Iran-Iraq War: A Path To Nowhere (18)


Manoucher Avaznia
by Manoucher Avaznia

To the memory of the soldiers who fell before my eyes in the first Persian Gulf War. From my Iran-Iraq war memoirs that has been published in a book titled "A Path To Nowhere" >>> Part 1 -- Part 2 -- Part 3 -- Part 4 -- Part 5 -- Part 6 -- Part 7 -- Part 8 -- Part 9 -- Part 10 -- Part 11 -- Part 12 -- Part 13 -- Part 14 -- Part 15 -- Part 16 -- Part 17 -- Part 18 -- Part 19 --

A Quest

The late March fiasco of 1988 left a devastating psychological vacuum among soldiers and the brass. The whole confrontation lasted less than fourteen hours, but self-searching for finding answers for the defeat lingered for weeks.

What exactly happened? What was the extent of the operations? What has happened to disappeared colleagues? Are they killed? Have they been taken prisoners of war? What will be next?

There was no limit to questions; but there was an obvious shortage of answers. Radios and rumors were the most accessible means to right or wrong answers. The radio news was mainly unrealistic as it is a norm in all war propaganda programs. Radio Tehran in its 2:00 p.m. news program broadcasted the same day announced: "the attempted incursion of Iraqi forces accompanied by a handful of Mojahedin elements was squashed by the triumphant Islamic warriors".

This was common in news programs of the government. In the dictionary of war propaganda victory replaced fiasco and the attack was attributed to Iraq. Nevertheless, for the first time an official media acknowledged that the NLA was a threat to the so-called triumphant Islamic warriors.

Two days after The Sunshine the Voice of Mojahed broadcasted minutes of the operations with lengthy reports containing casualties, booties, and prisoners of war. The given figures were considerably higher than the realities on the ground. The Voice of Mojahed claimed thirty-two regiments of the NLA had operated in the Sunshine. The terms had been selected to confuse the listeners. With the military standards of the listeners of Voice of Mojahed who were Iranian people the number of NLA operating forces in the field reached over one hundred fifty thousand men and women. Such a number had been, at least, fourteen times exaggerated. The propaganda machine had forgotten that such a large force had acted against, at the most, six battalions of the army that equaled the size of one regiment. Also, it had forgotten that if such a huge force had acted against such a small force, militarily their operation could be evaluated a tiny wasteful achievement. Also, the Mojahedin propaganda machine claimed that they had defeated the entire Seventy-seven Army of Khorassan that was not true. The long list of the other units that they had fought against was not units as Voice of Mojahed had claimed. The only other major unit in the region beside the three battalions of the Seventy-seven Army’s was a battalion of gendarmerie forces located around the Hellish Base. The rest were small groups or platoons with the maximum capacity of around thirty fighters each.

These said; the NLA’s achievement was outstanding for a movement that had germinated from the seeds of a guerrilla organization with the 1979 Revolution. The NLA sustained thirty-two men and women killed whose names were released. Their comrades had taken their bodies to Iraq except the three men who had fallen in the northern corner of the combat scene before Tappeh Razmi. The fallen NLA fighters were buried in Shia shrines in the Iraqi city of Karballa beside the grave of the Shia third Imam: Hossein son of Ali. I am not aware what the military did to the bodies of the NLA fighters who had fallen to our soldiers.

Despite what the waves claimed, our attentions at the war front were focused on the names and the numbers of the prisoners. There were some four hundred and ten prisoners altogether. Half of them briefly introduced themselves on the first day, including two officers with the rank of major, several lieutenants, and many sergeants and soldiers. Ardasheeree and two missing soldiers of mine were among the prisoners. The next day Daee Niakee called me from his bunker.

"Kha-Kha-Kha-Khavar is alive," he mimicked the stammering man in an excited tone, "He introduced himself. I heard him myself. I think he has become fireproof now. He won't burn even in the fire of the hell. Probably he has cheated the Satan."

He showered me with excitement and laughter without giving me a chance to utter a word.

Meanwhile admiring, thrilling, and demoralizing stories about the Liberation Army and the night of combat circulated, filling some portions of the keen minds.

"Colonel Barber saw us running away at Fakkeh Three Way," a soldier told me. "He said you bastards are escaping a handful of girls! He wasn’t there to taste their bullets, Sir!"

