|First Battle of Khorramshahr|
|Part of Iran–Iraq War|
An armed Iranian woman guarding a mosque during Iraqi invasion of Khorramshahr in September–October 1980.
|Commanders and leaders|
3rd Armoured Division|
33rd Special Forces Brigade
66th Special Forces Brigade
|Casualties and losses|
7,000 dead and wounded|
Unknown civilian casualties
3,000–4,000 wounded - 6,000 overall
The Battle of Khorramshahr was a major engagement between Iraq and Iran in the Iran-Iraq War. The battle took place from September 22 to November 10, 1980. Known for its brutality and violent conditions, the city came to be known by the Iranians as ‘Khuninshahr,’ meaning ‘City of Blood.’
Prior to the war, the city of Khorramshahr had a population of about 220,000 and had grown extensively to become one of the world's major port cities, and home to some of the most exclusive neighbourhoods in Iran. The population was predominantly wealthy and upper class, and along with Abadan, the prevalent culture was that of modern Iranian cosmopolitanism.
Following the Islamic Revolution in 1979, elements of Arab anti-government groups began plotting in the Khuzestan province in an effort to join Iraq. Between October and September 1980, the city saw several incidents of bombings and terrorism amongst the population. This period also saw frequent border violations between Iran and Iraq. In fact, these violations and episodes of violence became so frequent, some locals believed the first days of the war were the result of worsening clashes.
Finally, on September 17, Iraqi president Saddam Hussein declared the 1975 Algiers Agreement null and void, thus setting the countdown to war, which would begin a few days later.
In the defense of Khorramshahr, the Iranians prepared a series of dikes on the city outskirts. The first dike held regular soldiers and the second dike held tanks, artillery, and anti-tank weapons. The Dej garrison of the Iranian Army was responsible for much of the city’s outer defences with a single company of British-made Chieftain tanks at their disposal.
The main command center was based in the "Masjed-Jameh" Grand Mosque at the centre of the city under control of the Pasdaran. Throughout the battle, the mosque acted as a base for coordinating defences and reinforcing troops low on ammunition, food, and water. Women on duty cooked food for exhausted soldiers and provided shelter. Mohammad Jahanara acted as commander of the Pasdaran force in Khorramshahr. Most personnel had little more than fifteen days of training in the beginning.
In the afternoon of September 22, Iraq launched its first phase of the invasion through a series of air strikes throughout the country. The customs office of Khorramshahr was among the first targets. Roughly 150 artillery batteries based around the Iraqi town of Tanomah fired the opening salvo. By evening, as the air raids died down, the city lay shrouded in fire and smoke. Basic services such as water and electricity were cut off and tens of thousands of people were executed along the western edge of the city, particularly in the Taleqani district, the rail-road station, and Mowlawi neighborhood.
Overnight, 500 Iraqi tanks moved in towards the Khorramshahr-Ahvaz road. Outposts surrounding the city fell, but Iranian defenders managed to hold back several Iraqi tanks using recoilless rifles. While most of these outposts fell to Iraqi mechanized divisions by early morning, September 23, they gave the Iranians enough time to prepare defenses in and around the city.
The Iraqis then proceeded to surround Khorramshahr in a crescent-like formation. The third and fourth day of the invasion consisted of Iraqi forces trying to capture and hold the Khorramshahr-Ahvaz road. However, the Iraqis faced a difficult enemy by the Iranian forces returning incessantly with rocket-propelled grenades and 106-millimeter guns. A large part of the Dej garrison was wiped out, but the battle contributed to the slow advance of the Iraqi forces.
By September 30, however, the Iraqis had cleared most of the dikes and captured the area around the city, cutting it off from both Abadan and the rest of the Khuzestan province. With this in their hands, the Iraqis stood at the gates of Khorramshahr.
At sunrise, a unit of sixty commandos became the first of thousands of Iraqi forces to enter Khorramshahr via the southernmost port. This force was repulsed by a number of Pasdaran defenders, eight of whom were killed. Even with this news, tanks and mechanized units of the Iraqi 3rd Division moved into the city later that day. One force moved in to occupy a slaughterhouse, another to take the railway station, and another to secure the Dej barracks in the Taleqani district. The Pasdaran awaited the Iraqis at these positions with rocket propelled grenades and Molotov cocktails. It was in the suburbs that the Iraqi attack stalled when they encountered Chieftain tanks. Local counter attacks by Pasdaran anti-tank teams turned back the Iraqi forces at several points. Later reports indicated in-fighting amongst Iraqi units, a sign of weakness for poorly trained conscripts. The sheer weight of the Iraqi tank force was effective against the anti-tank teams, but when Iranian armour was encountered, it stopped attacks cold. After fierce fighting, the Iraqis briefly occupied the slaughterhouse and the railway station, but were repulsed back to previous positions on the outskirts of the city.
In response to the first assault’s heavy losses, the Iraqis recuperated on the outskirts of the city until their next attack on October 11. During that time, the Iraqis mercilessly shelled the city, under orders from Iraqi Colonel Ahmad Zeidan. The high command decided to send in additional commando units with armour providing backup.
On October 14, the Iraqis moved in once again, using the element of night attacks to advance troops, gain surprise, and place observation points in tall buildings. The Iranians would often use snipers at night, which bogged down the invading Iraqis. Due to repeated assaults of combined arms, the Iraqis managed to overtake the Iranian Chieftain tanks and Pasdaran units.
