An Iraq official acknowledged Friday that his country had used chemical weapons in its war with Iran but said the Iranians had used them first.

Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz was asked at a news conference about Iranian allegations that Iraq had used the deadly weapons against its Persian Gulf War foe."The U.N. report says both sides have used them. Iran started its use. We were victims many times, since the early beginning of the conflict," Aziz said.

Asked whether both Iraq and Iran had used such weapons, he replied: "Both sides."

It was the first direct admission by Iraq that it has used chemical weapons in its war with Iran.

The United Nations Security Council has condemned the use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war, and their general use is outlawed by international agreement.

On April 25, U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar said there was evidence that both sides were using chemical weapons in the 7 1/2-year-old war.

The U.N. chief had sent a physician from Geneva to visit both Iran and Iraq and examine victims of alleged chemical attacks.

Aziz repeated assertions that Iran started the war by invading Iraq and that his country had the right to choose the means for its defense.

"There are different views on this matter from different angles. You are living on a civilized continent. You are living on a peaceful continent," Aziz told Western reporters.

Iran claims Iraq killed 5,000 people, mostly Iraqi Kurds, in a mustard gas and cyanide attack on the Iranian-held Halabja territory of Iraq in March.

Iraq did not deny the charge then and said it would use all necessary means to repel Iranian forces. It also accused Iran of using chemical weapons.

Aziz accused Iran of not only using chemical weapons but also of violating international accords on the treatment of war prisoners.

"Lately 7,000 Iraqi prisoners of war disappeared. We don't yet know what their destiny is," said Aziz.

"When we want peace, we have to respect all conventions. But you cannot say I'm going to respect all these conventions and give the other side the liberty not to respect them," he added.

On May 9, the U.N. Security Council condemned the use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war and called on both sides to refrain from future use of the weapons.