31 Years On: IranAir 655

On this day 31 years ago, the USS Vincennes shot down IranAir Flight 655. 290 civilians died.

That the downing of the passenger plane happened during the final stages of the Iran-Iraq War serves as a reminder of the US role in that war. With President Reagan at the helm, the United States entered into a tactical alliance with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The now infamous photo of Donald Rumsfeld meeting with Saddam in 1983 speaks to this pact (image below).

The Reagan administration supplied Saddam’s regime with billions that were used to buy some of the most advanced weapons available in the Western world. The US also provided satellite information so Iraq knew where to strike Iranian troop movements. When that satellite information was used to enable Iraqi chemical attacks on Iranian soldiers, the US not only did not protest, but provided diplomatic cover at the UN against Iranian objections. No UN resolution was passed condemning Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Iranians, and Iran never retaliated with its own chemical weapons stockpile.

Late in the war when Iran began targeting the oil tankers of Iraqi war financiers, namely Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, the US intervened and sank what little Iran had in terms of a navy at the time.

The downing of IranAir Flight 655 must be considered in this context. While the US claimed it was an accident, the Iranians were convinced that it was a deliberate attack designed to weaken the country’s morale thereby facilitating an end to hostilities. Iran was open to ending the war after eight bitter years, but it insisted that any resolution that formally concluded the conflict recognize Iraq as the aggressor that initiated the war. With the downing of IranAir Flight 655, Iran shortly after accepted UN Resolution 598, which made no mention of who started the war.

Two years later, the frankenstein that the US helped build in Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, marking a rupture in the decade-long US-Saddam alliance. The subsequent Persian Gulf War (1990-91), 12 years of sanctions, 2003 US-led invasion (with the same Rumsfeld now serving as Defense Secretary), al Qaeda in Iraq/ISIS can all be traced back, in part, to these fateful years of the US support of Saddam Hussein.

Remember IranAir Flight 655. Remember, there’s always a deeper history to an event that helps unpack and understand that occurrence. Remember, there are always consequences and ripple effects–intended or otherwise.

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