9-28 January 1987
By 1987, The Iran- Iraq War had been fought to a bloody stalemate after seven years. Both nations were looking for a final victory that would secure regional dominance when the war ended. Iran, which enjoyed a 3-1 population advantage over the Baathists, had shocked Iraqi commanders by their use of "human wave" offensives to breach minefields and swarm positions. The religious furor of the Shias seemed to be a substitute for inferior weapons, equipment, training, and logistics. Iraqi units, however, were hardly defenseless. The use of chemical munitions and armor tactics by Iraqi units, as well as their use of rehearsal techniques often gave them decisive advantages over the numerically superior Iranians. Casualties had mounted on both sides, and Tehran was looking for a place to make a final stand. That place was to be in southern Iraq, near the city of Basra.
II. Strategic and Operational setting
Basra was Iraq's key port, and the area around the city had valuable oil resources. Many of the battles in the Iran-Iraq war were Iranian incursions into Iraq. Because of the population imbalance, Iraqis tended to respond to these attacks (overwhelmingly light infantry armed with RPGs, occasionally motorized) with their very strong tank force. With over 2,200 tanks, backed up by APCs and Artillery (all Soviet made and supplied) the Iraqi army could mete out serious damage on an unsupported Iranian infantry unit in open terrain. By 1987, however, Iranians had learned to pick the sites of their incursions. They chose mountainous or swampy terrain, and used their fanatical light infantry forces to mount anti-armor ambushes, effectively mitigating the advantages of the Iraqi mechanized forces.
At the outset of the Battle of Karbala V, The Iranian high command (led by religious leaders, not generals like the Baathists) deemed that Basra had to fall. If they could breach the defenses there, the victory against the Iraqis would be decisive, and give the Iranians new momentum to end the war in their favor, controlling key territory and cutting off Iraqi access to the Persian Gulf.
Mission: The Iranian Army, with its Pasdaran and Basij elements (about a Division plus) attacked to seize control of Basra via Shatt Al- Arab. The Iraqi Army in the area may have been up to six conscript brigades, but two of the newly formed elite Republican Guard brigades were nearby, as were one division of mechanized infantry and two armored divisions. Equipment: For the purposes of this battle, strategic and air assets will not be covered. Iraqi Army units initially defending the positions were primary light forces, while the nearby units had Tanks and APCs. Iranian Army units were equipped with light boats to use for river crossing operations, but their primary weapons were light arms and RPGs. Terrain: The Iraqi high command also knew that Basra was a piece of key terrain. Concrete-roofed bunkers, tank- and artillery-firing positions, minefields, and stretches of barbed wire, were constructed, all shielded by an artificially flooded lake 30 kilometers long and 1,800 meters wide, Most visitors to the area acknowledged Iraq's effective use of combat engineering to erect these barriers. The Iraqis were defending known ground. Troops: The Iraqi Army in the area may have been up to six conscript brigades, but two of the newly formed elite Republican Guard brigades were nearby, as were one division of mechanized infantry and two armored divisions. Iranians were attacking with a division-sized element that may have included up to six combat brigades plus supporting elements. Time: The war had been fought for seven years, and the Iranian high command saw this as a key opportunity to defeat the Iraqis and regain the momentum. The Baathists believed that the stalemate of a war had to be broken, and that in order to do so, massive casualties would have to...