Iraq accedes to international chemical weapon ban

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Iraq, one of the few countries proven to have used poison gas in warfare in modern times, acceded on Tuesday to an international treaty banning chemical weapons, the United Nations announced.

Iraq deposited its instrument of accession to the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans the development, production, stockpiling and use of a weapon that first came to prominence in World War One.

The treaty will come into force for Iraq in 30 days' time, making it the 186th nation to join the first multilateral pact to ban, with international verification, an entire category of weapons of mass destruction.

In 1988, Iraq, under its now toppled leader Saddam Hussein, gained notoriety for using chemical weapons against Kurds in the northeast of the country, who were suspected of siding with Iran, with which Baghdad was then at war.

A military campaign against Kurds code-named Anfal -- Spoils of War -- killed tens of thousands. The best known attack was on the town of Halabja, where 5,000 people were estimated to have been gassed to death.

Baghdad's possession of chemical and other mass destruction weapons was cited as the main reason for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, which overthrew Saddam. But no such weapons were subsequently found, leading experts to conclude they must have been destroyed.

Saddam's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majeed, dubbed "Chemical Ali" for his role in leading the campaign against the Kurds, has twice been sentenced to death for that and other crimes but has yet to be executed due to disputes within Iraq's government.

A U.N. statement quoted Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is the depositary of the CWC, as congratulating Iraq on its decision to accede, "as it demonstrates its commitment to disarmament and non-proliferation."

The most widely used chemical weapons over the past century have been mustard gas, chlorine and nerve gas. (Reporting by Patrick Worsnip; editing by Mohammad Zargham)