
The Second Battle of al-Faw (also known as the Operation Ramadan Mubarak (Blessed Ramadan)), fought on April 17, 1988, was a major battle of the Iran–Iraq War. After their defeat at the First Battle of al-Faw two years earlier, the newly restructured Iraqi Army conducted a major operation to clear the Iranians out of the peninsula. The Iraqis concentrated well over 100,000 troops from the battle-hardened Republican Guard versus 15,000 Iranian Basij volunteers.
The southern wing of the assault consisted of the Republican Guard's Madinah and Baghdad Divisions, which assaulted the Iranian lines and then allowed the Hammurabi Armoured Division to pass through and move along the southern coast of the peninsula and into al-Faw itself.
Meanwhile the regular Iraqi Army's VII Corps attacked the northern end of the line with the 7th Infantry and 6th Armoured Divisions. While the 7th Infantry's attack became bogged down, the 6th Armoured broke through the Iranian lines, the 1st Mechanised Division pushed through, and later linked up with the Republican Guard divisions outside al-Faw. Thus the peninsula had been secured within thirty-five hours, with much of the Iranians' equipment captured intact.
Following the Karbala campaigns of 1987, but before the end of summer, the Iraqi Army started secretly practicing maneuvers in the desert behind Basra. The training maneuvers often involved multiple divisions and huge mock-ups of objectives Iraq intended to seize from Iran.
The Iranian defeat during the Karbala Campaign of the previous year had dented the Iranian Army's manpower, supplies, and morale, and as a result increasing numbers of Iranians were turning against the war. This meant that the Iranian Army's mobilization attempt for a renewed offensive against Iraq in 1988 had failed. The Iranian military leadership had also decided at a major strategic conference that the Iranian Army had to undertake extensive retraining and rearming in order to defeat Iraq, which could in turn take up to 5 years. As a result the Iranian Army did not try to invade Iraq in 1988. Meanwhile, with extensive supplies from Europe as well as the Soviet Union, the Iraqi army had extensively re-armed, becoming the 4th largest military in the world. Despite that, they had chosen to stay on the defensive and let Iran bleed itself in costly offensives, in which the majority of the operations ended in defeat or stalemate hence a failure to deliver the desired results.
The al-Faw peninsula had been under Iranian control since 1986 when they launched a surprise attack on the peninsula as part of the larger Operation Dawn 8.
The taking of the peninsula by the Iranians was a strong blow to Iraq's prestige whilst also threatening Basra from the south-east. The retaking of the peninsula was seen by Saddam Hussein as a top priority, and Iraqi General Maher Abd al-Rashid promised to recover the peninsula, going so far as to offer his daughter Sahar to Saddam's son Qusay to show his certainty. Planning for the recovery of the peninsula began soon after it had been taken by the Iranians, and was largely done in secret by a small group of 6, with Saddam Hussein himself being heavily involved in the planning process.
For the second battle the Iraqis had concentrated over 100,000 soldiers, of whom approximately 60% where from the Republican Guard, against some 15,000 Iranian Basij volunteers. The Iraqi command had expected the battle to take several weeks, but Iraq managed to seize the peninsula in a single day due to the collapse of the Iranian units present, with only minimal losses. This stunning success led the Iraqi command to decide to expand the original battle into a larger offensive campaign against Iran.
The attack was timed to coincide with the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, and when the Iranians were rotating their troops. At 5:00 AM, Iraq launched a massive artillery and air barrage of Iranian front lines. With the help of American satellite imagery, key areas such as supply lines, command posts, and ammunition depots, were hit by a storm of mustard gas and sarin nerve gas, as well as by conventional explosives. Using helicopters, the Iraqis 7th Corps under the command of General Maher Rashid moved down the Shatt-al-Arab waterway and blocked the rear of the Iranians on the peninsula.
The advanced Republican Guard units launched their attack, moving down the peninsula 21 miles south of Umm Qasr. The attacks were preceded with numerous chemical weapons bombardments, killing and/or sickening close to the majority of the unprepared Iranian troops on the peninsula. The Third Corps drove down the Faw peninsula, while the Iraqi Special Forces moved through the marshy wetlands. At the same time, other Iraqi forces launched amphibious attacks onto the peninsula in the direction of Umm Qasr. They broke through Iran's complex water and barbed wire defensive barriers rapidly. Iraq took some casualties clearing the minefields on the peninsula, but captured the town of Faw 35 hours into the attack.
The Iranians were completely taken by surprise during the battle, and had failed to regroup to counterattack. They were outnumbered 6:1 in infantry and had virtually no armor. Many, if not most, were killed or sickened by Iraqi mass chemical weapons bombardments. They fought stubbornly at first, but then began to retreat. Iraqi fighter jets bombed two of the three pontoon bridges crossing the Shatt-al-Arab, causing chaos among the Iranians. Less than two days into the attack, the Iranians had been driven from the Faw peninsula.
Within 35 hours of the battle, Iraq's flag flew above the town of Faw. Within 48 hours, all of the Iranian forces had been killed or cleared from the al-Faw Peninsula, most retreating via a single pontoon bridge remaining. The day was celebrated in Iraq as Faw Liberation Day throughout Saddam's rule. The Iraqis had planned the offensive well. Prior to the attack the Iraqi soldiers gave themselves poison gas antidotes to shield themselves from the effect of the saturation of gas. The heavy and well executed use of chemical weapons was the decisive factor in the Iraqi victory. Iraqi losses were a little more than 1,000. The Iraqi performance, while carried out well, was not as impressive however in light of the fact that they had outnumbered an almost entirely infantry army almost 6:1 and had failed to defeat them for the previous 8 years. Despite that, the Iraqis were finally managing to do that.
The attack coincided the same day as the US (unofficially allied with Iraq at that time) launched Operation Praying Mantis on Iran, destroying their navy. The double blows had a severe effect on Iran.
To the shock of the Iranians, rather than breaking off the offensive, the Iraqis kept up their drive, and a new force attacked the Iranian positions around Basra. Following this, the Iraqis launched a sustained drive to clear the Iranians out of all of southern Iraq.:264
One of the most successful Iraqi tactics was the "one-two punch" attack using chemical weapons. Using artillery, they would saturate the Iranian front line with rapidly dispersing cyanide and nerve gas, while longer-lasting mustard gas was launched via fighter-bombers and rockets against the Iranian rear, creating a "chemical wall" that blocked reinforcement.
This battle was the beginning of the end of the Iran-Iraq War. By the end of the war, they had managed to cause major defeats among the Iranian forces inside of Iraq, and demonstrated that they could invade Iran once again evidenced by their last offensive that captured the town of Dehloran which lay 30 km away from the border inside of Ilam province, Iran. The Iranian leadership realized that the war had become un-winnable for them and that they would not be able to defend Iranian territory in the event of a renewed massive Iraqi invasion whereby it would be impossible to expel the Iraqis a second time, and that they had suffered many economic and material losses, and accepted the ceasefire.
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- Arabs at war: military effectiveness, 1948–1991, Kenneth M. Pollack, U of Nebraska Press, 2004, ISBN 0-8032-8783-6, p. 225
- 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.