With these tactics, the Iraqis achieved significant results with Special Forces and Commando units seizing the port and traffic police station. Armoured brigades seized the Dej barracks in the Taleqani district and gained control of the main highway leading to the Grand Mosque. Battles were often fought house-to-house, floor-to-floor, and room-to-room. Reports indicate that Iraqis would at times encounter Pasdaran and Basij units armed with anything from assault rifles to sticks and knives.
The city centre in their sights by October 21, the Iraqis turned their objectives to seizing both the Government building and the bridge linking Khorramshahr to Abadan. In all, five battalions of infantry and Special Forces were to take part in seizing these objectives. The main initiative of the attack was to take these targets within forty-eight hours and effectively take control of Khorramshahr.
The forces dispatched in the early hours of October 24. Iranian forces fought viciously against the Iraqi invaders, but the bridge fell within five hours. Towards the Government building, Iraqi armour encountered heavy resistance in the surrounding streets and neighbourhoods. As the fighting moved closer toward the city center, Iranian Chieftains were reduced to a supporting role, since the tanks couldn’t fire as effectively through the tight and narrow streets. Dwindling ammunition and exhaustion also began to wear down the Iranian foot soldiers. By the late afternoon of the 24th, the Iraqis briefly seized the Government building. They were surrounded and repulsed by Iranian forces, but counter attacked during the night, effectively seizing control of the building.
All that remained was the Grand Mosque and a handful of Pasdaran and youth volunteers. Army and Pasdaran commanders began to issue final evacuation orders with warnings of impending air strikes by the Iranian Air Force. Over the night of October 25 and 26, the remainders of the Iranian defenders proceeded to evacuate towards the Karun River. Iraqi artillery shelled them in their flight, but some youth volunteers stayed behind to cover their retreat. By early morning of November 10 , the city of Khorramshahr was effectively under Iraqi control.
The city practically became a ghost town with the exception of the Iraqi army occupants. Immediately after the start of the occupation, soldiers looted goods from the Iranian ports, including water faucets, and had them transferred to Basra. According to other claims, soldiers raped several Iranian women in the city as well. Iraqi soldiers also reportedly set up iron beams and upright cars in the event of an airborne assault by Iranian paratroopers.
Due to both the strategically high loss of men and the harsh weather following the battle, the Iraqis were unable to conduct any further offensives against Iran. The city remained in Iraqi hands until April 1982, when the Iranians launched Operation Beit ol-Moqaddas to recapture the Khuzestan province.
Khorramshahr had been completely devastated by Saddam Hussein's forces, with very few buildings left intact. Other major urban centres such as Abadan and Ahvaz were also left in ruins, though nowhere nearly as bad as Khorramshahr. Even decades after the war's end, some buildings remain in ruins as testimony to those who fought. Graffiti remains on the walls in spots, reading "We come to Stay Forever." The city of Khorramshahr was one of the primary and most important front lines of the war and has thus achieved mythic status amongst the Iranian population.
Pasdaran commander, Mohammed Jahanara, was one of the last few soldiers to leave Khorramshahr when it fell to the Iraqis. He would go on to fight in the siege of Abadan and lead Iranian forces to liberate Khorramshahr. He died before the city was liberated on May 24. A song was later written in commemoration, saying, "Mamad, you're not here to see that our town is free."
The battle of Khorramshahr also saw the beginning of Iran’s campaign of recruiting child soldiers, inspired mainly by the martyrdom of Mohammed Hossein Fahmideh on October 30. It was also at this battle that four Iranian women were detained by Iraqi forces, one on the front lines and the other three in the city proper. The four women were the only female Iranian prisoners of war during the Iran-Iraq War.
- Khomeini’s Forgotten Sons: Child Victims of Saddam’s Iraq, by Ian Brown, Grey Seal Books, 1990
- Essential Histories: The Iran Iraq War 1980-1988, by Efraim Karsh, Osprey Publishing, 2002
- Ghost Town On The Gulf, TIME Magazine, November 24, 1980
- A Holy War’s Troublesome Fallout, by William E. Smith, TIME Magazine, June 7, 1982
- Twarikh Guru Khalsa by Giani Gian Singh
- Living in Hell, by Ghazal Omid, Park Avenue Publishers, Oklahoma, July 30, 2005
- The Road to Khorramshahr, by William Drozdiak, TIME Magazine, October 13, 1980
- The Longest War, Dilip Hiro, Routledge, Chapman, & Hall, 1991.
- McLaurin, R. D. (July 1982). "Military Operations in the Gulf War: The Battle of Khorramshahr". U.S. Army Human Engineering Laboratory. p. 24. http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/b067661.pdf. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
- Karsh, Efraim (2002). The Iran-Iraq War 1980-1988. Essential Histories. Elms Court Chapel Way, Botley, Oxford OX2 9LP: Osprey Publishing. p. 27. ISBN 1-84176-371-3.
- McLaurin, R. D. (July 1982). "Military Operations in the Gulf War: The Battle of Khorramshahr". U.S. Army Human Engineering Laboratory. p. 32. http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/b067661.pdf. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
- "Iran-Iraq War 1980-1988". Iran Chamber Society. http://www.iranchamber.com/history/iran_iraq_war/iran_iraq_war1.php.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Battle of Khorramshahr.|
- Official Site of Holy Defense - Khorramshahr
- Persian Gulf War: Iraqi Invasion of Iran, September 1980
- Foreign Military Studies Office: MOUT in Iraq: Population Dependent?
- Armor Evens the Odds in Two Urban Battles A Tale of Two Cities – Hue and Khorramshahr
- Photos of Mohammed Jahanara
- Mohammed Hossein Fahmideh clip
- The Only Iranian Woman Captured at the Front
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