UN-mandated inspectors back in Syria after Assad government declaration of chemical weapons materials + UN Security Council resolution

A UN Security Council-mandated team of Chemical Weapons [CW] inspectors has been back on the ground in Syria for a second time, investigating several more reported CW attacks [including three that reported occurred after the large August 21 attack in Ghouta].

The BBC has produced a graphic to show the sites of the second investigations.  The BBC also reported here, that the UN CW team, “led by Ake Sellstrom, arrived in Syria for its second visit on 25 September and hopes to finish its work by Monday 30 September”.
The UN CW team completed a six-day mission on 1 October, the UN reported here. They are reportedly aiming at producing a “comprehensive” report by the end of October.

[n.b. – This is not a complete or exhaustive indication of reported CW attacks — there were more; see our earlier Chronology, in previous posts below]:

Sites of reported CW attacks being investigated by UN-mandated inspectors
Sites of reported CW attacks being investigated by UN-mandated inspectors

 

This graphic was Tweeted by Fred Abrahams @fredabrahams – “Map of 7 alleged chemical weapons attacks in #Syria being investigated now by UN team, from BBC.  pic.twitter.com/b9Qk78I8tA” — via @DanKaszeta

Three attacks near Aleppo in North:

19 March Khan al-Assal [this is the first CW attack in Syria + the Syrian Government formally requested a UN investigation]
13 April Sheikh Maqsoud
29 April Saraqeb

Three attacks near Damascus in south of this graphic [after the 21 August attack on Ghouta — attacks on all three days were mentioned by Syria’s Ambassador to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari in a “stake-out” outside the UN Security Council, filmed by UN TV and posted on Youtube here; he blamed these attacks on “terrorists” = rebels]:

22 August Bahhariya
24 August Jobar
25 August Ashrafieh Sahnaya

Trying to figure how UNSG BAN selected the 6 additional sites [I do not see 7 — unless, as the BBC report seems to say, the UN team will be taking a second look at, or doing a follow-up on, the large August 21 CW attacks in Ghouta]:

1st, Khan al-Assal on 19 March 2013, was requested months ago by Syria.  The UNSG promised to investigate before August 21 [in fact, that’s why the  UN CW team was in Syria when the 21 August attack took place].

After the August 21 CW attacks on Ghouta, Syria’s Ambassador Bashar al-Assad demanded UN inspection of 3 post-August 21 attacks near Damascus [rebel accidents handling CW/precursors in tunnels etc] on 22, 24 and 25 August This can be see on Youtube here — though Ambassador Jaafari seemed to give a different order of dates and places from those shown in the graphic above, supposedly based on UN information.

Syria’s Amb al-Jaafari also complained [in May] about the April 29th attack in Saraqeb; it was also cited by a defector as well as in French + UK declassified reports released at the end of August.

The April 13th attack in Sheikh Maksood/Maqsoud was cited in French + UK reports published after the Aug 21 attacks, + cited by a US NatSec Adviser [in a high-confidence assessment] and it appears to be the only one on the list that was not requested by the Syrian Government…

One article, posted here, mentions another attack on 19 March, in Otaibah near Damascus [close to the Damascus International Airport] which is NOT, as the article points out, on the UN CW team’s list…

On 27 September, the UN Security Council in New York unanimously adopted resolution 2118 — which endorses a decision taken the same day by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in the Hague, containing special procedures for the expeditious and verifiable destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons — and the UNSC resolution’s text is contained in the UN Press Release posted here

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted that the UNSC resolution also contains “requirements for all countries, especially Syria’s neighbours, which must report on moves by non-State actors to secure chemical weapons”…

The resolution followed a Syrian decision to surrender its CW and accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention — and a subsequent Syrian declaration of its Chemical Weapons stockpiles and precursors and equipment.”

UPDATE: On 3 October, the disarmament inspectors reported from Damascus that they felt they had made initial progress:
“The joint OPCW-UN team mandated to assist Syria with the elimination of its chemical weapons programme has made encouraging initial progress, following the first working day of meetings with the Syrian authorities. Documents handed over yesterday by the Syrian Government look promising, according to team members, but further analysis, particularly of technical diagrams, will be necessary and some more questions remain to be answered. The team hopes to begin onsite inspections and the initial disabling of equipment within the next week, but this depends on the outcome of the technical groups established with the participation of Syrian experts yesterday. These groups are working on three areas which are key to the mission’s success: verification of the information handed over by the Syrian Government; the safety and security of the inspection teams; and practical arrangements for implementing the plan, under which Syria’s chemical weapons material and equipment are to be eliminated by mid-2014″.   This OPCW press release is posted on the UN News website here.

Continue reading “UN-mandated inspectors back in Syria after Assad government declaration of chemical weapons materials + UN Security Council resolution”

Reports of Chemical Weapons use in Syria: A Chronology – UPDATED Working Draft Part 3 [after 21 Aug 2013]

A Chronology of Reports of
Chemical Weapons use in Syria

Working Draft Part 3 [After 21 August 2013]

This is an account of all the reports of chemical weapons use in Syria, including warnings of imminent use. The Chronology is ordered according to the dates on which the events happened
[rather than the dates on which they were reported]

Read Part 1 of this Chronology here

Read Part 2 of this Chronology here

After August 21 2013

22 August 2013: UNSG BAN Ki-Moon has sent a team of CW inspectors back to investigate three reported CW attacks after the large 21 August attack on Ghouta. All three were in the Damascus area: the first was in Bahhariya on 22 August [no further details yet available, though this was apparently one of the attacks mentioned by Syria’s Ambassador to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari, attacks he blamed on “terrorists” = rebels], and the other two were on 24 August in Jobar and on 25 August in Ashrafiya Sahnaya.

