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CBW Events is a project to create a record of events to enable and encourage understanding of how policies on the issues relating to chemical and biological warfare (CBW) are developed.


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CBW Events -- April 2015 selections

Each month, entries for a few anniversaries of notable events in the history of CBW are posted. All will appear in the relevant final versions of the chronologies. The period covered is from the end of the Second World War; however, this month marks the centenary since the first large-scale use of chemical warfare which should not pass without being marked.

10 years ago | 25 years ago | 30 years ago | 40 years ago | 100 years ago

10 years ago:

4 April 2005     The UK Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee Annual Report to the Prime Minister is published. The report states: "[The] Butler Review [see 14 July 2004] [reported] that the [Secret Intelligence Service] SIS had formally withdrawn the line of Iraqi WMD-related intelligence [in Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Assessment of the British Government] [see 24 September 2002] … in July 2003. This line of reporting had been important … as the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and a small number of officials had been orally briefed on it by the SIS, but it had been withheld from WMD experts in the DIS. We do not believe that this was the appropriate way of handling the material… On 12 October 2004, the Foreign Secretary announced that a further two lines of SIS reporting on Iraqi WMD had been withdrawn. These lines were highlighted in the Butler Review as being "open to doubt" and "seriously flawed". We are concerned at the amount of intelligence on Iraqi WMD that has now had to be withdrawn by the SIS … In December 2004, the JIC reviewed their key judgements on the Iraq WMD capability and programmes – some of which had formed the basis of the September 2002 dossier … and came to the following judgements: In 2002, the JIC judged that "Iraq may retain some stocks of chemical agents … Iraq could produce significant quantities of mustard within weeks, significant quantities of Sarin and VX within months, and in the case of VX may already have done so." Although a capability to produce some agents probably existed, this judgement has not been substantiated… In 2002, the JIC judged that "Iraq currently has available, either from pre-Gulf War, or more recent production, a number of biological agents…Iraq could produce more of these biological agents within days." The [Iraq Survey Group] found that Iraq had dual-use facilities which could have allowed BW production to resume, but not within the timeframes judged by the JIC, and found no evidence that production had been activated…"[1]
     [1] Intelligence and Security Committee, Annual Report 2004-2005, Cm6510, 4 April 2005.

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25 years ago:

