International Operation Name: United Nations Iran-Iraq Military Observer Group (UNIIMOG)
International Operation Dates: 1988/08/08 – 1991/02/28
Mandating Organization: United Nations
Region Name: Middle East
Location: Iran and Iraq
Canadian Operation Name: Operation VAGABOND
Canadian Operation Dates: 1988/08/08 – 1991/02/28
Established to verify, confirm and supervise the cease-fire and the withdrawal of all forces to the internationally recognized boundaries, pending a comprehensive settlement
Iran and Iraq began what would become an eight-year war in September 1980 – a war in which neither side was able to gain a lasting advantage. Although conducted mainly on land, at sea the operations conducted by the two sides had implications for the entire Persian Gulf region (and, indeed, international commerce and the world economy) during the so-called “Tanker War”, when attacks on each other’s shipping threatened to disrupt the flow of oil in a major way. Because of these broader implications, it was during this period that the United Nations began to work to bring resolution to the conflict. In 1984, for example, the UN established a presence in both Baghdad and Teheran when it seconded two teams of three officers from personnel tasked to the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), and one senior official of the United Nations Secretariat.
In time, the UN’s diplomatic efforts paid dividends. In July 1987 the Secretary General was able to engage the Security Council in the peacemaking process, and within six days it generated a plan through Resolution 598 to arrange a cease-fire and a subsequent withdrawal of all forces to the internationally recognized borders between Iraq and Iran. The United Nations Iran-Iraq Military Observer Group (UNIIMOG) would monitor compliance and chair a dispute resolution group – but due to intransigence on both sides, in the end the latter would meet only once.
Under the designation Operation VAGABOND, Canada announced that it would contributed to UNIIMOG on 8 August 1987. Just two days later, a reconnaissance party of five left for the operational area; the entire contingent, including fifteen UNMOs and a communications unit of approximately five hundred soldiers and 150 vehicles would follow soon thereafter.
The UNMOs were to establish the cease-fire lines, monitor compliance with the cease-fire, investigate any violations of the same and supervise the withdrawal of all Iranian and Iraqi military forces to their own territory. The communications unit – 88 Canadian Signals Squadron – was formed specifically for this operation, primarily from troops based at Canadian Forces Bases Petawawa and Kingston. Its task was to set up a communications system in both Iran and Iraq for use by UNIIMOG civilian staff members. By March 1989 the Canadian signallers had completed their task and were on their way back to Canada.
In January 1991, the two parties agreed to convene a technical meeting of military experts to discuss and resolve the issue of disputed positions along the internationally recognized borders between the countries. By the end of the month the Iranian Army had withdrawn from thirteen of seventeen disputed positions and Iraq had left twenty-three of twenty-nine such positions – all under the watchful eyes of the UNMOs. With UNIIMOG’s mandate about to expire, the Secretary General recommended that it be extended one month to allow supervision of the withdrawal of the belligerent forces from the remaining positions. That occurred in Iran, but before the work could be completed in Iraq the UN had to withdraw its forces because of the impending conflict following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.
(Left) MWO Eyres, Supr OR Bor, CFB Petawawa, and WO. Hogan check the files of personnel being processed through the Departure Assistance Group (DAG) prior to their deployment in Iran/Iraq with UNIIMOG.
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