Warning signs over uptick in Syria, Iraq chemical attacks
The report says at least 161 chemical weapon attacks were carried out in the country since the beginning of the conflict
A new report released by the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) this week confirms that there was an uptick in chemical weapon attacks in Syria over the course of the last year, underscoring the shortcomings of the Russia-DC brokered deal that ostensibly saw the Assad regime’s chemical weapon program dismantled and their arsenal destroyed.
The report was published just two days before the anniversary of the worst chemical weapon attack in history: Saddam Hussein’s barbaric gassing of at least 5,000 Kurds in the northern Iraqi city of Halabja on March 16, 1988.
The 28-year somber anniversary was an especially poignant one as Kurds, Syrians and Iraqis are once again under constant threat of chemical weapon attacks. With each chemical weapon attack the Syrian regime and ISIS carry out, the likelihood for another major massacre increases.
According to the SAMS report titled, “A New Normal: Ongoing Chemical Weapons Attacks in Syria,” at least 161 chemical weapon attacks were carried out in the country since the beginning of the conflict, 69 of which were executed in 2015, leaving at least 1,491 people dead and another 14,581 injured.
The report further noted, stunningly, that 77 percent of such attacks were carried out after the US-Russia backed CW-destruction deal that led to UNSC Resolution 2118 in September 2013.
The failures of that deal – including allowing the Assad regime to self report its own arsenal and excluding chlorine altogether – has indeed cultivated a “new normal” where chemical weapon attacks – that kill just a few but not thousands - are allowed to go ahead by the international community.
In a particularly brutal attack, nearly a year ago to date – and on the anniversary of the massacre in Halabja – the Assad regime dropped at least several barrel bombs packed with cylinders of chlorine gas on Sarmin and a nearby village, killing at least six people – including three children under the ages of four - and injuring another 110, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report. Most recently, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon claimed the Syrian regime had used chlorine gas during the tenuous ceasefire agreement.
Meanwhile, several months prior to the SAMS publication, credible reports surfaced indicating the Islamic State (ISIS) had carried out a number of attacks with mustard agent against Kurds in both Iraq and Syria. The attacks, which were initially reported in July 2014, have continued into the very recent term. Earlier this month, Iraqi three-year-old Fatima Samir died after ISIS militants launched rockets containing chemicals – possibly mustard agent - at the Iraqi town of Taza, killing the child and injuring hundreds of other people.
As an increasing number of nefarious actors carry out chemical weapon attacks against civilians, a failure to confront the number one offender could have dire, long-lasting consequences for the regionBrooklyn Middleton
Amid the horrendous uptick in ISIS-executed chemical weapon attacks, the United States has increasingly targeted suspected chemical weapon sites belonging to the militant group, relying on intelligence provided by the recently captured Sleiman Daoud al-Afari.
The AP reported that Afari was one of Saddam Hussein’s chemical and biological weaponeers and prior to US Special Forces apprehending him, Afari was the leader of the ISIS’s chemical weapon program.
Afari’s capture is hugely significant for efforts to degrade the militant group on all fronts. That said, as the US continues destroying ISIS’ chemical weapon making capabilities and thwarting associated plots, Assad, too, must be held accountable for continuously carrying out attacks against civilians.
The regime’s total lack of commitment to halting chemical weapon attacks – even as Syria is under a ceasefire and being closely watched by the international community – is a warning; they can and will carry out additional chemical weapon attacks and may escalate the intensity of them.
As an increasing number of nefarious actors carry out criminal chemical weapon attacks against civilians, a failure to confront the number one offender could have dire, long-lasting consequences for the region.
Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst currently based in New York City. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama's policy in Syria as well as Bashar al-Assad's continued crimes against his own people. She recently finished her MA thesis on Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, completing her Master's degree in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.