The 309th Night of Memory - 2

Operation Karbala 5 unimaginable for Iraqis

Maryam Rajabi
Translated by M. B. Khoshnevisan


According to the website of Iranian Oral History, the 309th Night of Memory of the Sacred Defense was held in Sooreh Hall of the Art Center on Thursday 26th of December 2019. Abdolrahim Farrokh Sepehr, Seyed Yahya Rahim Safavi and Fat’hollah Jafar recounted their memoirs of the captivity period and the victory of operations Faw and Karbala 5 in this show.

Davood Salehi, the host of the 309th Night of Memory introduced the second narrator of the show as follows, “The second narrator of the Night of Memory was born in Isfahan in 1952. He was a senior commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps of Iran (IRGC) during the scared defense years. He was also the IRGC Chief Commander from 1997 to 2007. Since he had carried out measures against the Imperial government since the early 1950s (1972) and wanted to remain anonymous, he introduces himself as Rahim. A name that remained in the sacred defense more than his own original name and the combatants and the people knows him more with this name. His original name is Seyed Yahya Safavi Zadeh. Major General Safavi Zadeh said, “A few years ago, Hazrat Agha (Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei) told me in-person to go to the barracks of the Army’s Ground Forces and IRGC and retell your memories for them. These memories are very constructive and influential for these guys. Our goal is to build the young generation. We have launched the memory-telling movement and use aids from Mr. Sarhangi, too. At present, we have prepared more than one hundred commanders for memory-telling movement. But we have mostly focused on military training centers. Four hundred thousand conscripts are sent to the training centers of the IRGC, the Army, the Disciplinary Forces, and the Ministry of Defense every year; that is, eight hundred thousand people every two years. I hope that a connection is established between this memory-telling movement and the Night of Memory and we can exchange views.

My tonight’s memoirs are summarized in two sections of the memories of the operations Faw and Karbala 5. Before Operation Faw, we visited Imam Khomeini (God bless his soul). We were worried because in Operation Badr carried out in 1985 and the Operation Kheibar in 1984, we did not fully achieve our goal which was reaching to Tigris and Euphrates rivers and came back. The Imam issued the order of establishing three ground, air and sea forces of IRGC on 17th of September 1985. I became the Commander of Ground Forces, Mr. Hossein Alaee, the Navy Commander, and Mr. Mussa Refan, the first Commander of Air forces of IRGC. We described to the Imam the plan of the Operation Faw and crossing from Aravand River over the map. Since we were worried, we visited the Imam along with the IRGC Chief Commander, and the commanders of Ground Forces, Navy and Air Forces. We told him that we had to cross over the roaring Arvand River, and seize the area, but we might not be able to keep it and the Ba’thists may force us to retreat like the operations Badr and Kheibar, asking him to guide us. The Imam listened carefully and tolerantly to all the details of the operation, raised his head, and firmly said that God is the commander-in-chief of God. That God, who has commanded you to pray, has commanded you to defend. Go and be sure that you are the victorious, and I will come and pray with you there. When the Imam said these words, we left and told these to the commanders of the divisions, and with God’s help, we became victorious in the operation.

I as the Commander of IRGC Ground Forces along with the combatants crossed over the Arvand River on the first night of the Operation Faw namely on 9th of February 1986. Some seventy thousand forces were involved in the operation and it is not customary for the Commander of Ground Forces to accompany the troops. The river was wavy at that night and we had problems in crossing the divers. I along with a radio man and a war narrator crossed over the river by the boat of Ali Ibn-e Abitaleb (AS) Division the forces of which were from the cities of Qom and Arak. As I was crossing over the river at night, a wave passed over the gate. Water was pouring from my collar and coming out of my pants. The river’s width was from 700-800 meters to 1500 meters. The more we were approaching the mouth of the Persian Gulf, the more its width increased. All my clothes got wet until I got across the river. We arrived and walked until it was dry. It was about two to three in the midnight. All my words have been recorded and are available. I summoned the commanders and talked about planning for the operation and then they left. It was a night in the month of February and my clothes were wet. When wind blows in the plain, it becomes very cold. It was very cold and I was looking for a blanket to pull on myself. I saw a blanket and wanted to pull on myself but found out that it was wet. I turned on the flashlight and saw that it was full of blood stains. It had probably been used for transferring the injured and saw that if I use it, I cannot say the morning prayer (due to religious restrictions). So, I had to walk until morning to warm myself. When the Iraqis were taken by surprise in the morning, they started airstrikes. They used chemical weapons for the first three days three times as much as the area we had seized. We evacuated 17000 chemically wounded for the first three days; they were not martyred; their eyelids and arms swelled. The place where I spent the night was the ammunition depot of the Iraqis, so I got away. As I was walking in the plain, suddenly I saw a hole. I looked closely and saw that it had stairs. I went down the stairs and surprisingly saw that its wall was chalky and white. It was the base of a brigade commander which had a bed, a mattress, a blanket and a flask filled with Iraqi coffee with biscuits. I asked the radio man to wake me up, “I sleep and get up in a few hours.” When I woke up, the phone rang from Basra. He asked in Arabic, “what’s up”. I answered in Arabic that the Khomeini’s army had seized here. He said something nonsense and since I knew Arabic, responded to him. Then, I started my work as a commander in the trench. One of my friends who was with me at night, saw me and laughed. I asked him why you were laughing. He said when you left, I was cold and went and slept beside a man who had been sleeping under a blanket. He was a good man and did not move at all. Even when I pulled the blanket on myself, he said nothing. When I woke up in the morning, found out that I had been sleeping beside an Iraqi body!

