Allegations of Iranian Use of Chemical Weapons in the 1980–88 Gulf War – Conclusion

Was Iran responsible for the CW atrocity in Halabja?

The question therefore arises whether the United States may have been politically motivated to place the main responsibility for Halabja with Iran. The allegation came as Washington was visibly tilting towards Iraq. Soon after the US State Department blamed Iran for the events, US officials were quoted as saying that the finding undermined the propaganda advantage Iran was seeking by publicising the attacks.[1]

From this angle, the US assertion might be viewed as an attempt to undermine the moral high ground regarding chemical warfare Iran desperately tried to maintain during the war. The statement, however, may also have been motivated by politics in the UN Security Council. Since the end of 1987 the United States had been unsuccessfully pressing for a resolution imposing an arms embargo against Iran for refusing a cease-fire. While the permanent members remained divided, an opportunity for unity on the issue presented itself just before the Halabja attack. With Iran in the clear position of the victim of Iraqi violations of international law, the chances for success evaporated fast. Blaming Iran for the attack could then conceivably have been a manoeuvre to save the resolution.

As it turned out, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 612 (1988) condemning chemical warfare after two weeks of diplomatic effort. The text blamed nobody and was neither vigorous nor indignant. It was adopted without a debate or an explanation of the vote in a meeting that barely lasted five minutes in deference to the uneasiness of some council members.[2]

Between the cease-fire in August 1988 and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait two years later, the United States considerably expanded its political and economic links with Baghdad. Several books arguing for stronger ties deflected Iraq’s responsibility for chemical warfare and violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol by referring to the US account of events in Halabja.[3]

Sections

Notes

[1]Wayne, E. A., ‘Tracking chemical weapons in the Gulf War’, Christian Science Monitor, 13 April 1988, p. 32.

[2] Hume, C. R., The United Nations, Iran, and Iraq (Indiana University Press: Bloomington, 1994), pp. 153–54.

[3]E.g., Pelletiere, S. C., Johnson II, D. V. and Rosenberger, L. R., Iraqi Power and U.S. Security in the Middle East (Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College: Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, 1990). Axelgard, F. W., A New Iraq? The Gulf War and Implications for U.S. Policy, The Washington Papers, no. 133 (Praeger: New York, 1988), pp. 86–87, describes how Iraq’s chemical attacks affected world opinion, which was turning against Iran for its objection to a cease-fire and use of human wave attacks involving children.

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About JP Zanders

Jean Pascal Zanders (Belgium) has worked on questions of chemical and biological weapon (CBW) armament and disarmament since 1986. He was CBW Project Leader at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Director of the BioWeapons Prevention Project and Senior Research Fellow responsible for disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation questions at the European Union Institute for Security Studies. He now owns and runs The Trench.

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