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Wars of Iran

The Wars of Iran

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The Wars of Iran

The modern nation of Iran is also known throughout much of history as the ancient nation of Persia. This is the same Persia which overran the Spartans at Thermopylae; the same Persia which fell to the conquering Macedonian, Alexander the Great; the same Persia which fought the Romans and their successors the Byzantines for centuries for dominance in the Near East. This is also the same Persia which fell rather easily to the expanding Arab Muslim Empire led by the successors to Islam's founder, the Prophet Muhammad. Persia became the center of the Shia branch of Islam. The Shia, who are also known as Shiites, often fight against the larger and more dominant Sunni branch of Islam. Most Turks and most Arabs are Sunni. The Persian, or Iranian people are not Arabs. They speak the Farsi language and are largely Shiite. Iran also has large ethnic minorities, mostly along the nation's borders. These minority groups occasionally rebel in favor of autonomy within Iran, or for outright independence. The larger minorities include the Arabs of Khuzistan, the Kurds along the northwestern borders with Iraq and Turkey, and the Azeris along the Azerbaijan border to the northwest. Baluchis inhabit the border region near Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Several themes emerge as the military history of Iran and Persia is examined. One is religious: The Shiite Iranians/Persians engaged in many wars against their Sunni neighbors, whether they were the Ottoman Turks, the Sunni-ruled Iraqis, the Sunnis of Afghanistan or the Sunni monarchies of the Persian Gulf. Another theme is geographic and economic. Wars and conflicts with an expanding Russia to the north, and an imperial Britain to the south, both looking for ways to dominate the lucrative Gulf region. And, in the 20th and 21st centuries, conflicts with the United States, which based its policies toward Iran on a need to contain Soviet communism, and on a perceived need to ensure continued access to Iranian and Gulf oil. Persia officially changed its name to Iran in the early 20th Century.

This page on the wars of Persia and the wars of Iran covers conflicts from the late 18th Century to the Present day.

Persian Civil War-(1779-1794)-The revolt of the eunuch general Agha Mohammed led to this 15-year civil war. Agha Mohammed eventually won the war and became the Shah of Persia.

Georgian-Persian War-(1795-1796)-After consolidating his power, Agha Mohammed invaded the Caucasian kingdom of Georgia, which had previously been a part of the Persian Empire, but had broken away following the death of Nadir Shah in 1747. Persian forces invaded Georgia and defeated the Georgian King Heraclius.

Afghan-Persian War-(1798)-The new Shah of Persia, Fath Ali, supported a pretender to the Afghan throne against the Afghan King. The pretender, Muhammad Barakzai overthrew his brother, Zaman, with help from an invading Persian army.

Russo-Persian War-(1804-1813)-Following Russia's invasion and annexation of Georgia and Karabakh, Persia gave aid to rebels resisting Russian rule. Russia then attacked Persia, and put the city of Erevan under siege in 1804. The siege was lifted upon the arrival of Persian reinforcements led by Shah Fath Ali and Crown Prince Abbas Mirza. Warfare continued in the Caucasus region and along the Caspian coast until 1813. The most significant battle after the initial invasion and siege was the Battle of Aslanduz (Oct. 21, 1812), in which the Russians defeated an army led by Abbas Mirza. A peace treaty was signed on October 12, 1813 at Gulistan. In this treaty, Persia recognized Russian rule over Georgia and other disputed Transcaucasian areas.

Afghan-Persian War-(1816)-Persia invaded Afghanistan and occupied the western Afghan city of Herat. Local Afghan guerrillas forced the Persians to exit Afghanistan.

Turkish-Persian War-(1821-1823)-The regime of Crown Prince Abbas Mirza launched an attack on Ottoman Turkey due to Turkish aid to Azerbaijani rebels in Persia. The rebels had fled from Persia and were given refuge by the Ottomans. The war opened with a Persian invasion of Turkey in the Lake Van region, and a counter-invasion by the Ottoman Pasha of Baghdad (Iraq belonged to the Ottoman Empire), who invaded western Persia. This invasion force was driven back across the border, but the newly modernized Persian army of 30,000 troops defeated 50,000 Ottoman Turks in the Battle of Erzurum near Lake Van in 1821. A peace treaty in 1823 ended the war with no changes to their mutual border.

Russo-Persian War --(1825-1828)--This war resulted from the ongoing border disputes arising from the Treaty of Gulistan (1813) between Persia and Russia. Persian forces were initially successful, capturing the Georgian capital of Tbilisi in 1825. Russian forces led by General Ivan Fedorovich Paskievich went on the offensive against the invading Persians and defeated them at the Battle of Ganja (also known as the Battle of Kirovabad) on September 26, 1826. Abbas Mirza led a Persian force of 30,000 which was defeated and routed by a Russian army of 15,000 troops. In 1827, General Paskievich captured Erevan and Tabriz in the the northwest of Persia. The Russians captured the Persian capital of Tehran in the winter of 1827-28, along with the Persian army's total inventory of artillery pieces. The resulting peace Treaty of Turkomanchi recognized Russian rule of Armenia, forbade Persia to station warships on the Caspian Sea, and forced Persia to pay a war indemnity to Russia. A war indemnity was a financial payment from a defeated nation to the winner to pay the cost of the war. This defeat basically ended Persia's role as a major power among the nations of the Gulf and the Caucuses region.