"A wounded soldier was bandaged by a fellow-citizen of his own in the Liberation Army," another observed, "He was asked if he wanted to be taken to Iraq. The soldier declined the offer as he was married and had children in Iran. The NLA had dug a foxhole for him to stay until the conclusion of the combat."

"In a meeting the commander of the regiment quoted a soldier saying a girl had come on the embankment and defied him," Sharafzadeh said, "The soldier fled, leaving his gun behind and the girl took his gun away."

Participation of women in the war was happening for the first time. It was odd for soldiers to see women fighting alongside men as well as giving medical aid to the wounded soldiers. What our soldiers had seen of women were tears, labor, black mourning cloths, being beaten, and housekeeping. What they saw of the Mojahed women evoked their highest admiration.

"His morale was excellent," Abdollahee; one of my soldiers described the only NLA captive of the operation, "He asked us for food and water. We gave him cheese and bread. He was from Shiraz. A soldier asked him if he really were a Mojahed. He answered becoming a Mojahed was easy. It was enough to cross the border and ask Iraqis to send him to the Mojahedin. He spoke proudly to the commander of the company that in the liberation combat some people got killed, some were wounded, and some like himself were captured."

I asked Abdollahee if anybody mistreated the prisoner or insulted him.

"No, Sir,” he responded, “We were talking in such a friendly climate as if we had not fought the night before. He will die under torture, isn't it so?"

"Perhaps you are right but I don't exactly know," I tried to escape a precise answer.

Besides what had passed in the combat, there were many disheartening rumors circulating among the troops contributing to the aggravation of the already low morale. Some said there were some Mojaheds left in our region for another attack. This time they were to attack us from the rear. Some people claimed the monitoring center of the army had detected signals indicating the Mojaheds who were left behind were receiving orders. Others said Mojahedin had gone back for reinforcement for a re-attack in the south; or they had attacked the military police station near the headquarters of the army; or a tank position had been attacked. We heard so many stories that we could not tell the false from the true.

Strategically, in Operations Sunshine a combination of classic and guerrilla tactics had effectively been put into practice. The NLA had offset the disadvantages of the small number of combatants by sophisticated tactics, careful planning, self-sacrifice, extensive reconnaissance, and punctuality. It was predictable that the achievements of Sunshine would be expanded to future operations.

For example: there were three main roads that connected our infantry forces, backing weapons, and command headquarters. As the only roads to the front lines, they were extremely important for dispatching arms, ammunitions, and auxiliary forces. Losing any of them would easily disrupt contact and would deprive the front line combatants from receiving reinforcement and supplies.

After lengthy reconnaissance, Mojahedin had discovered the weakest spots in the battle lines and at the night of the operations some of their groups had penetrated to the rear of the front lines through the weak spots and had parted into teams with specific tasks. Some would make ambushes on the roads, others would lurk near the positions of backing weapons, and the last would advance toward the headquarters of battalions.

With the triggering of the barrage, the waiting teams captured the heavy weapons and their consternated soldiers (28). That was the reason only three of our supporting positions showed some activities during the barrage.

Meanwhile, battalion commanders had dispatched auxiliary forces on all three roads toward the front line: and all of them had been ambushed. On the middle road staff third lieutenant Saffaree from Khuzestan, who was renowned for brave reconnaissance of the Iraqi positions, had been trapped with his soldiers and all of them had died. On the southern road Khavarzameenee, with two crutches under his arms because of his knee problem, and two-truck-load of his soldiers had been ambushed on their way to the Hellish Base. Everybody had died except Khavarzameenee who had escaped by chance and was captured. On the northernmost road that led to the front line on the southern flank of Tappeh Razmi the ambushers had destroyed three trucks that were carrying new forces to the front line.

After the ambushing, in complete harmony with supporting fire, the infiltrated teams joined by new forces had advanced to command headquarters. In the first hours of combat two of the three headquarters had collapsed. The red tracers we had seen in the night of combat were signals of their capture. From there, these forces directed their attention to the embankments and attacked the rampart from the rear while new forces stormed them from the front. The soldiers caught in between had the choice of dying in the confrontation or surrendering. Many had chosen the latter. Some had hid themselves until ten in the morning of the next day before starting to withdraw. These were the forces the soldier in the platoon of rocket had taken for the Iraqi advancing troops.

