When the news of the chemical attack in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun came in on April 4, Ali texted his close friend Taghi to come over after work. They had served together during the long and brutal 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, in which Iraq began dropping chemical bombs as early as 1981. Ali and Taghi, who asked that their last names not be published, were members of a battalion in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) when they were exposed to mustard gas and nerve agents. Today, Ali can walk for barely 10 minutes without having an asthma attack, has to sleep with an oxygen mask at night and has had over 40 surgeries on his eyes. Ali’s vital organs have been burning from the inside for the past 26 years. Despite working in the IRGC for another 10 years after the end of the war, he had to retire in his 40s, and he relies on his close friend to keep him abreast of the outside world. Taghi is now a captain in the IRGC.
The two men sat watching television all evening, flipping between the news of the chemical attack on Iranian state television, which blamed jihadi groups for the incident, and satellite TV stations based in London and New York, which squarely assigned fault to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “War is not just what’s fought on the battlefields,” Ali told Al-Monitor. “It’s as much about the public relations side of it all.”