Afghan-Persian War-(1836-1838)-Persia invaded Afghanistan partly in response to Britain's influence in the region, and laid siege to the western Afghan city of Herat. The Herat defenders were aided by a British military advisor named Eldred Potter. Potter offered his services to the Afghans and set about organizing the city's defenses. Persian assaults on the city failed, and the invading army gave up the siege (September 28, 1838), and returned home.

Afghan/Anglo-Persian War-(1855-1857)-Persia again invaded Afghanistan, this time successfully capturing Herat. This upset the British, who claimed influence over Afghanistan. The British Empire declared war on Persia (Nov. 1, 1856), and proceeded to invade Persia both by sea and by land. British forces landed and took the Persian port of Bushire in January, 1857. An Anglo-Indian army invaded Persia, which soon gave up and agreed to evacuate Herat.

Persian Revolution -(1906-1909)-Persia was beset by internal political violence and rebellions against the rule of the tyrannical Shah Mohammed Ali. Actual warfare broke out in 1908 by a rebellion in the city of Tabriz. The Shah's forces besieged Tabriz, but the rebellion did not end until an intervening Russian army brutally seized Tabriz in March of 1909. While this was occurring, other rebel factions marched on Tehran, capturing the capital city on July 12, 1909. The Shah abdicated his throne, and his young son, Ahmad Mirza became the new Shah.

Mohammed Ali's Invasion -(1911)-With Russian approval and aid, the exiled former Shah, Mohammed Ali, landed on the Caspian coast on June 17, 1911,in an attempt to recapture his throne. His forces were defeated by a government army and he returned to exile on September 5, 1911.

Anglo-Russian Invasion and Occupation of Persia -(1911)-Russia invaded and occupied northern Persia on the pretext of restoring order in the country and also to protect Russian financial and economic interests. British forces also invaded and occupied most of the oil-producing southwestern Persia. This was partly to counter Russian influence, and partly to protect British oil supplies.

World War One -(1914-1918)-Though Persia officially did not take part in this war, Russian and Ottoman Turkish forces used Persia's Caucasus region as a battleground throughout the war. British forces continued and expanded their occupation of southern Persia while also pursuing invasions of Ottoman Iraq.

Soviet Invasion of Persia -(1920-1921)-The new Communist regime in Russia (now renamed as the Soviet Union), invaded northern Persia and established Soviet satellite states in Gilan, Kurdistan, Azerbaijan, and Khorasan. Following the coup of Persian General Reza Khan Pahlavi in February of 1921, a peace treaty with the Soviets was ratified, and Soviet forces withdrew.

Persian Revolution -(1921)-Reza Khan Pahlavi overthrew the corrupt Shah Ahmad Mirza and crushed the separatist regimes in Gilan, Kurdistan, Azerbaijan, and Khorasan.

Arab Rebellion in Khuzistan -(1932)

Anglo-Soviet Invasion and Occupation of Persia -(1941-1946)-The Soviet Union and the United Kingdom once again occupied large areas of Iran due to their war with Germany during World War Two. This time, no combat took place in Iranian territory, but the Soviets did aid separatist movements among the Kurds and Azeris.

Kurdish Rebellion -(1941-1944)

Azeri Rebellion -(1945)

Kurdish Mahabad Rebellion -(1946)--This Soviet-supported Kurdish separatist movement fell to the Iranian army after the Soviets withdrew their troops in 1946.

Anti-Mossadeq Coup -(1953)--The American Central Intelligence Agency planned and executed a coup against Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq. Britain was concerned that Mossadeq was going to nationalize the oilfields of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now known as British Petroleum, or BP) and the United States feared that Mossadeq may ally Iran with the Soviet Union. The plan for the coup was called "Operation Ajax," and it succeeded in overthrowing Prime Minister Mossadeq and installing a more pliable Prime Minister. The Shah assumed greater powers, and Iran was a firm ally of the Western powers during the Cold War until the Shah's overthrow in 1979.

Iran-Iraq Border Battles -(1969-1970)--Disputes over the Shatt al-Arab waterway, claimed by both nations, led to hostilities in the late 1960s. Iran supported a rebellion by Iraqi Kurds until 1975, when the Shah and Saddam Hussein reached an agreement

Kurdish Rebellion -(1970-1980)--During the Islamic Revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini against the Shah, Iranian Kurdistan rose in rebellion. The Iranian Army and the Revolutionary Guards crushed the rebellion. Kurdish losses were around 10,000.