24 August 2013: A statement issued by Medecins Sans Fontiers [MSF] galvanized reaction to the 21 August CW attacks“Syria: Thousands Suffering Neurotoxic Symptoms Treated in Hospitals Supported by MSF,” Doctors Without Borders, 24 August 2013, www.doctorswithoutborders.org

From Richard Guthrie’s CBW Events Syria Chronology for Third Quarter 2013:  MSF issued a press release reporting that three hospitals it supports in Syria have indicated that they had received some 3600 patients‘ displaying neurotoxic symptoms in less than three hours on the morning of  21 August.  Of these patients, 355 died. http://www.cbw-events.org.uk/2013-0912_SY_chrono_Q3_snapshot.PDF

 

24 August 2013: Syrian State TV reports on discovery [from RT] of what the reporter says were rebel preparations to make CW in tunnels in Jobar area of Damascus’ Ghouta-area suburbs. Also reported by Reuters here, which noted that The UN’s High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane arrived in Damascus the same day, “to push for access to the suspected chemical weapons attack site for UN inspectors”.

This report becomes the basis of a bizarre and controversial report published here on 29 August by an internet news organization named Mint Press, based in Minnesota, USA. See follow-up account here.  After weeks of dissembling and dithering, see the “official response” from Mint Press Editor-in-Chief Mnar A. Muhawesh, posted http://www.mintpressnews.com/official-statement-on-dale-gavlaks-involvement-in-syria-exclusive/169507/ — published almost a month after the controversy caused by the  report [and raising further questions]…

 

25 August 2013: Ashrafiya Sahnaya [no further details yet available; a second UN CW team is currently investigating the report on the ground. This was apparently one of the attacks mentioned by Syria’s Ambassador to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari, attacks he blamed on “terrorists” [rebels].

26 August 2013: Daily Star [Lebanon] report on Hizballah men evacuated to Beirut hospital after exposure to CW last week in Jobar http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2013/Aug-26/228701-hezbollah-fighters-exposed-to-chemical-agents-in-syria-source.ashx …]

 

28 August 2013: Syria’s Ambassador to the United Nations in New York, Bashar al-Jaafari, made a statement to journalists [and anyone else listening] at a UN TV “stakeout” outside the UN Security Council. Jaafari said that he had just addressed a letter asking the UN Secretary-General to mandate immediately the UN team now in Damascus to investigate 3 “heinous” [post-Ghouta] #CW attacks — on 22, 24 + 25 Aug in Jobar, Sahnaya + Bahariya, affecting Syrian troops [dozens of Syrian soldiers were currently being treated in Syrian hospital, he said]. “Members of Syrian Army inhaled poisonous gas … close to what we call Sarin”, he said, as a result of use of chemical agents by “the terrorist armed groups operating in the countryside of Damascus”.

Jaafari: “This makes 420 letters we’ve addressed to the UNSG + UNSC since the beginning of the crisis this year” about all details related to all developments pertaining to the Syrian crisis.
He said his original request for a UN #CW investigation had 2 parts:
1) Did #CW attack take place or not?
2) Who did it?
“But from Day 1”, he said, the UN SG + his experts in the Disarmament Department + three Western Permanent Members of the UN SC had opposed looking at “Who did it?”
Syrian’s Ambassador to UN said that the UN, and therefore the UN #CW investigation team, already has some evidence of rebel/opposition use of #CW.
This evidence, he said, includes a Turkish report that 12 members, “terrorist members”, Jabhat al- Nasra people were arrested in Turkey with 2 liters [he said “liters”] of Sarin. He said that according to the Turkish report, the Jabhat Nasra people took the 2 liters of Sarin with them on board a civilian airliner from Libya to Turkey. The Jabhat Nusra people confessed after capture in Turkey, he said, that they “intended to use it in #Syria”.
Other evidence the UN already has, according to Syria’s Ambassador Jaafari, include an 80-page official Russian report; video from a Russian journalist [Anastasia Popova] who happened to be in Khan al Assel; and Carla del Ponti’s remarks that #CW had been used by the rebels…

Syrian Ambassador Jaafari’s remarks are recorded on video posted on Youtube [in two parts] — the comments below are shown in Part One, here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xxgfgmKrZlA&feature=youtu.be&a

 

28 August 2013: The UK Prime Minister ?Tweets: @Number10gov – UK to put fwrd resolution authorising all necessary measures under Ch7 of UN Charter to protect civilians from #chemicalweapons in #Syria [It does not get unanimous support, as Russa + China oppose mention of Chapter 7.

28 [or is it 29] August 2013: UK report: “We have assessed previously that the Syrian regime used lethal CW on14 occasions from 2012…We think that there have been other attacks although we do not have the same degree of confidence in the evidence. A clear pattern of regime use has therefore been established”. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/235094/Jp_115_JD_PM_Syria_Reported_Chemical_Weapon_Use_with_annex.pdf

29 August 2013:UK Government motion voted down after many hours of debate. Prime Minister Cameron subsequently says that Britain will not participate in any military strike, even if new and more convincing evidence is provided: “The British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that, and the Government will act accordingly”…

 

30 August 2013: US declassified brief = Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013: “The United States Government assesses with high confidence that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs on August 21, 2013. We further assess that the regime used a nerve agent in the attack… To protect sources and methods, we cannot publicly release all available intelligence”.

Continue reading “Reports of Chemical Weapons use in Syria: A Chronology – UPDATED Working Draft Part 3 [after 21 Aug 2013]”

Reports of Chemical Weapons use in Syria: A Chronology – Working Draft Part 2 [the attacks on 21 Aug 2013]

A Chronology of Reports of
Chemical Weapons use in Syria

Working Draft Part 2 [21 Aug 2013]

This is an account of all the reports of chemical weapons use in Syria, including warnings of imminent use. The Chronology is ordered according to the dates on which the events happened
[rather than the dates on which they were reported]

Read Part 1 of this Chronology here

Read Part 3 of this Chronology here

21 August 2013: evidence emerged from Syria of pre-dawn attacks including use of chemical weapons on the Ghouta area in the Damascus suburbs contested by rebel forces and Syrian army units. This attack differs from all previous CW attacks in Syria because of the large number of victims: over 1500 are believed to have died.

