[This post is based on “Iranian Casualties in the Iran-Iraq War: A Reappraisal,” by H. W. Beuttel, originally published in the December 1997 edition of the International TNDM Newsletter.]
Posts in this series:
Iranian Casualties in the Iran-Iraq War: A Reappraisal
Iranian Missing In Action From The Iran-Iraq War
Iranian Prisoners of War From The Iran-Iraq War
The “Missing” Iranian Prisoners of War From The Iran-Iraq War
Iranian Killed In Action And Died Of Wounds In The Iran-Iraq War
Iranian Wounded In Action In The Iran-Iraq War
Iranian Chemical Casualties In The Iran-Iraq War
Iranian Civil Casualties In The Iran-Iraq War
A Summary Estimate Of Iranian Casualties In The Iran-Iraq War
Historical Chemical Casualties
The War of Sacred Defense was the only conﬂict of the 20th Century other than World War I fought under conditions of general chemical release. The Iranian ground forces were generally ill-prepared for chemical defense, during the course of the war much NBC defense gear was purchased from the U.K., Germany, and Czechoslovakia, but there was never enough and NBC [nuclear, biological, chemical] defense training was insufficient. Many Iranian solders became gas casualties because they did not shave often enough to allow their protective masks to make a tight seal.
Throughout the war Iraq employed chemical weapons against Iranian forces 195 times. After the chemical attack on Halabja in March 1988 killed some 4,000-5,000 civilians and maimed 7,000 others, the IRGC sent a video crew to document the atrocity. The video was used as a training ﬁlm for Iranian recruits. Instead of instilling hatred for Saddam’s brutality, the ﬁlm demoralized its viewers and exaggerated the power of Iraqi chemical weapons. Iranian troops later panicked under gas attack conditions at Fao and Majnoon and abandoned their positions. However, this phenomenon was widespread in the First World War. Further, chemical attacks were usually not significantly lethal. This is again in accord with World War I experience. Gas inﬂicted 70,552 casualties on the American Expeditionary Force in 1917-18. Of these only 1,221 died (2% lethality). The British Army suffered 185,706 gas casualties of which only 5,899 died (3% lethality), Total British battle casualties for World War I were 677,515 KIA and 1,837,613 WIA. Gas accounted for only 7% of all British casualties and only 1% of all KIA. The Russian Anny suffered an amazing 600,000 gas casualties with a lethality rate at times as much as 12%.
The Use Of Gas In The Iran-Iraq War
Iraq may have first used gas in late 1980 near Salamcheh. Iran reported its ﬁrst chemical casualty in ﬁghting near Hoveyzeh in early 1981. These early attacks seem to have been limited to the riot control agent CS. On 27 October 1982, near Musain, four Iranian soldiers died from toxic chemical exposure, probably mustard gas. In mid-August 1983 Iran suffered 318 casualties from mustard and arsenic agents. On 7, 9, and 13 November 1983, Iraq used mustard in the Panjwin area. Four seriously wounded Iranian soldiers later died in European hospitals. Between May 1981 and March 1984, Iran claimed Iraq had employed chemical weapons on forty-nine different occasions. This had resulted in 1,200 Iranian dead and 5,000 wounded. Mycotoxins may also have been used. On 17 March 1984 Iraqi forces employed gas which caused 400 Iranian casualties, 40 of which were from nerve agents. In the Badr operation (1-18 March 1985) Iraq used chemical weapons ﬁve times, but inflicted only 200 Iranian casualties, none apparently fatal. In one unnamed 1985 attack, Iran claimed 11,000 troops were exposed to Iraqi chemical agents. In Wal Fajir-9 (15 February-11 March 1986) Iran claimed 1,800 chemical casualties from a total of about 30,000. Up to 8,500 Iranian soldier were gas casualties by the end of Wal Fajir-8 and Wal Fajir-9 (15 February-19 May 1986) with about 700 killed or seriously wounded. In attacks on 27 and 30 January, 9, 10, 12, and 13 February 1986, 8,500 Iranian gas casualties were reportedly suffered, of which 35 died and 2,500 had to be hospitalized. In Karbala-4 (24-26 December 1986) only ﬁve Iranian troops died from toxic gas out of 10,000 battle casualties. By early 1987, chemical weapons had inﬂicted at least 10,000 Iranian casualties. In all Iran had suffered 25,600 gas casualties by April 1988, of which 260 (sic 2,600?) died. Iraq’s extensive use of chemical agents in the ﬁnal months before the August 1988 cease-ﬁre may have raised the casualty count to as much as 45,000. In the Iraqi “In God We Trust” offensive of June 1988 against Majnoon, Iran claimed sixty soldiers killed and 4,000 wounded by Iraqi chemical weapons, which included nerve and blood agents. A small U.K. article on mustard gas from the Internet cites 5,000 Iranian troops killed by gas and 40,000-50,000 injured during the war. The overall cumulative wartime pattern of Iranian military chemical casualties is illustrated in the below ﬁgure.