11 April 1990     At Teesport on the north-east coast of England, officers from Customs & Excise seize an Iraq-bound shipment of tubular steel castings which, provisionally, it believes are for the barrel of a 1000-mm cannon capable of firing huge projectiles over hundreds of miles.[1] Iraqi interest in such weapons had been the subject of press commentary two months previously.[2] The manufacturers, Sheffield Forgemasters, say the castings are pipes for a petrochemical plant,[3] an explanation which is later also given in a statement issued by the official Iraqi news agency[4] and by the Iraqi embassy in London.[5] There is speculation in the press that the putative gun is intended as a delivery system for nuclear or, less implausibly, chemical or biological warheads.[6] There is further speculation that it was designed by the Canadian ballistics expert who had been murdered in Brussels on 22 March, Gerald Bull, president of the Belgian-based Space Research Corporation which, it later transpires, had been the intermediary between Iraq and, alongside several other manufacturers, Sheffield Forgemasters.[7]
     Next day the British Defence Ministry, whose experts had by then examined the shipment, say that the castings could indeed be used to construct a gun barrel.[8] This affirmation is received sceptically by some commentators.[9] There are suggestions that the castings are meant for a cannon-type launcher designed to project rockets, perhaps for placing satellites in orbit.[10] The British Government eventually tells Parliament it is "entirely satisfied that the tubes form part of a gun" and that it does "not believe that they were intended for any other purpose".[11] It does not, however, say whether it thinks the gun is a weapon, a satellite launcher or, as a later account has it, a ballistics test-bed.[12]
     Over subsequent weeks, customs authorities in other countries, including Greece, Turkey, Italy, Switzerland and West Germany, also seize Iraq-bound consignments of suspected "supergun" parts.[13] Other countries are implicated, among them Spain.[14]
     [1] Ian MacKinnon and Christopher Bellamy, "Customs detain "biggest gun in the world"", Independent (London), 12 April 1990, p 1; Reuter (from London) as in "Britain seizes huge gun barrel near Iraqi ship", Los Angeles Times, 12 April 1990, p A5.
     [2] Alan George, "A space gun for Iraq?", Defence, vol 21 no 2 (February 1990), pp 99-100.
     [3] Victor Mallet, "UK customs impound Iraq-bound shipment", Financial Times, 12 April 1990, p 20.
     [4] INA dispatch of 12 April 1990 as reported in "UK confirms seized material could be used in Iraq cannon", International Herald Tribune, 13 April 1990, pp 1 & 6.
     [5] Dr Azmi Shafiq al-Salihi, Iraqi Ambassador in London, as quoted in "MoD experts back "super gun" theory", Times (London), 13 April 1990, pp 1 & 22.
     [6] Michael Evans and Christopher Walker, "Customs stop "140-ton gun" bound for Iraq", Times (London), 12 April 1990, p 1; Anton La Guardia and Boris Johnson (from Brussels), "Links with "triggers" and killing", Daily Telegraph (London), 12 April 1990, p 1; Adel Darwish, "Murdered scientist linked to Iraqi "supergun" project", Independent (London), 12 April 1990, p 2; Christopher Bellamy, "Chemical shell "the likely projectile"", Independent (London), 12 April 1990, p 2; Glenn Frankel (from London), "Britain blocks suspected arms shipment to Iraq", Washington Post, 13 April 1990, pp A17 & A26.
     [7] Steve Connor, Phil Davison, Helen Hague, John Lichfield, Charles Oulton, Mark Urban & Rosie Waterhouse, "Supergun that was made in Sheffield", Independent on Sunday (London), 15 April 1990, p 3; Alan George, "Iraqi "space gun" was a missile launcher", Defence, vol 21 no 4 (May 1990), p 254; and Rosie Waterhouse, Wolfgang Achtner & Fiammetta Rocco, "UK technician was at centre of supergun plot", Independent on Sunday (London), 20 May 1990, p 3; David Pallister, "MoD "knew of supergun plan"", Guardian (London), 31 May 1990, p 2.
     [8] Barry James, "UK confirms seized material could be used in Iraq cannon", International Herald Tribune, 13 April 1990, pp 1 & 6; Ben Fenton and Anton La Guardia, "Pipes could be used as cannon, experts decide", Daily Telegraph (London), 13 April 1990, p 1; Phil Reeves, Christopher Bellamy, Adel Darwish and Harvey Morris, "MoD backs "supergun" claim", Independent (London), 13 April 1990, p 1.
     [9] "Viability of 140-ton gun questioned", Daily Telegraph (London), 13 April 1990, p 1; John Keegan, "Experts baffled by supposed gun's size", Daily Telegraph (London), 13 April 1990, p 3; Colin Wright, "Steel firm insists tubes are simply part of oil pipeline", Daily Telegraph (London), 13 April 1990, p 3; "Skeptical experts asking: why build such a big gun?", International Herald Tribune, 14-15 April 1990, p 5; David White, "Biggest trench mortar since Crécy", Financial Times, 14 April 1990; Michael White, "British ban eased in race to rearm Iraq", Guardian (London), 14 April 1990, p 2.
     [10] David Wastell, Simon O'Dwyer-Russell and Greg Neale, "Iraqi gun "for launching satellites"", Sunday Telegraph (London), 15 April 1990, p 1; Simon O'Dwyer-Russell, "What was Iraq's pipe dream?", Sunday Telegraph (London), 15 April 1990, p 3; John Merritt and Alan George, "Iraq "gun" is rocket launcher", Observer (London), 15 April 1990, pp 1-2; Christopher Bellamy, "Iraq may have aimed to use pipes for satellite launches", Independent (London), 16 April 1990, p 2; George Jones and Anton La Guardia, "The gun", Daily Telegraph (London), 20 April 1990, p 19; Alan George, "Iraqi "space gun" was a missile launcher", Defence, vol 21 no 4 (May 1990), p 254.
     [11] Nicholas Ridley, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, statement to the House of Commons, 18 April 1990, Hansard (Commons), vol 170, c1427-34.
     [12] Jonathan Foster and Phil Reeves, "The truth behind Iraq's "supergun" is revealed", Independent (London), 20 April 1990, p 1; Jonathan Foster, "Iraqi "supergun" poses only limited threat", Independent (London), 20 April 1990, p 3; [no author listed], "A big gun, but what did Iraq want it for?", Independent on Sunday (London), 22 April 1990, p 2; Adel Darwish, "Details emerge of Iraqi "supergun" tests", Independent (London), 28 April 1990, p 1. See, further: Tim Kelsey, "Britain knew of Iraqi supergun two years ago", Independent on Sunday (London), 18 November 1990, p 3; Ian Kemp (from London), "Supergun affair", Jane's Defence Weekly, vol 14 no 21 (24 November 1990), pp 1009-10.
     [13] Anthony Bevins, Phil Reeves and Jonathan Foster, ""Supergun" trucks seized in Greece and Turkey", Independent (London), 21 April 1990, p 1; Jonathan Foster, "Turks impound "supergun cargo"", Independent (London), 30 April 1990, p 4; Chris Matthews (from Rome) and Christy Campbell, "Italian police seize "supergun" parts", Sunday Correspondent (London), 13 May 1990, p 10; Reuter (from Rome), as in "Italian parts tied to Iraqi "supergun"", International Herald Tribune, 14 May 1990, p 2; Phil Reeves and Wolfgang Achtner, "Machine parts in Germany "probably for supergun"", Independent (London), 16 May 1990, p 2; Ronald Rayne, "Supergun at centre of secret network", The European (London), 18-20 May 1990, p 5.
     [14] Richard Donkin, Simon Henderson & Peter Bruce, "Spanish link to Iraqi gun", Financial Times, 26 May 1990, pp 1 & 22.

