On the Occasion of UN Statements regarding Iraq's Use of Chemical Weapons

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Musa Nasiri

In the 20th century, Chemistry, like any other science, experienced a rapid progress and the prospect of employment of chemicals in wars eventually prompted world leaders to contrive some international norms and rules to rein in use of these materials. Such efforts eventually led to the Hague Convention of 1907.

Iraqi imposed war against Iran is among the main wars of the 20th century in which use of chemical weapons hit such a record that eventually led to the Chemical Weapons Convention which prohibits the use of chemical weapons and requires their destruction. The 8-year Iran-Iraq War experienced many ups and downs in terms of compliance with the international rules.

Saddam's regime initially used chemical weapons against Iranian forces in 1981 for trial, but it effectively waged a chemical war in 1984 which lasted till the end if the war. Such facts as Saddam's use of illegal weapons, targeting civilians and cities and inobedience to laws of armed conflicts, International Community's silence, the Security Council's biased resolutions, and some countries' military and weaponry aids to Saddam even in building chemical weapons would stick in the historical memory of a nation who suffered an unforgivable cruelty in these years. The following will deal with some of such topics and review historical behavior of an aggressed country with regard to compliance with international rules which may be considered as a pattern for Iran's nuclear case.

Iraqi chemical war; violation of international rules

During 1982-86 Iraqi regime employed chemical weapons in an unprecedented scale. Albeit the first such attack occurred on 13 January 1981, when Iranian forces were attacked by chemical weapons nearby Ilam. Alarmed at the liberation of Khorramshahr, Saddam's regime turned to widespread use chemicals from 1983 on. Along these lines, Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, the then United Nations Secretary General, spoke of evidence that pointed to use of chemical weapons by Iraqi forces which had leaving many civilian casualties, both Iranian and Iraqi.

International organizations' silence in the face of Iraqi aggression, especially that of the UN which failed to adopt mandatory resolutions to suppress the aggressor, encouraged Saddam to turn to use of such weapons that the international community had been trying to ban for at least eight decades. In the process, stark violation of laws of the armed conflicts and international rules was deteriorated thanks to covert and overt supports of some countries. International community's inaction in the face of Iraqi invasion of 1980 and its widespread use of chemical weapons as well as continued support of some countries even with regards to arms, well brought about Saddam's impudence to feel immune and ignore international rules and institutions.

International organizations' behavior in this case well resembled that of the sponsors of the aggressor. In 1980, the UN General Assembly called for an impartial investigation to ascertain the facts pertaining to reports regarding the alleged use of chemical weapons across the world. Iran-Iraq War outbroke the following year in which the UN failed to effectively address the issue.

Hands behind encouraging an imposed war against an independent, yet for them unfavorable, country came to light in their support for the aggressor and ignoring its use of illegal weapons. The Islamic Republic of Iran, however, never used its legitimate right to retaliate and refrained to employ illegal chemical weapons. The then Iranian Foreign Minister Dr. Velayati wrote in a letter to the then UN Secretary General, "I want to ensure Your Excellency that Iran has the potential to use similar weapons if decided, and even possesses more advanced equipment which can bring about an awful situation to Iraqi rulers. But, respecting human rights, Islamic principles and international law, we have refrained from retaliatory measures till now. So, it’s on the Security Council to immediately put an end and take a decisive stance against it and punish war criminals responsible for such savage measures."

Overall, the Security Council adopted 10 resolutions on Iran-Iraq war (Resolutions 479, 514, 522, 540, 552, 582, 588, 598, 612 and 620), in which all some key issues are ignored:

- Failure to identify Iraq as the aggressor- only in 1994 and some 6 years after termination of the War the UN blamed Iraq as the aggressor;

- Lack of determination to put an end to the aggression- indeed, a tacit approval of continuation of Iraqi invasion;

- Lack of adequate sanction for withdrawal of Iraqi forces;

- Biased positions of the UN;

- Inaction in the face of the aggressor- despite repeated use of illegitimate weapons by Iraq, the Security Council fails to react effectively.

