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March 12, 2008

Iranian Chemical Victims Remain Forgotten

As Iraq’s infamous Chemical Ali awaits execution, an article published on Friday by Anuj Chopra reminds us of the thousands of Iranian victims who still remain forgotten by the international community.

While the world knows a great deal about the Halabja massacres of Iraqi Kurds, for which Chemical Ali has been condemned to death, few realize that it was the Iranian Kurds across the border—attacked months earlier—that were the first civilian victims of chemical weapons. This was the first intentional use of chemical weapons against civilians in recorded history.

Out of the 500,000 Iranians killed during the Iran-Iraq war, around 1 in 5 died from exposure to chemical weapons. Today around 100,000 are still living with the effects, which include “long-term respiratory problems, eye and skin problems as well as immune system disorders, psychological disorders, genetic disorders, and probably cancers.” Genetic defects may have also been passed on to children. Many victims have taken decades to die, living in agony all the while.

Despite the fact that Saddam was in direct violation of the Geneva Protocol of 1925, the international community remained silent. Although UN inspectors did travel to Iran and noted the horrendous effects on civilians, only two weak UN resolutions were passed regarding chemical weapons that didn’t even directly mention Saddam’s use of them.

Western countries even continued to provide weapons to Iraq after these atrocities were committed. Ironically, it was companies from the very same country—Germany—that had first used chemical weapons in World War I that were selling Saddam the materials he needed for his mustard gas.

This has had an enormous effect on Iran’s stance toward the international community: Rafsanjani has said “the war taught us that international laws are nothing but ink on paper.” Yoost Hiltermann at the International Crisis Group has also linked Iran’s defiance on the nuclear issue to the United Nation’s failure to uphold international law during the Iran-Iraq war.

Is it any wonder that Iran considers U.N. Security Council concerns over their alleged WMD program to be illegitimate? Iranians were one of the few actual victims of chemical warfare, and the world watched silently. An understanding of this sense of grievance is essential for any negotiation with Iran to be successful.

Unfortunately sanctions on Iran have hindered even the few international efforts that were being made to help the chemical victims. Hopefully an increased awareness of the reasons behind Iranian mistrust of the West will allow for these types of humanitarian projects to resume, and the innocent victims will no longer remain forgotten.

To learn more about how you can help the Iranian victims of chemical weapons visit: http://www.scwvs.org/

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