Obstacles to Bio-Chemical Disarmament

June 29, 1990

Report Outline
Special Focus


In a pact signed June 1, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to drastic cuts in their stockpiles of chemical weapons and pledged not to build new ones. They also agreed to press for progress in Geneva, where 40 nations are negotiating an international treaty to ban chemical weapons altogether. The agreement was touted as a major achievement, but critics say the bilateral pact will be difficult, if not impossible, to verify. They also question whether a meaningful multilateral treaty will ever be ratified, and they worry about the use of biological or chemical weapons by terrorists.

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The photographs are horrific. Scores of corpses are sprawled in the streets. Most of the victims appear to be women, children and old men—Kurdish citizens of the Iraqi border town of Halabja.

In March 1988 the Iraqi military attacked the village with poison gas after it was captured by Iranian forces. It was not the first time Iraq had used chemical weapons in its long war with neighboring Iran, but it was one of the worst chemical attacks against non-combatants since the war began in 1980. Some news reports claimed that as many as 4,000 people died. Doctors treating the survivors said the village had been hit by bombs containing a combination of mustard gas, cyanide gas and other nerve agents. Many of the injured suffered from chemical burns from the mustard gas on their skin, eyes and lungs.

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