Iranian Seizure of Gulf Islands -(1970-1980)--Iran occupied several Persian Gulf islands claimed by the United Arab Emirates.

Dhofar War-(1973-1975)--Iran sent troops to Oman to aid the Sultan of Oman, who was fighting against Marxist rebels aided by South Yemen. The Shah of Iran reportedly wanted to not only support a fellow pro-Western Gulf Monarch, but also wanted to give his troops combat experience in the field.

Islamic Revolution in Iran -(1979-1980)--Iran was swept with anti-Shah protests, culminating in the Shah going into exile and the Ayatollah Khomeini taking power and installing an Islamic Republic. During the resulting instability in Iran, several ethnic groups rebelled, including the Kurds and Azeris. A Marxist group known as the Mujahadeen Khalq also became active against the Islamic Republic.

U.S.-Iran Hostage Crisis--(1979-1981)--Radical Iranian students seized control of the American Embassy in Tehran, sparking a crisis that nearly resulted in war. A badly-planned and badly-executed U.S. military rescue attempt ended in disaster in 1980. See Video of U.S.-Iran Hostage Crisis Below

The First Persian Gulf War (also known as the Iran-Iraq War)(1980-1988) - In 1975, Iraq and Iran came to an agreement on the disputed Shatt al-Arab waterway which provides Iraq’s only outlet to the sea.  In exchange for Iran stopping support for Kurdish rebels, Iraq agreed to share the Shatt al-Arab with Iran.  This and other disputes over their common border, plus the belief that the 1979 revolution had weakened Iran, led Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to launch  an invasion of Iran on September 22, 1980.  After initial successes, the Iraqi army ground to a halt and soon retreated under repeated assaults by the numerically larger Iranian Army and Revolutionary Guards.  After the Iranians pushed the war into Iraq, Saddam’s forces began using chemical weapons.  By 1988, both nations faced exhaustion and, after nearly a million casualties between them, agreed to end the conflict. 

The Tanker War -(1984-1988)--Iran and Iraq each attacked oil tankers and oil facilities in the Persian Gulf in an effort to damage each other's economy. The United States entered the fray in 1987 by "reflagging" several Kuwaiti oil tankers, thereby providing them with American legal and military protection. Iran continued to attack these ships, provoking violent American responses.

Iran's Proxy War with Israel -(1980s-Present)--Iran openly supports and arms Israel's enemies, Syria, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Israel and the United States consider Iran to be a party to the warfare waged by Hamas, Hezbollah, and the tensions with Syria.

PEJAK Kurdish Rebellion -(1998-Present)--The Party for a Free Life in Iranian Kurdistan (PEJAK) is a Kurdish guerrilla force fighting for freedom from Iran. Believed to be supported by the Kurds in Iraq as well as by the United States.

Proxy War with the United States -(Current)--Iran and the United States are, for all intents and purposes, engaged in a mutual proxy war against each other. The United States alleges that Iran is supplying weapons, training, money, and cross-border bases to anti-American forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran is meanwhile alleging that the United States is arming and encouraging Kurdish, Azeri, Arab (Khuzistani), and Baluchi militants in rebellion against Tehran. This all serves as a backdrop for the possibility of a new war between the United States and Iran. Such an "Iran War," in addition to the current Iraq War and Afghanistan War could destabalize the Middle East and jeopardize the West's oil supplies.

 Jundallah Sunni Rebellion -(2003-Present)--Peoples Resistant Movement of Iran (PRMI), better known by the name Jundallah, is a Sunni movement based in Iran's southeastern Baluch region. Jundallah is waging a guerrilla and terrorist war against the Tehran govennment.

2009 Presidential Election Protests and Violence---(2009)Though not yet at the level of a war, the massive protests against the governement of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad following the June, 2009 presidential election. Ahmadinejad won in a landslide over his reformist rival, but many in Iran claimed that the election was rigged and the results fraudulent.


Sources:

R. Ernest, Dupuy, and Dupuy Trevor N. The Encyclopedia of Military History: From 3500 B.C. To The Present.New York: Harper & Row, 1970.

Kohn, George C. Dictionary of Wars. New York: Facts On File Publications, 1999.

WHKMLA : List of the Wars of Persia / Iran

Iran faces challenges from within--by Chris Zambelis of Asia Times Online

The Kurds Begin To Revolt In Iran, Turkey & Syria - Encouraged By Iraqi Kurdistan

Kurdish Secessionism Looms Over the Middle East--May 11, 2006, by Robert Lindsay: Independent Left Journalist From California

Iranians shell anti-Iranian Kurdish PEJAK guerrillas in Kurdistan region-Iraq--May 23,2007, by KurdNet

Further steps in the lead-up to the war with Iran -- October 12, 2007, by Atlantic Free Press

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