In fact, UNSC's Resolutions and some other measures by international institutions and countries had nothing to deter Ba'athist regime's savageries. To exhibit its innocence and Iraqi aggression, the Islamic Republic of Iran, in contrast, conduct some measures inclusive of informing the UN of Iraqi movements, sending victims of chemical attacks to Europe for treatment and calling on the UN to visit war-zone. Iranian letters to the UN sometimes deplored International powers and circles for their silence and in some other occasions called for dispatch of investigative missions to war-zone to explore adverse effects of Iraqi chemical attacks.

The Islamic Republic of Iran never violated the rules of international armed conflicts in favor of its objectives; it not only avoided chemical retaliatory measures, but dismissed any method which might bring harm to civilians. The following instances back this claim:

- Imam Khomeini did not allow Iranian forces' entrance to Iraq unless they protect Iraqi people and target nonresidential areas. Along these lines, Operation Ramadan was conducted in nonresidential areas.

- Iraq overall conducted 582 chemical attacks (whether limited or vast) against Iran. In such circumstance, however, not only the Islamic Republic of Iran did not turn to retaliatory chemical attacks, but it resolved to treat the Iraqi injured of such attacks within Iranian territory.

- Despite biased positions UN took during the war, the documents it provides suggest that Iran never used chemical weapons against Iraqi troops and civilians.

- Iran dismissed retaliatory attack on Iraqi cities. With Iraqi increased attacks on Iranian cities, the public opinion would expect retaliation. But, Imam Khomeini in a meeting with high-ranking Iranian officials rejected the idea as religiously and politically illegitimate.

- Based on Imam Khomeini's fatwa, Iranian forces never looted government or private properties during the war.

- Iranian forces did not destroy Iraqi infrastructures, as it was the case with Darbandikhan dam captured by Iranian troops during Operation Valfajr-10 and Operation Beit al-Muqaddas-4.

The Iraqi imposed war against Iran, waged on behalf of great powers, was a unilateral aggression associated with vast norm-breakings and violations of basic rules of international law in which Iran received no protection from international legal entities. Even the United Nations failed to act effectively. Nevertheless, Iran's legitimate right to retaliate never persuaded the country to violate international norms and human principles.

Nuclear issue
Iranian behavior during the 8 years of Iraqi imposed war, where it never took advantage of its legitimate right for retaliatory attacks against an enemy who had violated all existing rules and norms, can be a good guideline to assess today Western claims on Iranian inclination towards building nuclear bomb. Considering Iran's nuclear issue, in which the main players are the very same great powers who supported Saddam in the war, the claim that Iran is after nuclear weapon seems nonsense. Iran's rightfulness when comes to light that we know Iran never used chemical weapons against an enemy who was frequently employing it and Imam Khomeini kept Iranian forces' entrance to Iraq in subjection to protection of Iraqi people and targeting nonresidential areas.

Iran's behavior during the war is a clear example of normative and legitimate reaction of an aggressed country. Iranian respect for the Hague Convention of 1907, 1925 Geneva Protocol, the 4th Geneva Convention of 1944 and 1977 Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions is manifestation of a country's conduct which acts in accordance with both international rules and Islamic teachings. The history of the Islamic republic of Iran's conduct well dismiss the false allegations of bullying powers on Iranian attempt to achieve weapons of mass destruction. As repeatedly mentioned by Iranian officials, Iran had the potential to build and use chemical weapons during the war but the country's abstention well showed its adherence to international norms as wells Islamic principles. In other words, the history shows the Islamic Republic of Iran has never been after illegal weapons.


The Iraqi imposed, unequal war against Iran and use of chemical weapons by the Baathist regime as the most effective tool to force Iran's surrender, which in its turn was an offshoot of silence and coordination of international circles and great powers with Saddam, was a stigma for international institutions who failed to punish the aggressors. The Islamic Republic of Iran observed some principles throughout the war: civilians should be protected; war should be only in battlefields; and use of illegal and illegitimate weapons against the military is forbidden. These are the same principles underpinning 1977 Additional Protocol I.

On the other hand, the history of Iraqi imposed war on Iran, Islamic pattern of treatment with the enemies and Prisoners of War and confidence-building practical measures of the Islamic Republic of Iran on Nuclear issue all point to Iran's reluctance to resort to illegal tools and objectives.

*Iraq's Use of Chemical Weapons against Iran: UN Documents 1984-1988

Source: Information Base of Chemical Weapons Victims

*Photo Credit: Wikipedia, Press TV

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