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30 years ago:

24 April 1985     The report of Dr Manuel Dominguez, the medical specialist requested by the UN Secretary-General to examine Iranian patients hospitalized in Europe, is published.
     Dr Dominguez reports four conclusions: "Chemical weapons were used durinq March 1985 in the war between Iran and Iraq", "Yperite [mustard gas] was used, affecting Iranian soldiers", "The attacks were made by means of bombs dropped from aircraft, accordinq to the statements of most patients", and "It is possible that hydrocyanic gas was used, alone or in combination with yperite".[1]
     The following day, the President of the UN Security Council, Javier Arias Stella of Peru reads a statement on behalf of the Council that they are "appalled that chemical weapons have been used against Iranian soldiers" during March, as concluded in the report of the medical specialist. The Council members "strongly condemn renewed use of chemical weapons in the conflict and any possible future use of such weapons".[2] As with the previous statement [see 30 March 1984] the Security Council does not explicitly name Iraq as using chemical weapons. [Note: the non-permanent members of the Council at this time are Australia, Burkina Faso, Denmark, Egypt, India, Madagascar, Peru, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.]
     A supplementary report is provided by Dr Dominguez a week later which conveys the results of some laboratory analyses of medical samples taken from the patients. These indicate the patients may have been exposed to an "organophosphorated agent". Dr Dominguez writes this agent "may have been Tabun, which would explain the presence of cyanide in some organic samples, for the explosion of bombs containing Tabun may cause that substance to decompose and produce hydrocyanide."[3]
     It later emerges that the day after the Security Council statement, the Secretary-General is requested by the President of the Security Council to examine the feasibility of establishing arrangements to conduct prompt investigation of any further allegations of the use of chemical weapons.[4]
     [1] Letter Dated 17 April 1985 from the Secretary-General Addressed to the President of the Security Council, UN document S/17127, 24 April 1985
     [2] Note by the President of the Security Council, UN document S/17130, 25 April 1985. The proceedings of the meeting are reproduced in UN document S/PV.2576, 25 April 1985.
     [3] Letter Dated 17 April 1985 from the Secretary-General Addressed to the President of the Security Council, UN document S/17127/Add.1, 30 April 1985.
     [4] Report of the Mission Dispatched by the Secretary-General to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Conflict Between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iraq, UN document S/17911, dated 12 March 1986.

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40 years ago:

10 April 1975     The United States deposits its instrument of ratification [see 22 January] to the 1925 Geneva Protocol with the French government, together with the following reservation: "That the said Protocol shall cease to be binding on the Government of the United States with respect to the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous and other gases, and of all analogous liquids, materials, or devices, in regard to an enemy State if such State or any of its allies fails to respect the prohibitions laid down in the Protocol."

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100 years ago:

22 April 1915     At the Ypres salient in Belgium, at 5 p.m. local time, 180 000 kg of chlorine are released by German forces from 5,730 cylinders along a 6 km front extending between Steenstraat on the Yser Canal, through Bixschoote and Langemark, and eastwards towards Poelcappelle. The gas drifts towards units of the French 45th (Algerian) and 87th (Territorial) Divisions. The attacks did not come without warning. Cylinders had been put in place from February; some had been burst by allied artillery fire, spilling their contents.[1]
     The warning signs of a possible attack were dismissed as something of a joke just a couple of weeks before.[2] As SIPRI was to point out some five decades later: "The joke was short-lived".[3]
     [1] James E Edmonds and G C Wynne, Winter 1914-15: Battle of Neuve Chapelle: Battles of Ypres, [Volume I of Military Operations: France and Belgium, 1915, part of the History of the Great War Based on Official Documents series], (London: Macmillan, 1927).
     [2] [no author listed], "A new German weapon: poisonous gas for our troops", Times (London), 9 April 1915.
     [3] Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, The Problem of Chemical and Biological Warfare -- Volume I: The Rise of CB Weapons, (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1971), p 29.

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