We had a powerful eavesdropping system since the first night. We eavesdropped all Iraqi transceivers not only in Faw area but from the Basra area and even I can now say that we decoded the Iraqi wireless transceivers. They contacted from Basra to Baghdad through wireless transceiver and we knew what they said with their headquarters. That Iraqi commander explained to his higher ranking commander that the enemy was disembarking forces like flood through boats and returning. If you find no way, it is highly likely that they seize Um al-Qasr. The situation is very bad. The higher ranking commander said I would immediately contact with the General Staff of the Armed Forces. He contacted and read the message of Saddam as follows, "Resist, God willing, I will send three armored divisions and will defeat the Iranians." The Iraqi Guard Division arrived in the third night. They lied down under the tanks in order to attack us in the morning. We had heard from the eavesdropping wireless devices. We ordered our forces in the frontline, namely the divisions of Najaf 8, Imam Hossein 14, Ali Ibn-e Abitaleb 17, Karbala 25 and Ashura 31to attack at night before they attack us. They advanced calmly in the darkness and the Iraqis had slept. When they reached to the Ba'thists, they started killing them with any device they could. The Guard Division which was taking a rest, terrified with the sound of Allah-o-Akbar (God is greater) of our guys and turned on the projectors and tanks and personnel carriers. When they turned them on, our guys could target them more and better. They retreaded and their commander ordered them to attack us by chemical weapons. They started firing with chemical weapons, but thanks God, they targeted themselves and the Ba'thists were inflicted heavy suffering. The Commander of the Fourth Brigade of the Republican Guard told the Commander of the Guard Division that our situation was very bad and hard. The artillery fire on us is very effective. The casualties are rising minute by minute. We are resisting in our position but you should help us. The enemy has sieged us from four sides; we need an armored brigade to open the way. This should be done very fast. Tell the commander of the 26th Division to send a mechanized battalion and artillery to back us. You have to send an auxiliary force to our brigade off the coastal road along the Arvand River, though it can be costly. The Commander of the Guards answered, "Come back through fighting and fleeing, we can't do anything." 

The 17th Division of Ali Ibn-e Abitaleb had gone to the salt factory. When the Guard Division attacked, they cut their way and captured a commander of the Brigade 111. The commander asked me to take him to your commander. He was taken to Gholamreza Jafari, the Commander of Ali Ibn-e Abitaleb who was a slim young man with kaki clothes and a little beard. He said this is not the commander; they said he is the commander. He saw that the commander ordered behind the transceiver. The brigade commander started crying and said, “Who are you? Where have been trained? With this clothes? With this physique? You destroyed our powerful army and guard. How did you come here with this food that you eat?” It was really unimaginable for that Iraqi commander how these commanders had crossed.

On the fourth or fifth day, the Ba’thists with French Mirage jetfighters bombarded with laser missiles the bridges behind us; the bridges which were on Bahmanshir River and came over Abadan Island. They bombarded the bridges from high altitude so that logistics, ammunition, water and food, fresh forces and our ambulances could not be reached. We had no other way but to build an earthen bridge on Bahmanshir. Buses and pipes were put inside Bahmanshir River and soils were dumped from two sides. But when the soils of the two edges wanted to reach other, the intensity of the water flow would drain them. This mission was left to Serat al-Mostaqim Headquarters whose commander was my brother, Seyed Mohsen Safavi. He did his best, but it was not possible. They called the office of the Imam from the headquarters and asked them to pray for us to be able to do it. Now, the guys cannot be supported. The Imam sent a message by his son, Haj Seyed Ahmad, "You double your efforts. I pray for you tonight." They doubled their efforts and the soil bridge was connected at that night.

Operation Karbala 4 started on 24th of December. It was also our main operation. Two or three hours after the beginning of the operation, the Iraqis started airstrikes. They never did this at nights. They stopped the advancement of a high number of our diver forces through machine guns. Two or three hours later, I and the IRGC Chief Commander recognized that the operation had been disclosed. We ordered the forces to retreat and withdrew most of our forces that night. The Iraqis mentioned our targets that night and we fully recognized that the operation had been disclosed. No wise commander orders an operation to be carried out, if he is sure that it has been disclosed. The war commander was the late Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani. The IRGC Chief Commander was Mr. Mohsen Rezaee. Each of us had children and we were fully aware how much the life of these guys valued. Here, I have to respond to some rumors. The total number of our martyrs in Operation Karbala 4 was some 900. I have seen that some enemies claimed this number was several thousand. When we withdrew our troops, Iraq came the next day and bombed the whole area. We had a meeting with Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani. It had been a year of hard work and we had said in the media and on Friday prayers that this was a decisive operation. We promised him we would start another operation in fifteen days. The Iraqis who were happy of the victory left, and Saddam gave them medals and promotions. We prepared ourselves for Karbala 5 in fifteen days. The Iraqis did not think at all that we would be able to carry out an operation that would break the eastern gate of Basra. Karbala 5 was a great victory. I want to share Karbala 5's memories.

