I recently wrote this essay as part of a Masters degree application for War Studies. Thought some of you might find it interesting.
If Saddam had read Clausewitz
One of the longest and bloodiest wars in Middle Eastern History, the Iran-Iraq war began in 1980 and only ended in 1988 . The conflict would ultimately lead to the beginning of the end of the Iraqi Baathist state, define the Iranian state’s political direction  and make the strategic balance in the Gulf far more dynamic and fluid than the preceding decades.
As opposed to the US-led Persian Gulf War, the Iran-Iraq war was between two regional belligerents without foreign ‘boots on the ground’. A larger, better-equipped Iranian military1 had great structural and organizational deficiencies due to Ayatollah Khomeini’s recent purge of regular military officers and his emphasis on the Basij/ Pasadaran Militias2. A smaller, more moderately equipped but administratively intact Iraqi army faced it. That the balance of power was quite evenly distributed in the initial stages of the war allows for the strategy of the conflict to be scrutinized far more objectively than the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, where the Iraqis were overwhelmingly outmatched. The Iran-Iraq war began with an Iraqi general offensive in 1980. In trying to achieve his objectives, Saddam violated several principles outlined in Clausewitz’s memoirs “On War”.
When Saddam launched the opening offensive of the war in 1980, his objective was to seize the Arab-populated oil-rich Iranian Khuzestan province, on the Iraqi border. This leads to the first principle Saddam violated:
“War is… an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will”Carl Von Clausewitz, On War.3
The capture of the Khuzestan province would be unlikely to have compelled the Iranian regime to resort to peace, and a counterattack to regain the oilfields. If there was an expectation that the Iranian regime would collapse, it proved catastrophically wrong and was poorly informed. At the time of Operation Barbarossa4, Hitler was reported to have said “If we kick the door in, and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down”. This should serve as a lesson to anyone trying to bring a regime to its end through an invasion of that regime’s territory without physically removing it.
In directing and interfering with military plans, the self-styled general directed his military to mount the initial 1980 offensive in a widely dispersed 7-division assault without a center of gravity or a main thrust as shown in Figure 1.
It is clear from the above figure, that another of Clausewitz’s principles was violated.
“The best strategy is always to be very strong; first in general, and then at the decisive point… There is no higher and simpler law of strategy than that of keeping one’s forces concentrated.”
Carl Von Clausewitz, On War.
By not being strong at a decisive point, Saddam effectively allowed the Iranians to regroup, and mobilize their superior population5 to counterbalance the more organized Iraqi forces. This failure would develop the conflict into a war of attrition.
It was only at the end of the war, in 1988, after an exhausting 8-year war that bankrupted both belligerents that Saddam had the opportunity to end the war by attrition. The use of chemical weapons, ballistic missiles, and the capture/destruction of large amounts of Iranian heavy equipment in highly-scripted operations.
The Iranian government, internationally sanctioned and without a sufficient domestic arms production capacity, agreed to the UN-sanctioned ceasefire which Saddam had been seeking since 1982. And therefore Clausewitz’s next quote was relevant:
“What do we mean by the defeat of the enemy? Simply the destruction of his forces, whether by death, injury, or any other means — either completely or enough to make him stop fighting. . . . The complete or partial destruction of the enemy must be regarded as the sole object of all engagements. . . . Direct annihilation of the enemy’s forces must always be the dominant consideration.” Carl Von Clausewitz, On War.
Saddam thereby defeated the Iranians as per Clausewitz’s definition. But he failed in his initial objectives. It could be argued that his initial will was to capture the Khuzestan province, and that he failed in that critical point in war, thereby failing by Clausewitz’s definition. It could also be argued that the war was actually two wars, the initial leading to an Iraqi defeat and the secondary leading to and Iraqi victory. In any case, “the result in war is never final” eventually rang true, and debt accumulated during the Iran-Iraq war encouraged Saddam to invade Kuwait in 1990.
 K. Torrez, V. Difronzo The Iran-Iraq War: Exceeding Means National Defense University (NDU) 20th October 2000. PP.3 URL: http://www.dtic.mil/cgi- bin/GetTRDoc?Location=U2&doc=GetTRDoc.pdf&AD=ADA441679 Taken from the course: “Fundamental Statecraft and the Fundamentals of military thought and strategy” that was taught at the NDU.
 R. Takeyeh The Iran-Iraq War: A Reassessment The Middle East Journal – Volume 64, Number 3, Summer 2010, PP.365
 E. Karsh The Essential Histories: Iran-Iraq War 1980-1988 Osprey Publishing, 2002 PP .26