Previously, the Iranians had outnumbered the Iraqis on the battlefield, but Iraq expanded their military draft (pursuing a policy of total war), and by 1984, the armies were equal in size. By 1986, Iraq had twice as many soldiers as Iran. By 1988, Iraq would have 1 million soldiers, giving it the fourth largest army in the world. Some of their equipment, such as tanks, outnumbered the Iranians’ by almost five to one. Iranian commanders, however, remained more tactically skilled.
Iranian child soldier
After the Dawn Operations, Iran attempted to change tactics. In the face of increasing Iraqi defense in depth, as well as increased armaments and manpower, Iran could no longer rely on simple human wave attacks. Iranian offensives became more complex and involved extensive maneuver warfare using primarily light infantry. Iran launched frequent, and sometimes smaller offensives to slowly gain ground and deplete the Iraqis through attrition. They wanted to drive Iraq into economic failure by wasting money on weapons and war mobilization, and to deplete their smaller population by bleeding them dry, in addition to creating an anti-government insurgency (they were successful in Kurdistan, but not southern Iraq). Iran also kept its goal of capturing important territory to force Iraq to negotiate. Iran also supported their attacks with heavy weaponry when possible and with better planning (although the brunt of the battles still fell to the infantry). The Army and Revolutionary Guards worked together better as their tactics improved. Human wave attacks became less frequent (although still used). To defeat Iraqi defense in depth, static positions, and heavy firepower, Iran began to focus on fighting in areas that the Iraqis could not use their heavy weaponry, such as marshes, valleys, and mountains, and frequently using infiltration tactics.
Iran began training troops in infiltration, patrolling, night-fighting, marsh warfare, and mountain warfare. They also began training thousands of Revolutionary Guard commandos in amphibious warfare, as southern Iraq is marshy and filled with wetlands. Iran used speedboats to cross the marshes and rivers in southern Iraq and landed troops on the opposing banks, where they would dig and set up pontoon bridges across the rivers and wetlands to allow heavy troops and supplies to cross. Iran also learned to integrate foreign guerrilla units as part of their military operations. On the northern front, Iran began working heavily with the Peshmerga, Kurdish guerrillas. Iranian military advisors organised the Kurds into raiding parties of 12 guerrillas, which would attack Iraqi command posts, troop formations, infrastructure (including roads and supply lines), and government buildings. The oil refineries of Kirkuk became a favourite target, and were often hit by homemade Peshmerga rockets.