A commander whose prayers are accepted

There was a commander whose arm was amputated during Operation Kheibar in Talaeiyeh. He himself told his wife and friend Ahmad Kazemi that when my arm was cut off, my soul was being taken to heaven. I was asked whether to take or to return you back? I asked them to return me back. And they did so and I saw that I was on the ground. The Commander of the 14th Division of Imam Hossein (AS) was talking to his divers and we have a footage of his talking. He said, "Dear divers, when you are crossing the river, if you want to know whether you are sincere or not, don't say ouch so that the enemy understands. If you raise your voice, that enemy who is behind the river, shoots at all of you. But let me tell you something, you have heard in the sermons about Imam Hossein (PBUH) that the companions of Hossein Ibn-e Ali (PBUH) were hit by swords and spears but they felt no pain. I swear by God that my arm was cut off in Talaeiyeh but I did not feel any pain and he immediately said Astaghforellah! (God forbid!) I did not want to tell you these. Due to the casualties of his forces in Karbala 4 in Um al-Rasas Island and the casualties of his forces in Karbala 5, this commander went under the blanket and cried and said oh God I'm wrong, take me out of this world. He was hit in the neck by shrapnel and martyred in Operation Karbala 5. In fact, God accepted his prayers. His tomb is in Isfahan. He was Hossein Kharazi. When I go to his tomb, I see that the young boys and girls have come there and lit candles and say that he really fulfills our prayers. Hossein Kharazi was really a man whose prayers was accepted by God. 

I was the Deputy Commander of Ground Forces in Karbala 5. I went to the war zone on the second or third day. There was an area called Panj Zele'i or Pentagon. On the road from Khorramshahr to Shalamcheh to Basra, there was a concrete bridge under which the commanders had gathered to continue their operations, and I was scheduled to go and talk to them. I had an armored personnel carrier. As soon as I wanted to move by the personnel carrier, an artillery fire started. So, I had to close the doors, and this vehicle, which weighed at least 40 tons, shook like a cradle with the Katyusha and the artillery fires. The artillery fire continued for a few minutes. When it got quieter and I wanted to move, I saw our long range wireless connection was cut off; in fact, shrapnel had cut off the head of the commander's antennas that were outside the vehicle. I could contact with the commanders just by a short-range PRC 77 portable transceiver. We moved toward Imam Reza (AS) Bridge and sat under it. Haj Ahmad Kazemi, Haj Hossein Soleimani and Morteza Ghorbani were present. We had sat beside each other that the fire started again. The firing was so much that we did not hear the voice of each other and more importantly, the sound of firing made us nervous. The Operation Karbala 5 was unimaginable for the Iraqis. The victories in Faw and Karbala 5 operations determined the war destiny. After that, the Americans and Soviets had to give advantages to Iran in order to prevent from Saddam's fall and presented the UN Resolution 598 in 1987. Iran, however did not accept it.

It was noon and I had slept in the headquarters. I dreamed that the soul of my brother was soaring to heaven and his little kids were crying and this martyr was waving his hands from above with a smile. It was day but I had been sleeping out of much tiredness. Suddenly, I woke up with a start and was beside the transceivers. Mr. Shamkhani told me that If I give you a bad news, will you tolerate it? I said, you want to say that my brother has been martyred? He said that he was martyred right now. The same moment he was martyred, I dreamed that his soul was soaring to heaven. When Seyed Mohsen was martyred, he had four children. The youngest was just a few months old and the oldest around nine years. His youngest child, Seyed Sajjad came to Tehran to visit me. I can rarely go to Isfahan. Now, that little boy is educated and has become an engineer, married, and having a baby. I respected and kissed that little child who does not remember his father at all, and was with him for about half a day. He came back to Isfahan. That night, I dreamed of his father. My brother was tall and physically fit. He in my dream hugged and pushed me. I swear by God that when I woke up in the morning, I felt both the martyr's pressure and the martyr's warmth. I'm not a liar; the martyr is really alive and I believe this. Once again, I dreamed of Seyed Mohsen and asked him what was going on there. what are you doing? He told me in a calm manner that you think we are idle here? We're working for you. Let me show you what I'm doing. He took me and I saw that he was building a very good mosque. He asked me to look out this window. I looked and saw that it was the holy city of Najaf Ashraf. He said we are building a mosque for Iranians here. Behold! This is the tomb of Amir al-Mu'minin (AS) and I woke up. The Martyrs are alive, but we are ignorant of the world of martyrdom, the value and virtue of martyrdom. "  

Number of Visits: 3951