by Garrett Nada and Helia Ighani
A quarter century later, the Iran-Iraq War looms over Iran’s presidential election as if it happened yesterday. All six candidates participated in the grizzliest modern Middle East conflict as fighters, commanders or officials. Over the past month, the campaign has evolved into a feisty competition over who sacrificed and served the most in the eight-year war.
A leading candidate lost a leg. Another candidate commanded the Revolutionary Guards. A third liberated an oil-rich frontline city. A fourth brokered the dramatic ceasefire.
During the final debate on June 7, candidates invoked their wartime experience during the “Holy Defense,” as it is officially dubbed in Iran, as a top credential for taking office. It clearly shaped the worldviews of all six, despite their disparate political affiliations as reformists, hardliners or independents.
But experience during the 1980-1988 war is also emerging as an unspoken credential in facing the future, specifically a confrontation with the outside world over Iran’s controversial nuclear program. The debate resonated with language of resistance that echoed from the war, which claimed up to 1 million casualties.
Iran’s presidential contest illustrates how the war generation is now competing to take over the leadership from the first generation of revolutionaries. Four out of the six candidates were connected to the Revolutionary Guards, Iran’s most powerful military organization. Over the past decade, the Guards have also played an increasing role in the economy and politics. Veterans won nearly a fifth of parliament’s 290 seats in 2004.