Tag Archives: War

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. read more

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

In the period of 16–18 March 1988 Halabja and its surroundings were attacked with chemical weapons (CW). According to Iranian figures, there were 12,500 casualties, including more than 5,500 fatalities.[1] A Kurdish researcher later concluded that at least 3200 residents are known to have died.[2] It is impossible to reconstruct exactly the events in and around Halabja. Nevertheless, it is widely accepted that the Iraqi military forces were solely responsible for the attack against a civilian target. Yet, shortly after the events sources in the United States began to hint that Iranian troops might have actually killed the majority of the civilians. The latter version assumes that the Iranians had not occupied Halabja and that the Kurdish inhabitants were killed by a chemical warfare agent that was never in the Iraqi arsenal.[3] Most significantly, it suggests that Iran had achieved an advanced stage of assimilation of CW into its military doctrine. read more

Allegations of Iranian Use of Chemical Weapons in the 1980–88 Gulf War – Iran’s offensive preparations

Two factors definitely contributed to the change in Iran’s views on chemical warfare: the systematic Iraqi attacks with CW from 1983 onwards and the lack of response from the international community for the Iraqi violations of international law. Iran’s chemical weapons (CW) armament programme started late into the war. Such a programme is complex and involves many phases, including research and development, setting up a production base, weaponisation, offensive and defensive doctrine development, establishment of logistics and operational support, training, and protection and defence. Consequently, Iran cannot be expected to have developed an advanced chemical warfare capability before the cease-fire in August 1988. Iraq, in contrast, is known to have embarked on a CW armament programme in the 1970s (although there are earlier indications[1]), but it still required several years of war fighting before it was able to integrate CW in its overall military operations and field a variety of agents. read more

Allegations of Iranian Use of Chemical Weapons in the 1980–88 Gulf War – Iran’s defensive preparations

In the 1980–88 Gulf War Iraq repeatedly attacked Iran with chemical weapons (CW). At the beginning of the war both countries were contracting parties to the Geneva Protocol. According to Iranian statements, the first Iraqi CW attack occurred in January 1981.[1]  One of the first independent news reports appeared in August 1982.[2] Iraq gradually integrated CW into its defensive and offensive military operations.

Initially Iran appears to have been totally unprepared for military operations in a chemical environment. Throughout the war Iranian troops remained poorly protected and, in the light of the missile war against cities, the country would have been unable to protect its civilian population from Iraqi missiles armed with chemical warheads. Although CW accounted for only a small proportion of Iranian battle casualties, the threat and the inability to retaliate in kind against Iraqi population centres contributed to the demoralisation of the Iranian leadership, military personnel and civilians. read more

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

Allegations that Iran is a chemical weapon (CW) proliferator originated in part with claims that it had used CW during the 1980–88 Iran–Iraq war. Iraq was the principal user of CW during the war. According to Iranian accounts, the first chemical attacks began in January 1981, but independent reports were not published until one and a half years later. Iraqi chemical attacks definitely escalated during the second half of 1983, which eventually led to the first of several investigatory missions organised by UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuellar in March 1984. Despite the overwhelming evidence of chemical warfare, confirmed by the UN missions, the international community represented by the UN Security Council chose not to brand Iraq as the violator of the 1925 Geneva Protocol prohibiting the use of chemical and biological weapons in armed conflict. Instead, it repeatedly called upon both belligerents to respect the protocol and only accused Iraq by name of waging chemical warfare in the final stages of the conflict. Iran—internationally isolated because of its inflammatory rhetoric, subversion of governments in the Middle East, and the hostage taking of US embassy personnel following the 1979 Islamic Revolution—meanwhile felt increasingly frustrated by the lack of will to uphold international law and threatened to resort to CW in retaliation. read more

Syrian soldiers exposed to ‘sarin or a sarin-like substance’

In November I presented the main findings of the preliminary Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) report of 29 October. This particular investigation of alleged use by the Technical Secretariat of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had been requested by Syria. Government officials had transmitted four Notes Verbales alleging  26 chemical weapon (CW) events resulting in 432 casualties. The preliminary report focussed primarily on incidents at Jobar (northeast of Damascus) on 29 August 2014. While the investigators believed that government soldiers had been exposed to an irritant, they could not confirm that the chemical had been used as a weapon. They as good as ruled out chlorine or a neurotoxicant, such as sarin, as the causative agent. read more

CW incidents alleged by the Syrian government: an industrial chemical as likely cause?

My previous posting (16 November) presented the findings by the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concerning allegations of the use of chlorine as a chemical weapon in Syria’s Idlib Governorate. The FFM concluded that the incidents likely involved the use of a toxic chemical containing the element chlorine as a weapon.

This report was one of three that the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW transmitted to states party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) for consideration at a special session of the Executive Council on 23 November. The other two reports address allegations of mustard agent use at Marea in northern Syria and chlorine attacks against Syrian government forces around Damascus. read more

Investigation of alleged chlorine attacks in the Idlib Governorate (Syria) in March – May 2015

On 29 October, the Technical Secretariat of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) circulated three reports on investigations of alleged chemical weapons (CW) use in Syria. On 5 November Reuters published some details from the one addressing the alleged use of sulphur mustard agent in Marea, a town to the north of Aleppo, on 21 August. The two other reports address a series of incidents between 15 December 2014 and 15 June 2015 at the request of the Syrian government and between 16 March and 20 May 2015 in the Idlib Governorate documented by a variety of non-governmental sources. read more

Innocence Slaughtered: Introduction

Innocence Slaughtered will be published in December 2015

In November 2005 In Flanders Fields Museum organised and hosted an international conference in Ypres, entitled 1915: Innocence Slaughtered. The first major attack with chemical weapons, launched by Imperial German forces from their positions near Langemarck on the northern flank of the Ypres Salient on 22 April 1915, featured prominently among the presentations. I was also one of the speakers, but my address focussed on how to prevent a similar event with biological weapons. Indeed, it was one of the strengths of the conference not to remain stuck in a past of—at that time—nine decades earlier, but also to invite reflection on future challenges in other areas of disarmament and arms control. Notwithstanding, the academic gathering had a secondary goal from the outset, namely to collect the papers with historical focus for academic publication. read more

Innocence Slaughtered

Innocence Slaughtered
Gas and the transformation of warfare and society
Jean Pascal Zanders (ed)

Publication: December 2015

Innocence Slaughtered cover

Table of Contents

  • Ahmet Üzümcü (Director-General Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons): Preface
  • Jean Pascal Zanders: Introduction

  • Jean Pascal Zanders: The Road to The Hague
  • Olivier Lepick: Towards total war: Langemarck, 22 April 1915
  • Luc Vandeweyer: The Belgian Army and the gas attack on 22 April 1915
  • Dominiek Dendooven: 22 April 1915 – Eyewitness accounts of the first gas attack
  • Julian Putkowski: Toxic Shock: The British Army’s reaction to German poison gas during the Second Battle of Ypres
  • David Omissi: The Indian Army at the Second Battle of Ypres
  • Bert Heyvaert: Phosgene in the Ypres Salient: 19 December 1915
  • Gerard Oram: A War on Terror: Gas, British morale, and reporting the war in Wales
  • Wolfgang Wietzker: Gas Warfare in 1915 and the German Press
  • Peter van den Dungen: Civil Resistance to Chemical Warfare in the 1st World War
  • Leo van Bergen and Maartje Abbenhuis: Man-monkey, Monkey-man: Neutrality and the Discussions About the ‘Inhumanity’ of Poison Gas in the Netherlands and International Committee of the Red Cross
  • Jean Pascal Zanders: The Road to Geneva
  • read more