Operation Before the Dawn

Operation Before the Dawn
Operation Before the Dawn
Part of Iran–Iraq War
Date February 6, 1983-February 26, 1983
Location Fuka
Result Strategic stalemate, successful Iraqi defense; Iranian tactical victory, Iran makes small gains
Small gains by Iran
 Iraq  Iran
Commanders and leaders
Iran Hossein Kharrazi
60,000 200,000
Casualties and losses
? 6,000+ killed

Operation Before the Dawn was the first of the three costly human-wave attacks of 1983 in the Amarah area 200 kilometers southeast of Baghdad. It was launched by Iran.



The Iranians originally planned the offensive to mark the fourth anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. Objectives were clear: drive enemy forces from Iranian soil, seize Iraqi territory in the Amarah area, and move on to Baghdad. Seizure of the city of al-Amarah would give Iran the upper hand in disrupting troop and supply movements from Baghdad to Basra.

U.S. Intelligence reported that both sides had over 100,000 soldiers poised for battle. The Iranian forces consisted of mostly 'last reserve' Pasdaran and Basij volunteers backed by two divisions of the Islamic Republic of Iran Army. Iraqi forces consisted mostly of conscript infantry backed by Republican Guard tank brigades. In addition, the Iraqis also held three lines of trenches of which formed a semicircle around Amarah.

The terrain of the battleground added to Iran's difficulty. The area around Amarah rested in an area of low hills and marshes of which created an open plain. To this affect, Iraqi trenches were strategically positioned from the hills down to the tip of the marshes.

Regardless, Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani further boasted:

The people expect this offensive to be the final military operation that will determine the destiny of the region.

The battle

On the morning of February 6, Iran attacked a 40-kilometer stretch near Al Amarah, via marshes and hill ridges. Iran's six-division attack managed to break through with the help of air, artillery, and armor support from the Regular Army. The Iraqis, though outnumbered, responded with 200 helicopter sorties per day to support the defenders. The sorties proved so effective that Iraqi tanks were reduced to effective defense roles. Not surprisingly, well over 6,000 Iranian troops perished on the first day of the operation.

By the middle of the offensive, Tehran Radio reported having 'liberated' over 120 square miles (310 km2) of Iranian territory. The reality was much more bleak, however, as Iran continually resorted to crude tactics, including the use of child soldiers in human wave charges across no man's land, which was always met with withering fire from the Iraqis. Lightly equipped and poorly trained Iranian teenagers attempted to charge dug-in Iraqi infantrymen firing from trenches. These teenage soldiers died by the hundreds, and some were captured after being wounded. Residents of the city of Ahvaz, 100 miles (160 km) behind the front, reported that their morgue was filled to the rim with bodies from the field.

Personal account

The following is a rare excerpt of a child soldier's experience during this operation. It has been cited from Ian Brown's, Khomeini's Forgotten Sons: The Story of Iran's Boy Soldiers":

After only a month's training at a camp near Khorramshahr, I was sent to the front. When we arrived we all assembled in a field where there must have been a thousand of us, some younger than me, and old men as well. The commander told us we were going to attack and Iraqi position north-east of Basra which guarded the road to Qurna, to try to capture the road. The following morning we set off at 4:00 A.M. in army trucks, and I had been given a gun and two hand grenades. The trucks stopped at the Iranian front and they told everyone to get out. The sun was beginning to come up as we started walking towards the Iraqi lines, and boy, was I scared! We'd been told the position was three kilometers away. As we got nearer, we could hear shells exploding, and I think it was us shelling them. When we got to the top of a hill, we started running down the other side towards the enemy position. I wasn't afraid any more. We all shouted, "Allah akbar" (God is great) as we ran, and I could see soldiers in front of us - a line of helmets - then they started firing. People dropped all around me, but I kept running and shouting while many were being killed. By the time I reached the trenches, I'd thrown my grenades and somehow had lost my gun, but I don't remember how. Then I was hit in the leg and fell over and lay for a long time right in front of the front lines. Other Iranians passed me but they all fell. I wanted to get up and help them but couldn't move. My leg felt like it was burning. Finally, the attack stopped in the afternoon, but I was asleep when the Iraqis came out of the trenches to look at the bodies. They were kicking them and when they kicked me, I screamed out in pain. But they picked me up and tossed me into the back of a lorry. For me the war was over.


Iran managed to regain 100 square miles (260 km2) of its own territory. But after a week of stalemate, Iran abandoned the operation after making only minimal gains against the Iraqis. Rafsanjani later retracted his earlier boast, saying that the offensive was not the last as expected. As for the Iraqis, this victory helped the poorly trained and shaken ground forces to boost their morale.


1. The Last Blow, TIME Magazine, Feb. 21, 1983.

2. Khomeini's Forgotten Sons: The Story of Iran's Boy Soldiers, Grey Seal Books, 1990.

3. The Longest War, by Dilip Hiro, Routledge, Chapman, and Hall, Inc. 1991.


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