Human Rights Watch [HRW] wrote, in their report issued on 10 September 2013: “As more details became available, it became clear that the attack had affected two separate opposition-controlled districts in Damascus Suburbs governorate, located 16 kilometers apart. According to local residents, the Zamalka neighborhood in Eastern Ghouta was struck by rockets at some time between 2 and 3 a.m., and the Moadamiya neighborhood in Western Ghouta was struck by rockets at about 5 a.m., shortly after the completion of the Muslim morning prayer”.

HRW map showing the likely source of CW-carrying rockets fired on Ghouta areas
HRW map showing the likely source of CW-carrying rockets fired on Ghouta

One witness in Moadamiya told HRW, “We didn’t smell anything” — even as people began exhibiting symptoms and fainting, . [In its pure form, Sarin is a clear, colorless, tasteless and odorless liquid. See Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Emergency Preparedness and Response: Facts about Sarin,” here.]

“Sarin is a toxic but non-persistent nerve agent. Exposure is usually due to inhalation, and the agent rather quickly degrades and disperses into atmosphere… There are reports that people were able to visit the sites of the attacks a few hours post attack and to handle remnants of rockets associated with the attacks without suffering signs and symptoms of exposure to nerve agent. This suggests that the nerve agent involved is more likely to be the less persistent and less toxic agent, Sarin, rather than VX… The large number of victims of the attack, the clinical signs and symptoms that characterized both the victims and, later, the medical workers who treated the victims, and the fact that areas near attack sites were apparently safe to enter soon after the attack, all strongly suggest that the attack involved an organophosphate chemical more toxic that the pesticide Malathion, and was most likely a toxic but non-persistent chemical warfare nerve agent, such as Sarin, which Syria is believed to possess.

“There is laboratory evidence that Sarin gas has been used in previous attacks allegedly carried out by Syrian government forces, including an earlier attack in Ghouta. A photographer for Le Monde newspaper, Laurent Van der Stockt, was exposed to what he believed was a chemical weapon attack while in Jobar in April 2013. In laboratory tests conducted upon his return to France, he tested positive for exposure to Sarin. [See Le Monde article published on 27 May 2013, here, which is referred to in Part 1 of this Working Draft Chronology]

The HRW report says “The precise identification of the specific chemical agent used in the August 21 attack requires the collection of samples from weapon remnants, environmental samples, and physiological samples from those directly or indirectly exposed to the chemical agent. Subsequent specialized analyses of these samples can reveal the specific agent itself or the reaction or degradation products characteristic of a specific agent.  The UN investigative team has collected such samples, and will issue its findings after the completion of its investigation… This is posted here.

Moadamiya  – [western Ghouta]

A witness in Moadamiya media center told HRW that “all of the rockets were of the same type”  [identified by Human Rights Watch as a Soviet- produced 140mm rocket], and said he counted 7 rockets which fell in two areas of Moadamiya.

HRW says “the attack on Moadamiya on August 21 represents the first known appearance of the 140mm rocket, which has not [previously] been documented in use in the current Syrian conflict”.

“The 140mm rocket is documented in standard reference materials as being present in the Syrian government’s weapons arsenal. Designed in the 1950s, the Soviet Union transferred 200 BM-14 launchers, the most common launcher for 140mm rockets made by the Soviet Union, to  Syria in 1967-1969… according to the database on arms transfers maintained by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

“According to a declassified US munitions catalogue and standard international reference materials published by Jane’s, only three warheads were produced for 140mm rockets:
• M-14-OF high explosive-fragmentation;
• M-14-D smoke containing white phosphorus;
• A chemical warhead containing 2.2 kilograms of Sarin.

“Based on witness statements describing the impact of the rockets and the absence of rocket remnants or reported types of injuries consistent with an attack using high explosive or incendiary payloads, Human Rights Watch believes there is little possibility that the rocket could have been carrying high explosive or incendiary payloads. Given the large number of casualties, this leaves a chemical agent warhead as a strong remaining possibility, which would be consistent with the symptoms displayed by the victims.

HRW graphic showing origin + flight paths of sarin-loaded rockets - 17 Sept 2013

Zamalka – [Eastern Ghouta]

Human Rights Watch documented the use of apparent surface-to-surface 330mm rockets in Zamalka, Eastern Ghouta on August 21. We found no evidence of any use of the 140mm rocket system used in the Moadamiya attack in Eastern Ghouta… Human Rights Watch [was able] to confirm at least four strike sites in Zamalka where at least eight 330mm rockets struck on August 21.  This is unlikely to be a complete account of the number of rockets used in the attack… Based on the lack of evidence of a high-explosive or incendiary attack, and symptoms of victims that are consistent with a chemical attack, Human Rights Watch believes that the 330mm rockets found at the sites were used in the alleged chemical attack…

“The 330mm surface-to-surface rocket that appears to be associated with the August 21 attack on Eastern Ghouta is of a type not listed in standard, specialized, international or declassified reference materials. It is a rocket type that has not been documented before the outbreak of the current Syrian conflict, although it has been documented in a number of other attacks on opposition held areas in the months prior to the Eastern Ghouta attack, including at least one attack in which opposition activists claimed the government had carried out an alleged chemical attack (see next page)…

“Measurements determine that the estimated volume of nerve agent inside the warheads would be approximately 50 to 60 liters, compared to 2.2 liters for the warheads designed for the 140mm rockets.

