April Fool’s Day 2014 seems an auspicious day to be writing about Syrian chemical weapons. It’s shortly after the 26th anniversary of the Halabja genocide attack by Saddam Hussein against the Kurds in 1988, which killed thousands and has left its toxic legacy physically and psychologically across the Kurdistan region of Iraq. The Halabja genocide attack is in many ways a template of the Ghouta attack on Aug 21, 2013–and we see a similar legacy unfolding in Syria, now albeit on the back pages. Saddam blamed everybody else for the Halabja attack and the international community was rooted to the spot with inactivity; and it is only now 26 years later that the law and the science is being galvanized to bring some sort of closure to the people of Halabja and Kurdistan. Sadly, the same story is being played out in Syria, though the international community three years on appears Syria weary, especially with a new Cold War in the offing.
In about 90 days time all Syrian CW are to be destroyed. It will take the MV Cape Ray about 90 days to destroy the Mustard agent and Priority 1 chemicals. The Cape Ray is presumably still around Spain somewhere, the Mustard is on a cargo ship in the Eastern Mediterranean and a good deal of the Priority 1 chemicals are still in Syria, some, at two sites under the control of the rebels. So each time the Syrian regime claims to be pulling out all the stops to achieve ever flexible deadlines and each time the UN and OPCW claim things are on track, we all shrug and move on. The basic fact now is that the UN Security Council resolution to remove chemical weapons from Syria has been achieved in all but name – but the CW issue remains useful politically to all but the innocent civilians of Syria who are dying still in their thousands and some even from lack of food and medical resources. I wonder if this would still be the case if the regime et al put as much effort into getting food and aid in rather than CW out. The chemical weapons issue in Syria has become an irrelevant distraction from the tragedy unfolding on the ground – CW proliferation outside Syria should now be the concern and focus for the international community on the CW front, and relief of suffering, the focus inside Syria. Anyway, who’s fooling who? Ask the people of Halabja and Kurdistan 26 years after their chemical atrocity. // Hamish de Bretton-Gordon