Iran-Iraq Chemical Warfare Aftershocks Persist

Article excerpt

Almost two decades after the end of the Iran-Iraq War, the conflict's chemical weapons legacy lingers in the streets of Ramadi and in courtrooms throughout the world. Iranian, Kurdish, and U.S. victims of Iraq's chemical weapons are seeking judicial redress. At the same time, the Iraqi special tribunal has sentenced three key perpetrators to death.

Revealing that the left-over dangers from eight years of that war have not ended, UN inspectors charged with verifying and monitoring Iraq's disarmament warned in their latest report of the continuing threat that munitions and expertise left behind by the war still pose even as insurgents mount new types of chemical attacks.

Death Sentence for "Chemical Ali"

Ali Hassan al-Majid, Saddam Hussein's cousin and top aide, was pronounced guilty on June 24 of ordering the use of chemical weapons during the dictator's anti-Kurdish operation, a decision that earned him the nickname "Chemical Ali." He was sentenced to death by hanging.

The so-called Anfal campaign lasted from late February to early September 1988. The prosecution alleged that the campaign destroyed approximately 2,000 villages and killed 180,000 people. The trial's defendants claimed that it was a counter-insurgency operation and the Kurds were supporting the Iranian enemy. According to the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal's verdict, the Anfal campaign constituted genocide, a war crime, and a crime against humanity.

During the Anfal campaign, Ali Hassan served as secretary-general of the Ba'ath Party's northern bureau. He later oversaw the Kuwaiti occupation and was minister of the interior prior to the 2003 U.S. invasion. Two other high-ranking officials were also given the death penalty and another two received life sentences for their role in the attacks.

Complaints Collect in Dutch Courts

Iraq's chemical warfare program relied on foreign suppliers, one of whom recently had his 15-year prison sentence extended another two years. The businessman Frans van Anraat had been convicted in December 2005 of complicity in war crimes for shipping more than 1,100 tons of thiodiglycol from a U.S. company to Iraq. The chemical was crucial in the production of the mustard gas used by the Ba'athists in their attacks on Kurds in 1987 and 1988, which included the Anfal campaign.

A Dutch appeals court increased Van Anraat's sentence on May 9, arguing that he had been "driven by naked greed," but it found the evidence insufficient to convict him of complicity in genocide. The appeals court also ruled that 15 Kurdish plaintiffs would not receive the 680 in damages that the lower court had awarded them.

These victims, however, are being represented in a separate upcoming civil case. The state prosecutor also is considering an appeal of the case to the Netherlands' high court in hopes of establishing van Anraat's complicity in genocide.

The Iranian government will be filing its own legal claims in the matter. Iranian news sources reported that Deputy Foreign Minister Mehdi Mostafavi announced May 12 in Tehran that his government would be launching suits against Iraq's Western chemical suppliers and that it had created a dossier on the subject.

Iranian diplomats contacted by Arms Control Today did not respond to requests for details. It appears that the first suit will be brought in the Netherlands, in connection with the van Anraat case.

During the war, Iran developed its own chemical weapons program and supplier network in response to Iraqi attacks. One Israeli supplier, Nahum Manbar, is on the verge of release from prison in that country. He was sentenced to 16 years in 1998 but is likely to be released soon, pending the state attorney's request for Israeli intelligence to vet if Manbar's release would pose a threat. Two of Iran's suppliers have also served jail sentences in the United States.

U.S. Veterans' Suit Wilting

The Iranian lawsuits are starting just as U. …