“Prior to each attack, the warhead of the 330mm rocket would have to be filled with the 50 to 60 liters of nerve agent, a dangerous process that is normally conducted by specialized teams wearing protective gear to prevent exposure to the chemical agents. Human Rights Watch is not aware of any information that the opposition forces have ever possessed the amounts of chemical weapon agent necessary to deploy such rockets, or that they possess the expertise needed to fill the warheads without accidental exposure to the deadly nerve agent…

“[The] dimensions are compatible with the Iranian-produced 333mm Falaq-2 launcher, or close copies and derivatives thereof.  Iran is believed to be the only country in the world to produce rocket launchers in the 333mm category. Videos have appeared showing Syrian forces using the Falaq-2 launching system to launch what appears to be versions of the 330mm rockets, although the launches seen in the video occurred during daytime and are thus unrelated to the August 21 nighttime attack.

“The non-aerodynamic design of the rocket indicates that the rocket would be relatively short-ranged and not capable of accurate targeting. The consistency in the design of these rockets suggests that they were locally but industrially produced, and apparently designed to be deployed with the Iranian 333mm launchers or derivatives thereof.

“While Human Rights Watch cannot establish where the rockets were manufactured, their basic design and unique size matching the Iranian rocket launching system suggest a Syrian industrial origin. The production of a weapon specifically designed to deliver chemical weapons would be a violation of the 1993 Convention on Chemical Weapons, of which only five countries, including Syria, are not parties [n.b. – Syria acceded on 14 September].  While a separate, high-explosive warhead version of the rocket appears to exist based on attacks in other areas, three design differences appear to distinguish the suspected chemical weapon type from the suspected high-explosive type… All of the 330mm rocket remnants identified by Human Rights Watch in the Eastern Ghouta Zamalka attack are of the suspected chemical weapons variant, with red numbering, a shorter-sized warhead, and an additional fill plug.  Most significantly, the design of the payload of the rockets found at the scene of the Eastern Ghouta August 21 attack strongly indicates that it is compatible, and perhaps specifically designed, for the delivery of chemical agents…

Source: “Attacks on Ghouta: Analysis of Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria”, Human Rights Watch, 10 September 2013.  Posted here.

 ************

21 August 2013:  Alternate theory [Tom Wyld]: “Based on my past analyses of the fighting in East Ghouta and appraisals of their involvement in Syrian command and control, I assess as highly likely that Hezbollah and Sepah Pasdaran (Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) were involved in the attack.  If reports are accurate, this is an extraordinary military and geo-political development with grave international consequences”. This is posted here.


End of Part 2

Reports of Chemical Weapons use in Syria: A Chronology – UPDATED Working Draft Part 1 [Jan 2012 to 21 Aug 2013]

A Chronology of Reports of
Chemical Weapons use in Syria

[UPDATED] Working Draft Part 1 [January 2012 to 21 August 2013]

This is an account of all the reports of chemical weapons use in Syria, including warnings of imminent use. The Chronology is ordered according to the dates on which the events happened
[rather than the dates on which they were reported]

Read Part 2 of this Chronology here

Read Part 3 of this Chronology here

January 2012 to August 21 2013

January 2012: The UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills granted export licences to an unnamed UK chemical company on 17 and 18 January 2012 to send dual-use chemicals [that are used in production of sarin] to Syria — for “use in industrial processes”. The Business Department said “it had accepted assurances from the exporting company that the chemicals would be used in the manufacture of metal window frames and shower enclosures”. A Department spokesperson said these chemicals were requested “for metal finishing of aluminium profiles used in making aluminium showers and aluminium window frames”.

July 2012: The permits were eventually revoked in July, in response to tightened European Union sanctions — before these chemicals were exported. Critics said “it appeared the substances had only stayed out of Syria by chance”…. “Although the export deal, first reported by The Sunday Mail in Scotland, was outlawed by the EU on 17 June last year in a package of sanctions against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the licences were not revoked until 30 July. Chemical weapons experts said that although the two substances have a variety of uses such as the fluoridation of drinking water, sodium and potassium fluoride are also key to producing the chemical effect which makes a nerve agent such as sarin so toxic”.  Source: “Revealed: UK Government let British company export nerve gas chemicals to Syria: UK accused of ‘breath-taking laxity’ over export licence for potassium fluoride and sodium fluoride”, by Cahal Milmo, Andy McSmith , Nikhil Kumar, published by The Independent on 2 September 2013, posted here.

But, The Daily Mail reported on 7 September that: “Between July 2004 and May 2010 the Government issued five export licences to two companies, allowing them to sell Syria sodium fluoride, which is used to make sarin. The Government last night admitted for the first time that the chemical was delivered to Syria – a clear breach of international protocol on the trade of dangerous substances that has been condemned as ‘grossly irresponsible’… The sales were made at a time when President Bashar Assad was strongly suspected to be stockpiling the chemical weapons that have caused an international crisis. The UK firms delivered sodium fluoride to a Syrian cosmetics company for what they claim were legitimate purposes”.
Thomas Docherty MP, a member of the Commons Arms Export Controls Committee, said: ‘Previously we thought that while export licences had been granted, no chemicals were actually delivered. Now we know that in the build-up to the Syrian civil war, UK companies – with the backing of our Government – were supplying this potentially lethal substance. While the last export licence was issued in May 2010, these licences are obtained prior to manufacture and the industry standard is for four to five months to pass before the chemicals are delivered. So we are looking at late 2010 for the British supplies of sodium fluoride reaching Syria’…”
Source: “Britain sent poison gas chemicals to Assad: Proof that the UK delivered Sarin agent to Syrian regime for SIX years”, Mark Nicol, The Daily Mail, 7 September 2013 – updated 8 September 2013, posted here.

