The news that might not seem like news

TW: Iraq-Iran War, Syrian Civil War, chemical warfare, war crimes, US imperialism, neocolonialism

Given how it’s been widely known (just rarely acknowledged) that the US was involved in providing Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime with chemical weapons during the Iraq-Iran War, at first glance the revelations reported by Foreign Policy might seem unremarkable. But the devil in this case is very much so in the details.


(The shaded portions of Iraq and Iran were occupied by the other country during the 8 year war, and were likely sites of chemical attacks on civilians and Iranian forces by the Iraqi government.)

As Shane Harris and Matthew Aid explained in their article:

U.S. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein’s military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent. The intelligence included imagery and maps about Iranian troop movements, as well as the locations of Iranian logistics facilities and details about Iranian air defenses. The Iraqis used mustard gas and sarin prior to four major offensives in early 1988 that relied on U.S. satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence. These attacks helped to tilt the war in Iraq’s favor and bring Iran to the negotiating table, and they ensured that the Reagan administration’s long-standing policy of securing an Iraqi victory would succeed. But they were also the last in a series of chemical strikes stretching back several years that the Reagan administration knew about and didn’t disclose.

In other words, the US did more than simply provide illicit materials, it made certain that those chemical weapons would be used with maximum effectiveness, to guarantee a winner in the war. What was just strongly shown was how true many of the long-standing complaints about that war were. It was transformed from a local war into a larger proxy conflict through the US’s and other military powers’ involvement. A blind eye was turned towards war crimes during it. It is an iconic example of flawed US foreign policy in the Muslim world.

This revelation has the obvious political impact of revealing the US hypocrisy in beginning to intervene in Syria in response to chemical weapons use during the revolution-turned-civil-war in that country. I suspect someone will soon point out that many of the Syrian casualties have been non-combatant civilians, unlike during the Iraq-Iran War. Never mind that the CIA’s own 1983 documents concluded that “If the Iraqis produce or acquire large new supplies of mustard agent, they almost certainly would use it against Iranian troops and towns near the border” (emphasis added).

During the drive towards the Iraq invasion under the more recent Bush administration, the chemical weapons massacres of Kurds and Shia protesters in Iraq were seen as an entirely separate set of events from the more neutral events of the Iraq-Iran War, but that entire framing was clearly, by our own government’s assessment, inaccurate. There was a clear connection between the use of chemical weapons on Iranian troops and their use on Iraqi civilians (as well as Iranians as well) suspected on the basis of their communal identities to be sympathetic to the Iranians.

We knowingly created conditions highly similar to those in play today in Syria. There’s no other way of explain this.

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