Iran’s coronavirus crisis has had a devastating impact on Iran’s war veterans, and has so far killed 18 men who were injured by Iraq’s chemical attacks against Iranian troops during the eight-year war between the two countries. Many more veterans who survived and were injured in the attacks have contracted the illness. Up to 150,000 veterans are thought to be at risk.
The Voice of Defenders, a site that covers news about the Islamic Republic's military forces in Iraq and Syria, reported the death of the 18 Iranians on Twitter: "Unfortunately we were informed that the number of victims of coronavirus disease [COVID-19] among the devotees and veterans has reached 18," it said.
The Voice of Defenders criticized the work of the Martyrs' Foundation, which is tasked with looking after veterans, in that regard, pointing out that it "only sends text messages and gives health advice, while most devotees and veterans do not even have masks and the most basic disinfectants or even alcohol."
During the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), Saddam Hussein’s Iraq repeatedly used chemical weapons against Iranian forces, with substantial attacks beginning in 1984. Thousands of soldiers and civilians were killed by chemical weapons, and almost a million Iranians were exposed to them. At least 75,000 veterans receive ongoing treatment and care from the attacks, with some estimates as high as 150,000, of which 68,000 are registered with Iran’s Martyrs' Foundation.
According to statistics from the Young Journalists Club, which is affiliated with the state broadcaster, 739 of these veterans have severe injuries,and the coronavirus poses a serious threat to their lives.
The Martyrs' Foundation has issued several warnings, urging veterans to comply with health guidelines issued by the government.
The Iran's Martyrs website quoted Hamid Reza Haqshenas, a veteran injured by chemical weapons, who said the coronavirus is a potential devastating tsunami for these veterans. They suffer from a range of respiratory and pulmonary problems, and any respiratory illness poses a threat to their lives. Coronavirus, or COVID-19, which has rapidly been spreading throughout Iran over the last two weeks, can cause both acute respiratory and pulmonary problems.
"War veterans who suffer from injuries linked to chemical attacks have trouble breathing and are constantly coughing and suffer from severe lung injuries,” Haqshenas said. “Even a simple cold can kill them.
"These days, people are so scared of coronavirus that whenever we cough when we out go out, everyone thinks we are infected with coronavirus and runs away; but we have always had severe coughs.”
According to Iran's Martyrs, in recent days the coronavirus "has locked veterans permanently at home, fearful and under immense stress."
Revolutionary Guards Fall Victim to the Virus
On March 4, Iranian artist and writer Mohammad Shiran announced on television that his father, a war veteran living in Isfahan who had sustained injuries from chemical attacks, had died from coronavirus.
The virus has so far claimed the lives of three former senior Revolutionary Guards, all of whom were among those veterans injured by chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war. The dead were named as Commander Ramazan Purgasem, Commander Mohammad Haj Abolghasemi and Colonel Reza Khazeni-Rad.
The media reported that Commander Purgasem died at a hospital in Sari, northern Iran, on March 3. The cause of death of the former Guards commander was declared to be the result of a "chemical weapons-related injury." Purgasem, a former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) ground forces, led Friday prayers in Sari at the time of his death.
The death of Mohammad Haj Abolghasemi was reported on the night of March 3. He died in Tehran from from "chemical injuries." At the time of his death, Haj Abolghasemi was responsible for the IRGC Basij Organization of Eulogists in Tehran province.
Colonel Reza Khazeni-Rad worked for the Qom Al-Zahra Association at the time of his death.
Saeed Maghazei, a teacher and injured veteran based in Qom, was also reported dead on March 4 due to coronavirus.
Veteran Jafar Arabnejad, who was also injured by chemical attacks, has reportedly been hospitalized in Sasan Hospital's intensive care unit and believed to have contracted the coronavirus.
Eulogists, who lead public mourning through song, have also been hit by the virus, with at least four contracting it over the last two weeks. One of those hospitalized is Mehdi Salahshour, who has close links to the office of Ayatollah Khamenei.
Iranian officials have said that Iran will continue to be vulnerable to the virus for the next two months, and people with pre-existing medical conditions such as war veterans are particularly susceptible.