It appears that the news of these sales + export licenses was leaked in the immediate aftermath of the parliamentary defeat of the UK Government motion, at the end of August 2013, to join in proposed military strikes on Syria in the aftermath of the 21 August 2013 #CW attacks on Ghoutha which killed hundreds, possibly over 1500, of civilian casualties.

*****************************

13 July 13 2012: News reports indicated that the Syrian government was moving its #CW stockpile to one or more undisclosed location[s].
“Red Line” remarks:

13 July 13 2012: Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters at the Pentagon later that same day, however, that “The Syrian regime has control of its chemical weapons stockpiles”. He added: “We believe that the Syrian government has a very serious responsibility to protect its stockpiles of chemical weapons…We would, of course, caution them strongly against any intention to use those weapons. That would cross a serious red line”. And, he said, if any Syrian officials choose to utilize chemical weapons they will be held accountable for their actions. Little added that “We are watching very closely — not just the United States, but the international community — to make sure that they maintain control over those stockpiles, and of course, to ensure that they don’t use them”… Posted here.
20 August 2012 – US President Barak Obama: “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus…That would change my equation…We’re monitoring that situation very carefully. We have put together a range of contingency plans”.   Source: James Ball, the Washington Post, posted here.

18 July 2012: First Iranian letter [or “warning”] sent through Swiss Embassy in Tehran to Washington warning of preparations [by “rebels”] for #CW use in Syria.

Scott Peterson reported recently in the Christian Science Monitor that “Iran says that it warned the United States directly, in mid- and late- 2012, and at least once after that, about the risks of chemical weapons among the rebels…The [Iranian] letter acquired by the Monitor references messages from July 18 and Dec. 1, 2012″. Posted here.

Peterson’s report followed up on remarks by the new Foreign Minister of Iran, on 1 September 2013, that Iran had informed the US 9 months earlier that “extremist elements” are transferring chemical weapons to Syria. In an interview with the Iranian weekly, Aseman, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the country had sent an official memo to the Swiss embassy in Tehran which represents the US interests section in Iran and informed US that ‘Hand-made chemical weapon Sarin is being transferring to Syria’… “In that memo we warned that extremist groups may use the chemical agents,” Zarif said — although the “Americans never replied to the memo.” This is published here.

===========================

23 July 2013:  The French Government report issued on 2 September reported this: “Syria has long been equipped with a a massive chemical arsenal, together with many related delivery systems. The Syrian regime acknowledged as much on July 23, 2012 through its Foreign Affairs spokesperson, who confirmed that: ‘these different weapons [chemical and non-conventional] are stockpiled and secured under the supervision of the armed forces’…”

Source: ‘National executive summary of declassified intelligence: Assessment of Syria’s chemical warfare programme’, French Government report dated 2 September 2013, posted here.

===========================

September 2012: US + Russian officials began work, bilaterally, without public announcement, on the issue of Syria’s #CW, as we learned a year later, on 14 September 2013:

Paul Adams @BBCPaulAdams 14 Sep 2013 — US officials in Geneva say Americans and Russians have been discussing how to get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons for a year.

Marian Houk @Marianhouk 15 Sep 2013 — Transcript of background briefing by State Dept officials at US Mission in Geneva yesterday mentions 1 year of US-Russian contacts on #Syria

US State Dept official[s] briefing on background in Geneva on 14 September: “We had groups that have been meeting for a year between our national security councils to talk about the elimination + destruction of #CW…in Syria, because the entire world understood that if we got to a peace, we were going to have to deal with the chemical weapons… There’ve been, I think, 5 meetings of that group over the past yr, so we already had experience working w/ each other + sharing expert info…But we did not come to this meeting with a full-fledged plan”. This is posted here.

17 September 2012: Der Spiegel reports that Syria’s military had conducted #CW tests:
“The Syrian army is believed to have tested missile systems for poison gas shells at the end of August, statements from various witnesses indicate. The tests took place near a chemical weapons research center at Safira east of Aleppo, witnesses told SPIEGEL. A total of five or six empty shells devised for delivering chemical agents were fired by tanks and aircraft, at a site called Diraiham in the desert near the village of Khanasir. Iranian officers believed to be members of the Revolutionary Guards were flown in by helicopter for the testing, according to the statements…In recent months, the guards have been replaced and reinforced by more than 100 elite troops from the 4th Tank Division. In addition, power generators and large supplies of diesel have recently been brought to the plant to safeguard the supply of electricity in the event of an attack by rebels, reports say.  This is published here.

1 December 2012: Second Iranian letter, or “message”, sent through Swiss Embassy in Tehran to Washington warning of preparations [by “rebels”] for #CW use in Syria.

Scott Peterson reported recently in the Christian Science Monitor that “Iran says that it warned the United States directly, in mid- and late- 2012, and at least once after that, about the risks of chemical weapons among the rebels…The [Iranian] letter acquired by the Monitor references messages from July 18 and Dec. 1, 2012″. This is posted here.

 

3 December 2012: Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman wrote for Wired.com’s Danger Room: “Engineers working for the Assad regime in Syria have begun combining the two chemical precursors needed to weaponize sarin gas [ isopropanol, popularly known as rubbing alcohol, and methylphosphonyl difluoride], an American official with knowledge of the situation tells Danger Room.  The U.S. doesn’t know why the Syrian military made the move, which began in the middle of last week and is taking place in central Syria…[Last week] the Syrian military began combining some of the binaries. ‘They didn’t do it on the whole arsenal, just a modest quantity’, the official says … Back in July, the Assad regime publicly warned that it might use its chemical weapons to stop ‘external’ forces from interfering in Syria’s bloody civil war. The announcement sparked a panic in the intelligence services of the U.S. and its allies, which stepped up their efforts to block shipments of precursors for those weapons from entering the country … Fighting around the Syrian capital of Damascus has intensified, as rebel troops captured a half-dozen bases around the city”.

