By Marcus George
DUBAI (Reuters) - An Iranian war veteran fell into a coma in a Tehran hospital last week after suffering respiratory failure, his lungs ravaged by mustard gas during the Iran-Iraq war 30 years ago.
Hadi Kazemnejad is one of up to 1,000,000 Iranians who were exposed to chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein's Iraq, officials say. Between 10,000 and 20,000 people were killed and 100,000 of those who survived have developed illnesses, often chronic.
Cases like Kazemnejad's point to the long-term damage of chemical warfare and also help explain Iran's nuanced reaction to allegations regional ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used such weapons against his own people.
Chemical attacks on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21, in which an estimated 1,400 people died, have reopened a sensitive debate among Iranians over their country's support for Syria.
Tehran has provided financial and military support to ensure Assad maintains what it calls the "axis of resistance" against Israel and Arab and Western states. Iran-backed Hezbollah fighters have taken up arms for Assad inside Syria.
Iranians have paid the highest price from any chemical attacks in modern history. Their suffering is etched into the existence of the theocratic state.
In a Facebook posting Iran's new foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, condemned the use of chemical weapons, "regardless of its victims or culprits".