Investigative Journalism that is as
Radical as Reality Itself.

Syria Has No Reason to Use Chemical Weapons

by PATRICK COCKBURN

‘I am not afraid of anything except for God and poison gas,” said an Iraqi officer who had fought in the Iran-Iraq war. “It’s like a ghost. You have no defence against it.” Though not a target of poison gas as a member of the army using it, he knew what it did to its victims.

Poison gas is a terrifying weapon. People are still dying in Iran from the effects of ingesting it a quarter of a century ago. It is one of the few weapons to be banned with partial success between its first use on a mass scale in the First World War and again by Saddam Hussein with even greater intensity against Iranians and Kurds in the 1980s.

It is right, therefore, that the alleged attack by the Syrian armed forces using chemical weapons against Saraqeb, a rebel-held town south-west of Aleppo on 29 April, should be carefully investigated. Doctors told the BBC’s Ian Pannell that after an artillery bombardment they treated eight people with breathing problems, some of whom were vomiting and others who had constricted pupils.

One woman named Maryam Khatib later died. Her son Mohammed said: “It was a horrible, suffocating smell. You couldn’t breathe at all. You’d feel like you were dead. I couldn’t see anything for three or four days.” Videos taken by local people show a helicopter dropping an object which appears to leave a trail of white vapour.

My experience of trying to report allegations of the deployment or use of such weapons over the years makes me cautious. Local people, including local doctors, are often sincerely convinced that some exotic weapon has been used against them, but they may not have past experience of either conventional or chemical attack.

For instance, doctors in Fallujah west of Baghdad suspect that non-conventional weapons must have been used against the city when it was stormed by US forces in November 2004. This might explain why so many malformed babies have been born since. It is impossible not to sympathise or suppress a feeling of rage over the sufferings of these people.

But, in blaming non-conventional weapons, people may underestimate what conventional munitions can do. In two weeks’ fighting in Fallujah in 2004, US marine artillery units fired an average of 379 high-explosive 155mm shells a day into this small city. In addition, American jets flying overhead dropped 318 bombs and, together with helicopters, fired 391 rockets and missiles.

At the time, the Iraqi government of Iyad Allawi made the unlikely claim that just 200 buildings in Fallujah had been destroyed or damaged. A recently published book, The Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq from George W Bush to Barack Obama by Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor, from which the above figures are taken, reveals that the US marines “estimated that out of about 50,000 residences in the city, their operations had destroyed between 7,000 and 10,000, as well as 60 mosques”. Perhaps this vastly excessive use of firepower is sufficient explanation for the appalling birth defects.

Allegations about the use of poison gas in Syria are made under the shadow of the notoriously false claims about Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction made to justify the Iraq war. Not surprisingly, this has made the public everywhere in the world dubious about stories about the possession or use of WMD being used to hoodwink them into supporting another war.

Of course, it is much against the interests of the Syrian government to use chemical weapons because this might provoke foreign military intervention. The Syrian army has no need to use it as a terror weapon because artillery, aerial bombardment and death squads are quite enough to frighten people into taking flight. There are already 1.5 million refugees outside the country.

Journalists bear a large measure of responsibility for giving credence to the stories peddled by Iraqi defectors, intelligence services and government about Saddam’s WMD. In that case, it should have been self-evident that Iraqi defectors with juicy stories, and the opposition parties that promoted them, wanted to tempt the US into military action against Saddam. When it comes to chemical weapons, the Syrian opposition has similar and wholly understandable motives.

As for the credibility of Western government claims about WMD, it is worth recalling that they tolerated Saddam using poison gas on a mass scale. And they did more than just turn a blind eye. Joost Hiltermann, in his book A Poisonous Affair: America, Iraq and the Gassing of Halabja, writes that Western powers “sent repeated signals to Iraq that the regime could continue, and even escalate, chemical weapons use – which it did, with the Halabja attack [when thousands of Kurdish civilians died] as climax”.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of “Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

July 07, 2015
ANDRE VLTCHEK
In Ecuador, Fight for Mankind; In Greece, Fight for Greece!
Nile Bowie
Obama’s Pacific Trade Deal Trails Behind China’s Development Vision
Binoy Kampmark
Warrior Economist: the Varoufakis Legacy
Shamus Cooke
Unions Must Act Now to Survive Supreme Court Deathblow
Dave Lindorff
The Greek People Have Voted ‘No!’ to Austerity and Economic Blackmail
Bruce K. Gagnon
Sanders Bullshit Meter Goes Off the Charts in Portland, Maine
Mateo Pimentel
The Pope’s Letter: Neoliberalism and Fukushima
Raouf Halaby
Beware Those Who Speak With Forked Tongues
Ron Jacobs
The Grateful Dead: The Ship of the Sun Bids Farewell
Jonathan Cook
Hasbara Industry: Why Israel’s Army of Spin-Doctors is Doomed to Defeat
Rev. William Alberts
Charleston: a Reality Check on Racism in America
Ellen Brown
A Franciscan Alternative: the People’s Pope and a People’s Bank?
Colin Todhunter
The Warped World of the GMO Lobbyist
John Wight
Who Will Join With Greece?
W. T. Whitney
Colombia’s Fensuagro Union is Revolutionary, Persecuted, and Undaunted
Mel Gurtov
Keep It in the Ground, Obama
July 06, 2015
MICHAEL HUDSON
Greece Rejects the Troika
Steve Hendricks
Will FIFA’s World Cup Sexism Ever Die?
Binoy Kampmark
Oxi in Greece
Gareth Porter
How US Spin on Access to Iranian Sites has Distorted the Issue
Peter Bach
ISIL and Ramadan in the Rag
Paul Craig Roberts
A Rebuke to EU-Imposed Austerity
Quincy Saul
The View from Mount Olympus
Robert Hunziker
Looking Inside Fukushima Prefecture
ADRIENNE PINE, RICHARD JOHNSTON, FIONA WILMOT, et al.
Seven Reasons to Scrap the USA’s $1 Billion Aid Package to Central America
Norman Pollack
Capitalism’s Self-Revealing Practices
Robert David Steele
The National Military Strategy: Dishonest Platitudes
Joan Roelofs
Whatever Happened to Eastern European Communism?
David Macaray
Could Justice Scalia Be the One to Rescue Labor?
Linn Washington Jr.
Storm Smashes Chris Christie’s Presidential Candidacy
Benjamin Willis
US and Cuba: What Remains to be Done?
Weekend Edition
July 3-5, 2015
Mike Whitney
The Pentagon’s “2015 Strategy” For Ruling the World
Jason Hirthler
Going Off-Script in St. Petersburg
Rob Urie
Greece and Global Class War
DIMITRIS KONSTANTAKOPOULOS
The Future of Greece Without Illusions
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Ecuador Fights for Survival – Against its Elites
David Rosen
White Skin Crisis
Jerry Lembcke
Nobody Spat on American GIs!
Stavros Mavroudeas
The Greek Referendum and the Tasks of the Left
Andrew Levine
Dumping on Dixie Again
Richard Pithouse
Charleston (It’s Not Over)
Arun Gupta
What Does It Mean to Call Dylann Roof a “Terrorist”?
Michael Welton
The Tragedy of Harper’s Canada
Brendan McQuade
The Right Wing Resurgence and the Problem of Terrorism
Chris Floyd
Heritage and Hokum in Rebel Banner Row