chemical warfare

Are you ready for World War 5?

Days after it was reported that Lebanese authorities are barring entry to Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria, The Guardian tells us of the sudden flight of Syria's "well-heeled elite" into Lebanon—predictably meeting no interference from authorities. With nearly 2 million already in refuge beyond Syria's borders according to the UNHCR (up from 1.4 million just four months ago), and hundreds of  thousands more internally displaced, many facing hunger and harsh conditions for well over a year now, it is almost satisfying to see the pain get passed around to the regime's favored lackeys. But the threat of US air-strikes which has sparked this exclusive exodus also looms over Syria's commoners—as we saw in Libya, "smart bombs" and "surgical" targeting still have a habit of wiping out civilians. And yes, there is something utterly perverse about the world sitting and watching, arms folded, as Syria escalates to genocide—as in Darfur. But the threat is very real that US intervention will internationalize the conflict, and set off a regional or even global conflagration...

Iraq: chemical attack survivors sue corporations

Survivors of the 1988 chemical weapons attack on northern Iraq's Kurdish city of Halabja, which left up to 5,000 dead, announced this month that they will bring suit against companies that supplied chemical agents to the Saddam Hussein dictatorship. The head of the Association of Halabja Martyrs and Victims, Lokman Abdulkadir, said the group has identified 27 companies as complicit in the attack, and will appeal to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to open a case against them. "The verdict of the ICC will be of utmost impoorrtance in terms of recognition of the Halabja massacre as a genocide," Abdulkadir said. "We want the companies selling those chemical weapons to the Baath regime to be called to account, be judged and pay compensation to the victims and their families." The companies are of US, German and French origin.

Syria chemical attack: rush to judgement

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights posted to its Facebook page Aug. 21 claims, based on witness reports, of a chemical gas attack on the eastern Damascus suburbs. Dozens were reported killed and hundreds injured in the towns of Erbin, Zamalka, Ein Terma and East Ghouta. Al Jazeera puts the death toll at "at least 100," and notes that Syrian authorities dismissed the reports as "baseless." The Syrian National Coalition is apparently putting the toll at 650 lives. The claims coincide with a visit to Syria by a 20-member UN team to investigate three sites where chemical weapons were allegedly used over the past year. Al Jazeera and Russia Today report Moscow's rejection of the claims. The Russian Foreign Ministry said the timing of the claimed attack "makes us think that we are once again dealing with a premeditated provocation." Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich charged that "biased regional media have immediately, as if on command, begun an aggressive information attack, laying all the responsibility on the government."

Why I am renouncing my Project Censored award

The latest statement from the poorly named United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) is entitled "No more wars—US out of the Middle East!" The very first line reads: "The White House's June 13th announcement that it would begin directly supplying arms to the opposition in Syria is a dramatic escalation of the US/NATO war against that country." Anyone with a modicum of sophistication should see the problems with this formulation right off the bat. Let's put aside the fact that the White House promise of arms to the insurgents is a completely empty one, since the shipments have been held up by Congressional fears that war material could find its way into jihadist hands, as Reuters reports. The more important point is the assumption that Syrians' most pressing problem is the hypothetical threat of the US arming the rebels—while for two years the Bashar Assad dictatorship has been vigorously waging war against its own people, with a death toll topping 60,000, with reports of "cleansing" of Sunnis by forces loyal to the regime, and the UN Security Council urging the International Criminal Court to open a war crimes investigation.

Israeli air-strikes near Damascus

Israeli missiles struck a research center near Damascus, setting off explosions and causing casualties, Syria's state news agency reported  May 5. If confirmed, it would be the second Israeli strike on targets in Syria in three days. Two previous Israeli air-strikes, one in January and one on May 3, targeted weapons reportedly bound for Hezbollah. (AP, May 5) On May 4, a former senior official in the Bush administration said the use of chemical weapons in Syria might have been an Israeli-instrumented "false flag operation." Retired Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff, told Current TV: "We don’t know what the chain of custody is. This could’ve been an Israeli false flag operation, it could’ve been an opposition in Syria... or it could've been an actual use by Bashar Assad. But we certainly don’t know with the evidence we’ve been given. And what I'm hearing from the intelligence community is that that evidence is really flakey." (JP, May 4)

Has Syria crossed chemical 'red line'?

The Assad regime's use of chemical weapons is announced as a "red line"—the favored metaphor of Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu, now alarmingly accepted by the US media, at least.  Israel yesterday said the line has been crossed. Brigadier-General Itai Brun, head of IDF military intelligence, told an Institute for National Security Studies conference in Tel Aviv: "There's a huge arsenal of chemical weapons in Syria. Our assessment is that the [Assad] regime has used and is using chemical weapons." Brun cited photographs of victims that showed them foaming at the mouth and with contracted pupils. "To the best of our understanding, there was use of lethal chemical weapons. Which chemical weapons? Probably sarin." And John Kerry, speaking at a NATO meeting in Brussels, called on the alliance to make preparations to respond in the event of chemical weapons threatening a member (meaning Turkey). (The Guardian, April 23)

Syria chemical weapons threat: how real?

The Obama administration is suddely making much of Assad's supposed preparations for a chemical weapons attack on Syria's opposition strongholds. Conspiranoid blogs, including one with the unappetizing name Sic Semper Tyrannis, assert that the supposed intelligence is coming from neocon groups like the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) which is in turn getting the claims entirely from Syrian insurgent sources. However, the lead story on the WINEP website, "How Would Assad Use Chemical Weapons?," starts off: "US intelligence has detected increased activity at Syrian chemical warfare facilities, raising concerns about the regime potentially using chemical weapons (CW) against the opposition." Are the sources for that "US intelligence" WINEP istelf? Could things really be quite that incestuous? And—contrary to the conspiranoid assumption of a neocon-jihadist plot—the jihadists, like al-Nusra Front, seem to have made the neocons a little gun-shy in Syria. Insurgent sympathizers have been placing lugubrious propaganda videos on YouTube (via a stream called SyriaTube) luridly warning of an imminent chemcial attack. NBC News merely quotes anonymous US "officials" to the effect that "nerve agents" were loaded into warheads, without saying how this was determined. The agents are apparently "precursor chemicals for sarin," the gas that was used by Saddam at Halabja in 1988. Fox News merely cites the NBC account. The New York Times vaguely warns that stockpiles are being moved around to various of Syria's chemical weapons facilities, and that US officlals repeatedly warn Assad will be "held accountable" for their use...

Syria: endgame or wider war?

With pitched fighting in Damascus, Al Jazeera reports that the Internet is down across Syria, and mobile phone services also disrupted in some areas. Syrian state TV denied the blackout is nationwide, but Renesys, a US-based network security firm that studies Net disruptions, said Syria has effectively disappeared from the Internet. There is some talk that the Net blackout may be due to insurgent attacks, but the regime seems to be conniving in it, at the very least. Recall that when Mubarak pulled the same stunt in January 2011, it proved to be the 10-day countdown to his overthrow.

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