Saturday, April 15, 2017

Syria's Old Chemicals Stockpiles

"They [Syrian regime] admitted only to 1,300 tonnes [of prohibited mass-produced chemicals], but we knew in reality they had nearly double that."
"They had at least 2,000 tonnes. At least."
"If you can take Khan Sheikhoun, or force its residents to surrender, you can take the road that connects them [Homs, Hama, Idlib under rebel control]."
"He [Assad] experimented and realized everyone was silent to all his crimes -- the barrel bombing of civilians and even chemical ones."
"I couldn't believe at the beginning that Assad would use these weapons on his people. I could not stand and watch the genocide. I couldn't hurt my own people."
"If he is forced to leave, he might confess to where some of it [stockpiled, illicit chemicals] is hidden only so it doesn't end up in the wrong hands."
Brigadier-General Zaher al-Sakat, (former) head of chemical warfare, 5th Division, Syrian military
This photo provided Tuesday, April 4, 2017 by the Syrian anti-government activist group Edlib Media Center, shows victims of a suspected chemical attack, in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province, Syria. (Edlib Media Center, via AP)
This photo provided Tuesday, April 4, 2017 by the Syrian anti-government activist group Edlib Media Center, shows victims of a suspected chemical attack, in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province, Syria. (Edlib Media Center, via AP)

Brig.-Gen. al-Sakat, as despairing as he is of the humanity of President Bashar al-Assad still manages to attribute to the mass murderer a purported concern to keep chemicals out of the 'wrong' hands. In this context, the wrong hands would not be represented by the Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah, Iran's favoured jihadist militia, but the Syrian Sunni rebels who are fighting for equality in their own country. Of course, the rebels have also aligned themselves with groups close to al-Qaeda, so virtually any groups in the area are the 'wrong' ones, even alongside the Syrian regime.

Syria abnegated itself to the United Nation's Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, chastised by the international community for launching a series of chemical attacks against its ow people, particularly one sarin gas attack (among many others) targeting the outskirts of Damascus that killed hundreds of civilians, children included. And Russia, as Syria's protecting angel, verified that yes indeed, all those nasty stockpiled deadly chemicals were gone, gone, gone.

General Sakat knew better. He had himself, in his formal position as head of chemical warfare, been directly ordered to launch chemical attacks, both prior to the surrender of U.S. President Barack Obama's judgement to the persuasion of Russia President Vladimir Putin that diplomacy was superior to military action in solving the dilemma of a leader gassing his own people. He had used inoffensive diluted bleach instead of the deadly chemicals in attacks which resulted in few victims, raising the suspicion of the regime.

Leading him to flee the country and take up residence elsewhere, more than willing to expose the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad for its murderous duplicity. The first real indication that he had that the regime was suspicious of his failure to follow orders was when his son, an officer at a military academy, was arrested, charged for non-existent crimes. "I thought that it was a way to pressure me maybe, or to scare me in order not to become a defector", he explained.

He paid the ransom to have his son released, and after a month his son returned, his condition ample evidence of torture he had been subjected to courtesy of the regime. Eventually General Sakat left Syria for Jordan, then Turkey, and joined the opposition Free Syrian Army. Even there several attempts on his life took place. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, formerly commander of the British military chemical weapons unit, agrees that General Sakat's claims are "plausible".

The distinction being that no new chemicals are being produced by the regime. It is only continuing to stockpile chemicals it deliberately failed to disclose to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons under the negotiated deal in 2014. Those chemicals that have been retained have degraded in potency somewhat. Which, according to Mr. de Bretton-Gordon, accounts for the fact hat 'only' "Eighty-six people were killed in the attack, which is not a lot of sarin".

"If you look at Halabja (the 1988 chemical attack that Saddam Hussein's forces carried out against the Kurdish city) we think just five tonnes of sarin was used, and more than 12,000 people died." So he attributes the latest attack that took place when Khan Sheikhoun was bombed with chemicals, used "old sarin", or sarin that had been mixed and prepared a number of years previously.

Perhaps this is what Bashar al-Assad meant when he rejected claims that his regime had hidden stores of chemical weapons? Perhaps when Russia claimed that regime warplanes had targeted an area where stores of chemical weapons held by rebel groups was that Mr. Assad's fears had been realized? And the poor man is innocent after all, of killing his own, despite U.N. statistics erroneously attributing war crimes to this despot of a half-million dead Syrians?

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