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The two nations severed diplomatic relations in June 1980, and sporadic border clashes increased.
On September 17, Iraq declared the Shatt al-Arab part of its territory.
The Khomeinist camp despised Iraq's Ba'athist secularism in particular, and believed that the oppressed Shi'ites in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait could follow the Iranian example and turn against their governments.
Just as the Shah had been overthrown, and his autocratic government replaced with an Islamic system, so could kings and dictators in the Sunni world.
The bulk of the Iranian military was made up of poorly armed, though committed, militias.
Iran had minimal defenses in the Arvand/Shatt al-Arab river.
Iraq then expelled 70,000 Iranians from its borders after complaining to the Arab League, and the UN, without any success.
The surprise offensive advanced quickly against the still disorganized Iranian forces, advancing on a wide front into Iranian territory along the Mehran-Khorramabad axis in Central Iran and towards Ahvaz in the oil-rich southern province of Khuzestan. Rather than turning against the Ayatollah's government as exiles had promised, the people of Iran rallied around their revolution and mounted far stiffer resistance; an estimated 100,000 volunteers arrived at the front by November.
In 1975, America's Henry Kissinger had sanctioned that Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, attack Iraq over the waterway, which was under Iraqi control at the time; soon afterward both nations signed the Algiers Accord, in which Iraq made territorial concessions, including the waterway, in exchange for normalized relations.
Iraq had staged a battle against Iranian forces a year earlier in 1974, resulting in heavy casualties on both sides.
An Iraqi Air Force attack on Iranian airfields was ineffectual, and the Iraqis soon found the Iranian military was not nearly as depleted as they had thought.
In June of 1982, a successful Iranian counter-offensive recovered the areas previously lost to Iraq.