Sunshine was a turning point in the history of the First Persian Gulf War. It marked the beginning of a series of military failures of the Iranian military might. It clearly showed how one of country’s strongest armies was unable to curb the NLA's aggression that was limited by its nature. Iranian soldiers in practice displayed their reluctance to fight in an endless war. They would rather run away or become prisoners of war than fight forever. There were many examples of soldiers who had joined the Liberation Army as soon as loudspeakers had called upon them. Of course, they were the potential forces of the NLA like many ex-soldiers who had already joined it.

The Sunshine revealed how the coverage of domestic problems, the war, was becoming the weakest spot in the Iranian government's integrity. Subsequently, the armed campaign against it should have aimed the war itself. Mojahedin had come to this point by founding NLA and fighting both the army and the Guards.

The Sunshine had a profound impact on me. It changed the course of my life. I had already concluded that there was no way to peace except fighting against the war. By late autumn 1987 I had made up my mind not to offer resistance to any NLA attack. In Sunshine I fulfilled that decision. Due to new facts, I changed my stance. The NLA was not just a means of keeping Mojahedin’s image in minds. It was capable enough to defy the war as a whole and make a great difference.

It was the first time in Iranian history that the young generation and their ideals had been amassed in the ranks of the NLA. They were independent from dominant imperialistic powers and domestic reactionary forces. Thousands of the youths who had been executed in prisons had paid the price of their independence from these two forces. With NLA the despairing situations of the absence of a strong body of armed forces to impose peace was expiring. I had to put aside my passive approach and get involved in the events that were to determine the destiny of my homeland. I had no firm political ideology to call myself a revolutionary, but I wanted to have a role in the campaign for peace. I decided to join NLA.

With this decision I changed from a passive person to a man with a goal and direction; but there still were two technical questions that I had to resolve before I practically joined the NLA. First, how I could cross the embankment and numerous guards to reach Iraq and join NLA? After some reflections, I realized that I had a friendly relation with my soldiers and was certain they would not shoot me if they found me trying to cross the front line. Also, while roaming the front and surrounding area I rarely took anybody with myself. If I went anywhere in the area between the two front lines, nobody would have suspected I was following a desertion scheme.

The second question was painstakingly difficult to answer. If I crossed the embankment and surrendered myself to Iraqi forces, how would they welcome me? As it is a military routine in every army, they would interrogate me for military information. Because of my rank and the period of time I had spent at the front, they would have expected lengthy information. With the knowledge that I had from Iraqi regime, I was almost certain they might have tortured me for information. Political prisoners' stories indicated it was very hard to endure torture without leaking the location of our bunkers, trenches, and other places. I could not have given false information to them either; as I knew they already had some reconnaissance on our positions and they would have discovered whether I was lying to them. In brief, I would have told them the truth. My correct information would, definitely, have helped them to correct their shooting errors; and in this way my soldiers' lives would fall in danger. This I did not want to happen, however I did not give up thinking about the question. For weeks I mused upon the matter and always came to the same conclusion that my defection would cost my soldiers' lives. I concluded that with or without my desertion my soldiers would have fallen preys to the war; but I did not want to have a hand in their butchery. I decided not to go to Iraq from that position unless a proper occasion showed face. What would the nature of a proper occasion be? I had no idea.

For a while my thoughts were concentrated on joining the NLA after my military service concluded in several months. The political stance of the Iranian government indicated there would be no peace deal until then. Khomeini had many times repeated that “peace between Islam and infidelity was meaningless”. At other times I reflected upon getting abroad through the Persian Gulf to the Arab Sheikhdoms in the south and going to Iraq as a civilian. This plan seemed too idealistic, as I had no money to pay the smugglers and there was no guide to lead me to the Persian Gulf and Arab Sheikhdoms. Sometimes, I thought about escaping Iran through its eastern or western borders. Still there was the problem of a guide though it was easier to find a way to Turkey or Pakistan than to the Sheikhdoms. There was a third option as well: to find someone in the army in contact with the Mojahedin.]

How could I find this illusive person? I would have to find him quite haphazardly as no one had plenty of freedom of movement in the war field. Scanning the conversations around me seemed to be the best way to reach this person. Thus I began my quest >>> Part 19

>>> Part 1 -- Part 2 -- Part 3 -- Part 4 -- Part 5 -- Part 6 -- Part 7 -- Part 8 -- Part 9 -- Part 10 -- Part 11 -- Part 12 -- Part 13 -- Part 14 -- Part 15 -- Part 16 -- Part 17 -- Part 18 -- Part 19 --


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