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Siege of Basra
Operation Karbala-5
Part of the Iran–Iraq War
Operation Karbala 5 map.svg
Date8 January-26 February 1987
LocationBasra Governorate

Strategic stalemate

  • Iranians seized 4 defence lines east of Basrah[1]
  • Iraqis hold Basrah, Tannumah and Abu al-Khasib[1]
  • Iranians continue shelling Basra with artillery
Iran crossed the border and captured east part of Basra Governorate[1]
 Iraq  Iran
Commanders and leaders

Iraq Saddam Hussein

Iraq Gen. al-Rashid[2]
Iraq Lt. Gen. Dhia ul-Din Jamal[3]
Iraq Maj. Gen. Khalil al-Dhouri
Iraq Brig. Gen. Abdul-Wahid Shannan ar-Ribat[4]
Iraq Brig. Gen. Riyadh Taha[4]
Iraq Brig. Gen. Hassan Yusuf[4]
Iraq Brig. Gen. Ibrahim Ismail[4]
Iraq Brig. Gen. Hamid Salman[4]
Iran Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani[5]
Iran Mohsen Rezaee[5]
Iran Hossein Kharrazi
Iran Col. Ali Sayyad Shirazi
Units involved

3rd Corps

6th Corps
7th Corps[6]
National Defense Battalions

Basij and Revolutionary Guards (70%):
Najaf Corps
Quds Corps
Karbala Corps
Nouh Corps

Regular Army (30%) with some artillery and armour
300,000 (four armies) 150,000–200,000 (six divisions from army & rest from the Basij militia)
Casualties and losses
20,000 casualties [7]
45 aircraft[7]
65,000 casualties[7]
Unknown loss of materiel
≈2 million civilians displaced

The Siege of Basra, code-named Operation Karbala-5 (Persian: عملیات کربلای 5‎), was an offensive operation carried out by Iran in an effort to capture the Iraqi port city of Basra in early 1987. This battle, known for its extensive casualties and ferocious conditions, was the biggest battle of the war and proved to be the beginning of the end of the Iran–Iraq War. The Iranians failed to reach their objective.

The battle

Copied content from Iran–Iraq War; see that page's history for attribution

Operation Karbala-5 began midnight 8 January 1987, when a strike force of 35,000 Revolutionary Guards infantrymen crossed Fish Lake, while four Iranian divisions attacked at the southern shore of the lake, overrunning the Iraqi forces and capturing Duaiji, an irrigation canal. They used their bridgehead at Duaiji as a springboard to recapture the Iranian town of Shalamcheh. Between 9–10 January, the Iranians broke through the first and second defense lines of Basra south of the Fish Lake with tanks.[8][9] The Iranians rapidly reinforced their forces with 60,000 troops and began to clear the remaining Iraqis in the area.[8]

As early as 9 January, the Iraqis began a counter-attack, supported by newer Su-25 and Mig-29 aircraft and by 10 January the Iraqis were throwing every available heavy weapon in a bid to eject the Iranians. Despite being outnumbered 10–1 in the air, Iran's air defenses downed many Iraqi aircraft (50–60 jets total; 10% of Iraq's air force), allowing Iran to provide close air support with their smaller air force, which also proved superior in dogfighting, causing the Iraqis to temporarily stop providing their troops air support. Iraqi tanks floundered in the marshland and were defeated by Cobra helicopters and TOW missile-equipped anti-tank commandos. Later in the battle, after their ground forces took heavy losses due to the lack of air support, the Iraqi aircraft came back to the battlefield once again, facing their Iranian counterparts.[8]

Despite superior Iranian infantry tactics, it was the depth of the Iraqi defences that prevented the Iranians from achieving a victory. On 19–24 January, Iran launched another infantry offensive, breaking the third line and driving the Iraqis across the Jasim river. The battle became a contest of which side could bring more reinforcements.[8][9][10] By 29 January, the Iranians launched a new attack from the west of the Jasim river, breaking through the fourth line. They were within 12 km (7.5 mi) of the city. At this point, the battle became a stalemate. Iranian TV broadcast footage of the outskirts of Basra but the Iranians pushed no further.[8] Iranian losses were so severe that Iraq took the offensive and pushed them back to their original positions. The fighting continued and 30,000 Iranians still held positions around Fish Lake. The battle bogged down into a trench war, where neither side could displace the other. Iran attacked several more times but without success. Karbala-5 officially ended by the end of February but the fighting and siege of Basra continued.[10]

Among those killed was Iranian commander Hossein Kharrazi. Possibly 65,000 Iranians and 20,000 Iraqis became casualties because of Operation Karbala-5. Basra was largely destroyed, and Iraq's army had taken many material losses.[10][11] The fighting during this operation was the heaviest and bloodiest during the war, with the area around Shalamcheh becoming known as the "Somme of the Iran-Iraq War".[12] At one point, the situation had declined to the point that Saddam ordered several of his officers to be executed.[10] With Iranian aircraft fighting at Basra, the Iraqis bombed Iranian supply routes with chemical weapons, as well as Iranian cities with conventional bombs, including Tehran, Isfahan and Qom. It is believed that around 3,000 Iranian civilians were killed in these attacks. Iran retaliated by firing eleven long-range missiles at Iraqi cities, inflicting heavy casualties among civilians and killing at least 300.


  1. The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East, by Robert Fisk, Knopf Books, 2005
  2. "The Gulf Iran Strikes on Two Fronts", by William E. Smith, Time, 26 January 1987
  3. "The Gulf", Time, 2 February 1987
  4. "The Gulf Life Among Smoldering Ruins", by Dean Fischer, Time, 30 March 1987
  5. In The Name of God: The Khomeini Decade, by Robin Wright, Simon and Schuster, 1989
  6. Essential Histories: The Iran–Iraq War, 1980–1988, by Efraim Karsh, Osprey Publishing, 2002
  7. Journey to Heading 270 Degrees, by Ahmad Dihqan and Paul Sprachman, Mazda Publishers, 2006
  8. The Longest War, by Dilip Hiro, Routlage Chapman & Hall, 1991.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Colonel Jafari, Mojtaba (2006). "Chapter 6: Sixth year, Seizing Faw". Atlas of Unforgettable Battles. Tehran: Operations Holy Defence Research Center. p. 133. ISBN 964-06-5515-5. 
  2. Pelletiere, Stephen C (10 December 1990). Lessons Learned: Iran–Iraq War. Marine Corps Historical Publication. p. 40. 
  3. Hoffpauir, Michael E. (June 1991). "Tactical Evolution in the Iraqi Army: The Abadan Island and Fish Lake campaigns of the Iran-Iraq War". Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas: U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. p. 104. Retrieved 5 September 2012. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Woods, Kevin M. (2011) [2010]. Saddam's Generals: Perspectives of the Iran–Iraq War. 4850 Mark Center Drive, Alexandria, Virginia: Institute for Defense Analyses. p. 73. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 "/خاطره اختصاصی محسن رضایی از کربلای ۵/". خبرگزاری فارس. 
  6. Hoffpauir, Michael E. (June 1991). "Tactical Evolution in the Iraqi Army: The Abadan Island and Fish Lake campaigns of the Iran–Iraq War". Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas: U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. p. 94. Retrieved 5 September 2012. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 John Pike. "Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988)". 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Farrokh, Kaveh. Iran at War: 1500–1988. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 9781780962214.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Pollack, Kenneth M. (2004). "Iraq". Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness, 1948–1991. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 9780803287839.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3

External links

Coordinates: 30°30′00″N 47°48′00″E / 30.5000°N 47.8000°E / 30.5000; 47.8000

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