The Lethality Of Gas
Speaking in 1996, Abdollah Mazandarani, Secretary General of the Iranian Foundation for Chemical Warfare Victims, claimed 25,000 Iranian soldiers were “martyred” (killed?) by Iraqi use of chemical weapons in operations Wal Fajir-8, Karbala-8, Badr, Fao, and Majnoon. 45,000 civilians were also affected by chemical weapons. Iran claims at least 100,000 wounded by chemical weapons during the imposed war with Iraq. 1,500 of these casualties require constant medical attention to this day. Since 1991, 118 have died as a result of their toxic chemical exposure according to Hamid Sohralr-Pur, head of the Foundation of the Oppressed and Disabled’s Center for Victims of Chemical Warfare. One of these was Reza Alishahi, who died in September 1994 after suffering 70% disability when he was gassed during the Wal Fajir offensives of 1987. Another pathetic story is that of Magid Azam, now a 27-year-old medical student, who was a 16-year-old Baseej ﬁghter gassed with mustard in the Karbala-5 offensive of January 1987 with no apparent permanent effects. In 1995 his health suddenly began to deteriorate so rapidly he required intensive care. His lungs are now so damaged that only a transplant can save his life. He is one of 30,000 Iranian veterans who have received treatment for recurring or delayed reactions to chemical weapons. It is estimated that up to 100,000 Iranian soldiers were exposed to toxic agents during the war.
In the First World War toxic chemical agents accounted for only 4-5% of total casualties. Of 1,296,853 known chemical casualties in that conﬂict, 90,080 died (7%), 143,613 were badly wounded (11%) and the remaining 1,053,160 (82%) not seriously affected. 25,000 Iranian military dead out of 45,000 chemical casualties gives an incredible chemical lethality rate of 56%, higher than that for land mines. This claim of 25,000 Iranian troops “martyred” is not an exaggeration, but rather a probable misprint. Elimination of an extraneous zero makes the number 2,500, in line with previously released ﬁgures. This would give a chemical lethality rate of 6% per chemical casualty, remarkably close to the World War I general rate, although somewhat higher than individual U.S. or British experience. Further, 45,000-55,000 military chemical casualties out of 1,133,000 total combat casualties yields a 4% casualty total for chemical weapons, again in line with overall World War I experience. 2,500 dead from chemical weapons is only 1% of total Iranian KIA. If 5,000 cited above is correct, about 3%. A representative sample of 400 chemical warfare casualties treated at the Labbati-Nejad Medical Center in Tehran in early 1986 yielded 11 deaths (3%) and 64 (16%) very seriously injured.
Mr. Beuttel, a former U.S. Army intelligence officer, was employed as a military analyst by Boeing Research & Development at the time of original publication. The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The Boeing Company.
 Kenneth R. Timmerman, Death Lobby: How the West Armed Iraq, New York: Houghton Mifﬂin Company, 1991, pp. 293-94.
 G. M. Hammerman et al., Impact of the Introduction of Lethal Gas on the Combat Performance of Defending Troops, Fairfax VA: Data Memory Systems Inc., 1985, Contract No. DNA 001-84-C-0241.
 Charles E. Heller, Chemical Warfare in World War I: The American Experience 1917-1918, Leavenworth Papers No. 10, Ft Leavenwoth, KS: Combat Studies Institute, 1984, pp. 33, 91-92. This represented some 32% of all hospitalized AEF casualties in World War I. Only about 200 were killed in action outright by gas. U.S. troops were ill prepared, poorly equipped and inadequately trained to ﬁght on the European chemical battleﬁeld. See Denis Winter, Death’s Men: Soldiers of the Great War, London: Penguin Books, 1978, p.125.
 Cordesman, The Lessons of Modem War Volume II, pp. 188, n. 23, 513-518.
 Edgar O’Ballance, The Gulf War, London: Brassey’s, 1988, p. 149; Peter Dunn, “The Chemical War: Journey to Iran,” NBC Defense and Technology International, April 1986, pp. 28-37.
 Dunn, “The Chemical War: Journey to Iran,” pp. 28-37.
 O’Ballance, The Gulf War, p. 164.
 “Iranians Still Suffering from Saddam‘s Use of Mustard Gas in War,” Buffalo News, 23 November 1997.
 O’Ballance, The Gulf War, p. 179.
 Cordesman, The Lessons of Modem War Volume II, pp. 224; Peter Dunn, “The Chemical War: Iran Revisited – 1986,” NBC Defense and Technology International, June 1986, pp. 32-37.
 “Iran Keeps Chemical ‘Options’ Open; Claims to Have Upper I-land,” NBC Defense and Technology International, April 1986, pp. 12-13.
 O’Ballance, The Gulf War, p. 193.
 Cordesman, The Lessons of Modem War Volume II, p. 264, n. 39.
 ibid, pp. 516-517.
 ibid, p. 389.
 “Bis(2-chloroethyl)thioether, C4H8SCI2,” www.ch.ic.ac.uk/vchemlib/mol/horrible/War/mustard
 “Official Says Germany, U.S. and Britain were Main Suppliers of Chemicals to Iraq,” IRNA, 1 December 1996.
 “I18 Iranian Chemically Wounded War Veterans Martyred Since 1991,” IRNA, 17 April 1997.
 “Latest Victim of Iraqi Chemical Warfare Against Iran Dies,” IRNA, 27 September 1994.
 “Iranians Still Suffering from Saddam’s Use of Mustard Gas in War,” Buffalo News, 23 November 1997.
 Ian V. Hogg, Gas, New York: Ballantine Books, 1975, p.136.
 This report was taken from the intemet where sometimes an extraneous number appears in figures. Such was the case when another report stated that 9974 Iraqi PoWs had been released in 1996, when the true ﬁgure was 974.
 Dunn, “The Chemical War: Iran Revisited – 1986,” pp. 32-39.