The Iran-Iraq War: The Politics of Aggression

By Farhang Rajaee | Go to book overview
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The War of the Cities


In its eight-year war of aggression against the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Iraqi regime was at fault not only for launching the war but in its conduct of the war. Two areas in which its behavior breached international law as well as humanitarian principles were the treatment of civilians and the use of forbidden and illegal means and weapons. The first was manifested in the way in which they bombed and shelled civilian targets, the so-called war of the cities. The second breach was Iraq's massive use of chemical weapons against both military and civilian populations. In this chapter I attempt an analytical report of these two areas. 1

First, let us consider chemical weapons, the history of which is as old as the story of war itself. Prokipus reports that in the wars between the Sassanids and Rome, both sides used some form of chemical weapons, a practice used repeatedly by others later. In modern times the most extensive use was by Germany during World War I. By the end of the war, official statistics showed that more than one million people were exposed to chemical elements, about 100,000 of whom were poisoned to death. 2 During World War II all parties restrained themselves from using chemical elements, although the combatants had manufactured them (when the Soviet and American forces reached German soil, they encountered factories that produced chemical weapons). Since then, there has been less restraint, and chemical weapons have been used in wars in Vietnam, Yemen, Cambodia, and Afghanistan.

The widest use of chemical weapons, however, has been that of the Iraqi government during the past two decades. It first used them against the Kurds in its offensive in 1974. 3 Later, at the outbreak of the


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