By Michael Smith, Defence Correspondent
America’s military commander in Iraq ordered British
troops to prepare a full-scale ground offensive
against Iranian forces that had crossed the border and
grabbed disputed territory, a senior officer has
An attack would almost certainly have provoked open
conflict with Iran. But the British chose instead to
resolve the matter through diplomatic channels.
Lt Gen Ricardo Sanchez
“If we had attacked the Iranian positions, all hell
would have broken loose,” a defence source said
“We would have had the Iranians to our front and the
Iraqi insurgents picking us off at the rear.”
The incident was disclosed by a senior British officer
at a conference in London last week and is reported in
today’s edition of Defence Analysis. The identity of
the officer is not given.
“Some Iranian border and observation posts were
re-positioned over the border, broadly a kilometre
into Iraq,” a Ministry of Defence spokesman said.
The incident began last July when Revolutionary Guards
pushed about a kilometre into Iraq to the north and
east of Basra in an apparent attempt to reoccupy
territory which they claimed belonged to Iran.
Lt Gen Ricardo Sanchez then ordered the British to
prepare to send in several thousand troops to attack
the Revolutionary Guard positions.
The Revolutionary Guard Corps has 125,000 soldiers,
making it 25 per cent larger than the entire British
Army, and is equipped with 500 tanks, 600 armoured
personnel carriers and 360 artillery weapons.
The incident is reminiscent of the exchange during the
Kosovo conflict between the American general, Wesley
Clark, the supreme allied commander Europe, and Gen
Sir Mike Jackson, the British commander.
When Gen Clark told Gen Jackson to send British troops
into Pristina airport to prevent Russian troops from
taking control Gen Jackson refused. He was reported to
have said: “I am not going to start World War Three
The Iran-Iraq incident lasted around a week and was
resolved by a telephone conversation between Jack
Straw, the Foreign Secretary, and Kamal Kharrazi, his
Iranian counterpart, British officials said.
“It did look rather nasty at the time,” one official
said. "But we were always confident it was a mistake
and could be resolved by diplomatic means. We got in
touch with Baghdad and said, ‘Don’t do anything silly;
we are talking to the Iranians.’ "
While Mr Straw was trying to resolve the issue
peacefully, British military commanders on the ground
were calming their Iranian counterparts, the ministry
The Revolutionary Guard was believed to be behind the
seizure of eight Royal Navy and Royal Marines
personnel last week after they strayed across the
disputed border between Iraq and Iran.
The eight men, who were delivering patrol boats to the
Iraqi riverine patrol service, were released - but not
before they were paraded blindfolded on Iranian