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Islamic Republic, The Hostage Crisis and the Iran-Iraq War

Americans hostage, Khorramshahr, Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, hostage crisis, Khomeini

Foreign relations played at least as large a role as internal politics in shaping the new republic. The movement against the shah had also been a movement against U.S. involvement in Iran. From the outset the provisional government announced that Iran would no longer serve American interests in the Persian Gulf and would discontinue all military agreements with the United States. However, Khomeini and most government ministers feared that the United States would intervene again, as it had in 1953, to restore the shah to power. After the shah was allowed entry into the United States in October 1979, a group of Iranian students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took 66 Americans hostage. The United States responded by freezing Iranian assets held by U.S. banks and imposing trade sanctions against Iran. Thirteen hostages were soon released, but the students announced that the remaining 53 would be released only when the United States apologized for its support of the shah and sent him back to Iran to stand trial for his crimes. They also demanded the return of billions of dollars they believed the shah had hoarded abroad. When Khomeini endorsed the students' actions, the hostage crisis ensued. After nearly 15 months, a settlement mediated by Algeria enabled the hostages to return to the United States, which agreed to participate in a tribunal based in The Hague, The Netherlands, to settle claims of U.S. citizens and companies against Iran. The crisis resulted in a complete severing of the once close relationship between the Iranian and U.S. governments and a deep mutual suspicion of each other's international behavior.

In September 1980, in the midst of the hostage crisis, Iraq launched a surprise invasion of Iran. Iraq wanted to prevent the new Iranian republic from inciting Iraqi Shias to rise up against the secular Iraqi regime. The war, which continued until August 1988 when both states accepted the terms of a UN-mediated cease-fire agreement, took a toll on Iran. More than 170,000 Iranians were killed, up to 700,000 were injured, 18,000 men were still listed as missing in action eight years after the cease-fire, and nearly 2.5 million civilians fled from the main battle areas in the western part of the country. Industrial plants, businesses, homes, public buildings, and infrastructure suffered cumulative damages in excess of $30 billion. The cities of Abadan and Khorramshahr, as well as several towns and hundreds of villages, were virtually destroyed. Vital oil production and export facilities sustained heavy and repeated damage. At the same time, the war created a sense of national solidarity that helped the new government consolidate power, and it stimulated the growth of numerous small industries producing goods for the war effort. During the war, Iran gave refuge to more than 200,000 Iraqi nationals who fled from their own government and absorbed more than a million Afghan refugees who fled following the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.



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