Iran-Iraq War, Chemical Wonders: Book Review

London Review of Books

Joost Hiltermann reviews a new book on the Iran-Iraq war by Pierre Razoux, translated into English by Nicholas Elliott. Hiltermann, a program director of the International Crisis Group, suggests the Iran-Iraq war might provide some insights into the current war taking place in Syria. Yet he criticises Razoux for his limited understanding of the extent and significance of Iraq’s use of chemical weapons especially during its final years both against Iran and the Kurds.

The Iraqi regime’s widespread use of poison gas and the systematic murder of tens of thousands of noncombatants has been largely unnoticed, unchallenged and unpunished.  Iraqis dropped huge quantities of gas onto Iranian lines on the first day of each of the five stages of the Tawakalna ‘ala Allah operation, a few months after the attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja.

The Iraqi regime’s extensive use of gas on Kurdish villages and civilians, Hilterman writes, has shaped the Kurds’ worldview. Without understanding this it’s hard to grasp what drives them today, and what sacrifices they would be willing to make to avoid ever again falling under Baghdad’s rule, regardless of who is in charge. Iraq’s Kurds are engaged in a long struggle for greater autonomy – and ultimately independence – that includes a demand for absolute control of additional territory, including its oil.
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