Source: ‘Exclusive: U.S. Sees Syria Prepping Chemical Weapons for Possible Attack’, Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman, Wired.com’s Danger Room, 3 December 2012, posted  http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/12/syria-chemical-weapons-3/

 

14 December 2012: “With Syrian rebel forces gaining in strength, elite units loyal to Bashar Assad received a frightening order a few weeks ago: begin preparations that could lead to the use of chemical weapons…Danger Room first reported last week that U.S. officials recently saw indications that at least some Syrian military forces mixed precursor chemicals for sarin gas, which got the weaponized stocks to the point where they could be loaded onto planes and dropped.

The Washington Post’s Joby Warrick adds detail to that account. Some elite troops received “specific orders” to prep the weapons. At least one Syrian army unit was caught on surveillance photos loading “special military vehicles” that could be used to transport the weapons…  Warrick writes that there were fears throughout the U.S. intelligence community that ‘a single commander could unleash the deadly poisons without orders from higher up the chain of command’… Assad’s motivations remain unclear to U.S. officials, but according to Warrick, someone in the Syrian chain of command provided instructions to prep sarin for potential battlefield use about two weeks ago. Assad’s intentions are unknowable, but using sarin will most foreclose on the life-saving option of finding a foreign country willing to accept Assad for exile”.
Source: ‘U.S. Surveillance Caught Syria’s Chemical Weapons Prep’, Spencer Ackerman, The Danger Room on Wired.com, 14 December 2012. This is posted here.

 

Continue reading “Reports of Chemical Weapons use in Syria: A Chronology – UPDATED Working Draft Part 1 [Jan 2012 to 21 Aug 2013]”

UN was not neutral in “Saddam’s greatest crime”

An OP-ED in Saturday’s New York Times says, according to its author, that “Saddam Hussein’s regime was an abominable authoritarian state, guilty of many crimes, mostly toward its own people. However, one should note the strange but key fact that, when the United States representatives and the Iraqi prosecutors were enumerating his evil deeds, they systematically omitted what was undoubtedly his greatest crime in terms of human suffering and of violating international justice: his invasion of Iran. Why? Because the United States and the majority of foreign states were actively helping Iraq in this aggression.   And now the United States is continuing, through other means, this greatest crime of Saddam Hussein: his never-ending attempt to topple the Iranian government…” Slavoj Zizek, the international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, is the author, most recently, of ‘The Parallax View.’  http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/05/opinion/05zizek.html

The UN played no small role in all this.  In the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that sent the U.S.-allied Shah of Iran into exile, and then seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran (holding American diplomats and military guards hostage for 444 days — until the day that it was announced that Ronald Reagan had been elected as U.S. president), the U.S. was very, very angry with Iran, and had support from most of the world.  After all, by its seizure of diplomatic premises and holding of diplomatic personnel as hostages, the Islamic Republic had very seriously violated the Vienna Conventions.  

When Saddam invaded Iran, the U.S. was still very, very angry.  It gave tacit and apparently also covert support to Iraq — as did many other countries.  This was expressed in the UN by the inaction or very partial actions of the UN Security Council, and also in the UN General Assembly (the late Ismat Kittani — an Iraqi though also a Kurd, and a former UN staff member as well as Iraqi diplomat — was even elected President of the UNGA in the middle of the Iran-Iraq war). 

The UN Security Council could not, in its first pronouncments on the issue, even agree to admit that Iraq had used chemical weapons against its own people — something that U.S. officials mention on a daily basis nowadays. 

A contemporary account in the New York Times (written by Patrick Tyler), based on a CIA report that was apparently a very partial attempt at disinformation, even said that Iran should also be accused, as it had used chemican and nerve weapons, too. 

As it is impossible to really retract something once it is published, traces of this CIA report, and this NY Times article, and other pieces derived from it, are still floating around today.

At the time, all Iran wanted, to agree to stop fighting, was a clear condemnation by the international community of the “aggressor” in what Iranian officials called “the imposed war” with Iraq.

They have never gotten this from the UN. 

(Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, on behalf of President Bill Clinton, and then President George W. Bush, however, have since named Iraq as the agressor — many long years later.  But. U.S. officials still do not like to think of the effect that this war had on Iran, and on the region.) 

Robert Fisk today — Why didn’t he write this earlier?

In today’s edition of the British newspaper Independent, Robert Fisk writes “He takes his secrets to the grave. Our complicity dies with him: How the West armed Saddam, fed him intelligence on his ‘enemies’, equipped him for atrocities – and then made sure he wouldn’t squeal
“We’ve shut him up. The moment Saddam’s hooded executioner pulled the lever of the trapdoor in Baghdad yesterday morning, Washington’s secrets were safe. The shameless, outrageous, covert military support which the United States – and Britain – gave to Saddam for more than a decade remains the one terrible story which our presidents and prime ministers do not want the world to remember.  And now Saddam, who knew the full extent of that Western support – given to him while he was perpetrating some of the worst atrocities since the Second World War – is dead.
Gone is the man who personally received the CIA’s help in destroying the Iraqi communist party. After Saddam seized power, US intelligence gave his minions the home addresses of communists in Baghdad and other cities in an effort to destroy the Soviet Union’s influence in Iraq. Saddam’s mukhabarat visited every home, arrested the occupants and their families, and butchered the lot. Public hanging was for plotters; the communists, their wives and children, were given special treatment – extreme torture before execution at Abu Ghraib.
There is growing evidence across the Arab world that Saddam held a series of meetings with senior American officials prior to his invasion of Iran in 1980 – both he and the US administration believed that the Islamic Republic would collapse if Saddam sent his legions across the border – and the Pentagon was instructed to assist Iraq’s military machine by providing intelligence on the Iranian order of battle.

