Marked by chemical weapons and human-wave assaults, the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) was one of the deadliest wars of the twentieth century. The struggling and militarily weak Islamic Republic faced the existential threat of Iraqi invasion on the heels of the Revolution.
In order to mobilize public opinion and encourage military enlistment, the Iranian government deployed an immense visual output in support of the war effort. The contribution of every Iranian—young and old, male and female—was emphasized as necessary in the defense against Iraqi aggression.
For these reasons, and despite Iranian incursions into Iraq and an eventual stalemate, the Iran-Iraq War was known as the “Imposed War” and the “Holy Defense” within Iran. The Islamic Republic stressed its moral superiority by couching its military engagements (both defensive and offensive) as a sacred, collective effort to protect the Iranian homeland and ensure its survival.
Five Soldiers with Khomeini
ca. 1980s Kazim Chalipa, Iranian, b. 1957 Middle Eastern Posters Collection Box 3, Poster 70
Five Iranian soldiers, of various ethnicities and representing different branches of the military, march across a desert battlefield in the war-torn province of Khuzestan. The red specter of Ayatollah Khomeini watches over the various scenes of war, including tank maneuvers. Marching in single file towards the viewer, the soldiers (and their different cultural backgrounds) are united and safeguarded by Khomeini as they walk past oil fields that are set ablaze.
Soldier Sitting in Bombed Building ca. 1980's Middle Eastern Posters Collection,
Box 3, Poster 62
In this poster a soldier sits on the lookout in a bombed-out building, the yellow air outside indicating the use of a deadly chemical weapon. Hundreds of thousands of Iranian soldiers were either killed or permanently disabled by Saddam Hussein's use of chemical warfare during the Iran-Iraq War. The quoted English text informs the viewer that despite such brutal attacks Iran will never surrender.
A Funeral for Hearts
ca. 1980 Habib Sadeqi, Iranian, b. 1957 Middle Eastern Posters Collection Box 3, Poster 124
In this painting, figures in a funeral procession grimly carry a coffin filled to the brim with their own hearts. The artist Sadeqi portrays the marchers' heads being slowly crushed into their bodies, which begin to crack and disintegrate away from the empty hollow in their chests. The painting presents us with a deeply stirring depiction of the physical tolls and emotional burdens Iranians have endured through both the 1979 Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War.
Rather than shy away from the grim realities of war, this poster positions them within a continuation of the devastating Battle of Karbala. Two disembodied arms rise up from the ground carrying a flag that pledges the vengeance of God (Ya thar Allah). The martyrs of Karbala are rising up to claim the newest martyr from the very same battlefield on which they died. Time between the 7th-century battle and the ongoing Iran-Iraq War is thus effectively collapsed. The poster depicts the threshold of death as the transitional moment in which soldiers join their fellow martyrs in paradise.
The Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center