Tuesday, 1 December 2015
Syria Is a Chemical Weapons Free-for-All. Happy Holidays.
' “The sad reality,” Rafael Foley said, “is that chemical weapons use is becoming routine in the Syrian civil war.”
The first incident occurred near the Syrian town of Marea. The awful details of the attack have already been reported in the New York Times by C. J. Chivers, who has done so much to report on chemical weapons issues in Iraq and Syria. A chemical mortar hit a home. The agent — sulfur mustard — burned three family members and killed an infant. Unlike the attack against Ghouta, it seems the shell was fired by Islamic State militants.
Where did the insurgents get the mustard? There are any number of possibilities. The simplest explanation is that it may have been captured from the Syrian government. After all, no one thinks Assad gave up everything in his stockpile even though that was what he was required to do.
The second incident mentioned by the OPCW’s report is actually a series of attacks by the Syrian government that occurred over a period of months. Having lost their stockpiles of Sarin and mustard, the Syrian regime has resorted to filling barrels with chlorine, creating an improvised chemical weapon that can be dropped from a helicopter. The fact-finding mission documented series of so-called “barrel bomb” attacks in Idlib governorate carried out between March and May 2015; the OPCW has also documented many other uses of these barrel bombs since early 2014.
The real solution to the problem of sides using chemical weapons in the civil war is to stop the civil war. But, as I have written before, this seems unlikely. Assad won’t shuffle off into exile. He can’t win, but Russia seems unwilling to let him fall. And Obama seems unwilling or unable to do anything to change that calculus. And so the war grinds on, with the opposition groups pinned between Assad and the Islamic State, both of whom are glad to use every tool at their disposal, including chemical weapons, to destroy anyone in between. It’s no wonder that millions of Syrians have fled their homes.
I often hear people wondering what the use is of banning chemical weapons when so many other awful things are happening in Syria. And maybe it is an arbitrary line to pick — chemical weapons use compared to all the other travesties committed by the Assad regime and now the Islamic State. But at some point you have to say enough. For me, it’s chemical weapons. And who knows, maybe good things will happen if we show a little spine. But doing nothing seems unconscionable, particularly now that the Obama administration admits that chemical weapons use has become routine.
That’s a remarkable statement when you think about it. After Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons, the president warned of “consequences” if Assad did not follow through. Now, two year later, a U.S. official can characterize the use of chemical weapons in Syria as routine, without so much as delaying a turkey pardon.'