One frosty day in 1987, not far from Cologne, I met the German arms dealer who initiated those first direct contacts between Washington and Baghdad – at America’s request. [Who is this?  Why won’t Robert Fisk tell?  How was he put in touch with this man?  Why did the U.S. Pentagon give this man the satellite photos of Iranian troop positions?]
‘Mr Fisk… at the very beginning of the war [n.b. the Iran-Iraq war], in September of 1980, I was invited to go to the Pentagon,’ he said. ‘There I was handed the very latest US satellite photographs of the Iranian front lines. You could see everything on the pictures. There were the Iranian gun emplacements in Abadan and behind Khorramshahr, the lines of trenches on the eastern side of the Karun river, the tank revetments – thousands of them – all the way up the Iranian side of the border towards Kurdistan. No army could want more than this. And I travelled with these maps from Washington by air to Frankfurt and from Frankfurt on Iraqi Airways straight to Baghdad. The Iraqis were very, very grateful!’

I was with Saddam’s forward commandos at the time, under Iranian shellfire, noting how the Iraqi forces aligned their artillery positions far back from the battle front with detailed maps of the Iranian lines. Their shelling against Iran outside Basra allowed the first Iraqi tanks to cross the Karun within a week. The commander of that tank unit cheerfully refused to tell me how he had managed to choose the one river crossing undefended by Iranian armour. Two years ago, we met again, in Amman and his junior officers called him ‘General’ – the rank awarded him by Saddam after that tank attack east of Basra, courtesy of Washington’s intelligence information.

Iran’s official history of the eight-year war with Iraq states that Saddam first used chemical weapons against it on 13 January 1981. AP’s correspondent in Baghdad, Mohamed Salaam, was taken to see the scene of an Iraqi military victory east of Basra. ‘We started counting – we walked miles and miles in this fucking desert, just counting,’ he said. ‘We got to 700 and got muddled and had to start counting again … The Iraqis had used, for the first time, a combination – the nerve gas would paralyse their bodies … the mustard gas would drown them in their own lungs. That’s why they spat blood.’

At the time, the Iranians claimed that this terrible cocktail had been given to Saddam by the US. Washington denied this. But the Iranians were right. The lengthy negotiations which led to America’s complicity in this atrocity remain secret – Donald Rumsfeld was one of President Ronald Reagan’s point-men at this period – although Saddam undoubtedly knew every detail. But a largely unreported document, ‘United States Chemical and Biological Warfare-related Dual-use exports to Iraq and their possible impact on the Health Consequences of the Persian Gulf War’, stated that prior to 1985 and afterwards, US companies had sent government-approved shipments of biological agents to Iraq. These included Bacillus anthracis, which produces anthrax, and Escherichia coli (E. coli). That Senate report concluded that: ‘The United States provided the Government of Iraq with “dual use” licensed materials which assisted in the development of Iraqi chemical, biological and missile-systems programs, including … chemical warfare agent production facility plant and technical drawings, chemical warfare filling equipment.’

Nor was the Pentagon unaware of the extent of Iraqi use of chemical weapons. In 1988, for example, Saddam gave his personal permission for Lt-Col Rick Francona, a US defence intelligence officer – one of 60 American officers who were secretly providing members of the Iraqi general staff with detailed information on Iranian deployments, tactical planning and bomb damage assessments – to visit the Fao peninsula after Iraqi forces had recaptured the town from the Iranians.

He reported back to Washington that the Iraqis had used chemical weapons to achieve their victory. The senior defence intelligence officer at the time, Col Walter Lang, later said that the use of gas on the battlefield by the Iraqis ‘was not a matter of deep strategic concern’.  I saw the results, however. On a long military hospital train back to Tehran from the battle front, I found hundreds of Iranian soldiers coughing blood and mucus from their lungs – the very carriages stank so much of gas that I had to open the windows – and their arms and faces were covered with boils. Later, new bubbles of skin appeared on top of their original boils. Many were fearfully burnt. These same gases were later used on the Kurds of Halabja. No wonder that Saddam was primarily tried in Baghdad for the slaughter of Shia villagers, not for his war crimes against Iran. [What?]

We still don’t know – and with Saddam’s execution we will probably never know – the extent of US credits to Iraq, which began in 1982. The initial tranche, the sum of which was spent on the purchase of American weapons from Jordan and Kuwait, came to $300m.  By 1987, Saddam was being promised $1bn in credit.  By 1990, just before Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, annual trade between Iraq and the US had grown to $3.5bn a year.

Pressed by Saddam’s foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, to continue US credits, James Baker then Secretary of State, but the same James Baker who has just produced a report intended to drag George Bush from the catastrophe of present- day Iraq – pushed for new guarantees worth $1bn from the US.

In 1989, Britain, which had been giving its own covert military assistance to Saddam guaranteed £250m to Iraq shortly after the arrest of Observer journalist Farzad Bazoft in Baghdad. Bazoft, who had been investigating an explosion at a factory at Hilla which was using the very chemical components sent by the US, was later hanged. Within a month of Bazoft’s arrest William Waldegrave, then a Foreign Office minister, said: ‘I doubt if there is any future market of such a scale anywhere where the UK is potentially so well-placed if we play our diplomatic hand correctly… A few more Bazofts or another bout of internal oppression would make it more difficult.

Even more repulsive were the remarks of the then Deputy Prime Minister, Geoffrey Howe, on relaxing controls on British arms sales to Iraq. He kept this secret, he wrote, because ‘it would look very cynical if, so soon after expressing outrage about the treatment of the Kurds, we adopt a more flexible approach to arms sales’.

Saddam knew, too, the secrets of the attack on the USS Stark when, on 17 May 1987, an Iraqi jet launched a missile attack on the American frigate, killing more than a sixth of the crew and almost sinking the vessel. The US accepted Saddam’s excuse that the ship was mistaken for an Iranian vessel and allowed Saddam to refuse their request to interview the Iraqi pilot.

The whole truth died with Saddam Hussein in the Baghdad execution chamber yesterday. Many in Washington and London must have sighed with relief that the old man had been silenced for ever”. http://news.independent.co.uk/world/fisk/article2114403.ece

UN Team Confirms Israeli Use of Phosphorous Bombs in Lebanon

AP has reported that Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Program, has said that recent tests confirmed “the use of white phosphorus-containing artillery and mortar ammunition” by the IDF during the conflict. Steiner said, however, that the UN team found no evidence of use of depleted uranium or other radioactive material during Israel’s month-long attack on Lebanon that ended on August 14. Steiner said the UN team collected samples from September 30 to October 21; these samples were taken to three European laboratories for testing.

If phosporous is not banned by international conventions, it should be.

Norway and Switzerland paid for the month-long investigation in Lebanon. UNEP reports that “The decision to undertake a post conflict assessment follows a request in early August from the Lebanese Ministry of the Environment.” It is, of course, easier for UNEP to make its announcement confirming Israel’s use of phosphorous weapons in Lebanon this past summer, after Israel already admitted it.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on 22 October, in an article written by Meron Rapoport, that: “Israel has acknowledged for the first time that it attacked Hezbollah targets during the second Lebanon war with phosphorus shells. White phosphorus causes very painful and often lethal chemical burns to those hit by it, and until recently Israel maintained that it only uses such bombs to mark targets or territory. The announcement that the Israel Defense Forces had used phosphorus bombs in the war in Lebanon was made by Minister Jacob Edery, in charge of government-Knesset relations. He had been queried on the matter by MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz-Yahad) … Edery said: ‘The IDF made use of phosphorous shells during the war against Hezbollah in attacks against military targets in open ground’. Edery also pointed out that international law does not forbid the use of phosphorus and that ‘ the IDF used this type of munitions according to the rules of international law’. Edery did not specify where and against what types of targets phosphorus munitions were used.”

The Haaretz article also reported that: “Phosphorus has been used by armies since World War I. During World War II and Vietnam the U.S. and British armies made extensive use of phosphorus. During recent decades the tendency has been to ban the use of phosphorus munitions against any target, civilian or military, because of the severity of the injuries that the substance causes. Some experts believe that phosphorus munitions should be termed Chemical Weapons (CW) because of the way the weapons burn and attack the respiratory system. As a CW, phosphorus would become a clearly illegal weapon. International Red Cross is of the opinion that there should be a complete ban on phosphorus being used against human beings and the third protocol of the Geneva Convention on Conventional Weapons restricts the use of ‘incendiary weapons’, with phosphorus considered to be one such weapon. Israel and the United States are not signatories to the Third Protocol. In November 2004 the U.S. Army used phosphorus munitions during an offensive in Faluja, Iraq … Initially the U.S. denied that it had used phosphorus bombs against humans, but then acknowledged that during the assault targets that were neither civilian nor population concentrations were hit with such munitions. Israel also says that the use of incendiary munitions are not in themselves illegal”.  The Haaretz article on phosphorus use in warfare is here. l

The British newspaper The Independent reported on 23 October that “Israel has been accused by both the UN and human rights groups of firing up to four million cluster bombs into Lebanon during its war with Hizbollah, which ended in a UN-brokered ceasefire on 14 August. UN de-mining experts say up to one million of the cluster bombs failed to explode immediately and continue to threaten civilians, especially children who can mistake the ordnance for batteries or other small objects.” This article on Israel’s cluster bomb use in Lebanon in 2006 is here.

The Independent’s veteran correspondent Robert Fisk reported on 28 October that: “Israel has a poor reputation for telling the truth about its use of weapons in Lebanon. In 1982, it denied using phosphorous munitions on civilian areas – until journalists discovered dying and dead civilians whose wounds caught fire when exposed to air. I saw two dead babies who, when taken from a mortuary drawer in West Beirut during the Israeli siege of the city, suddenly burst back into flames. Israel officially denied using phosphorous again in Lebanon during the summer – except for ‘marking’ targets – even after civilians were photographed in Lebanese hospitals with burn wounds consistent with phosphorous munitions … Then on Sunday, Israel suddenly admitted that it had not been telling the truth. Jacob Edery, the Israeli minister in charge of government-parliament relations, confirmed that phosphorous shells were used in direct attacks against Hizbollah, adding that “according to international law, the use of phosphorous munitions is authorised and the (Israeli) army keeps to the rules of international norms”. Asked by The Independent if the Israeli army had been using uranium-based munitions in Lebanon this summer, Mark Regev, the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, said: ‘Israel does not use any weaponry which is not authorised by international law or international conventions’. This, however, begs more questions than it answers.” Robert Fisk’s article in the Independent on Israel’s use of phosphorous weapons in Lebanon is here.

An excellent summary of reporting on white phosphorous, which illuminates how its use could be legal (for marking enemy positions, or masking of friendly troop movements), and how its use is not legal (when used as a weapon against human beings), see FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) Extra! of March-April 2006, Now It’s a Chemical Weapon, Now It’s Not: White phosphorus and the siege of Fallujah, also by Seth Ackerman is published here. .

In this report, Ackerman writes that: “On the excruciating effects of the substance, which burns the skin to the bone and cannot be extinguished with water, there’s little dispute: A New York Times article from the mid-1990s (3/22/95) explained that despite its ambiguous legal status, white phosphorous is one of “the worst chemical weapons” in existence, and noted that many of its civilian victims during World War II ‘were shot by German troops to end their suffering’.”