There is now, at last, conclusive evidence that Assad and ISIS have used chemical weapons in Syria, nearly two and half years after I collected evidence that proved that Assad had dropped chlorine barrel bombs on the towns of Kafr Zita and Talmenes in Idlib province.
The much anticipated and now leaked report by the UN/OPCW Joint Investigation Team (JIM) has concluded that both the Assad Regime and ISIS have used chemical weapons on a number of occasions.
It also states that is highly likely that Assad still possess chemical weapons. I in no way blame the OPCW and the JIM for the time taken to confirm our results, they are in effect having to follow antiquated rules which though good for the Cold War are sub-optimal in the fast moving asymmetric battlefield of the 21st Century. With the use of chemical weapons appearing to becoming the ‘norm’, certainly in Syria and Iraq, these procedures need to be given flexibility in order to become effective and most importantly timely in future in order to deter chemical weapon use.
Assad has always used chemical weapons when he has been in dire straits and to ‘good’ effect: the mass Sarin attack at Ghouta, killing 1,500 saved the regime in Aug 13. The use of chlorine barrel bombs on ISIS attacking Deir Ezzor saved this strategic military air base in Dec 14.
Most recently, last week, there was the use of chlorine to suppress civilians in Aleppo who looked like breaking the 2 year siege. So it is no surprise that the regime held back up to 200 tonnes of chemical weapons from the UN/OPCW effort to take down the Assad chemical weapons programme.
It should also be no surprise that ISIS is now using chemical weapons with increasing frequency against Peshmerga forces who are closing in on the last and main ISIS stronghold in Iraq, Mosul. ISIL have learnt from Assad what a brilliant defensive weapon chemicals can be.
So what? At the UN Security Council on Tuesday there were platitudes about how terrible this is, and that Assad will have his day in the International Criminal Court, and there was talk of sanctions. But what I wanted, and still want to hear are decisions about demonstrative actions – for example a No Fly Zone for helicopters over civilian areas to stop the use of chlorine barrel bombs described in the report forthwith. This would also stop the illegal use of napalm and high explosive barrel bombs which have killed thousands of innocent civilians over the last 5 years. Slow moving helicopters will be easy for the International Coalition air campaign to track and shoot down if they drop barrel bombs on civilians. Equally military ships in the Eastern Mediterranean have the capability to track and intercept helicopters with surface to air missiles.
The ‘Bear’ in the room is of course Russia. The Russians claim they don’t target civilians and don’t use banned chemical weapons. So, there are absolutely no grounds to veto this proposal in the UNSC. But they did of course. To do so is reprehensible and morally bankrupt. If the UNSC had agreed a scheme like this on Tuesday it could have been in place in a matter of hours.
In Iraq, the Peshmerga should be afforded every support including countering chemical attack in their fight against ISIS, otherwise they might stop and we might have to put UK, US and other forces in to do a job the Kurds are capable of given the right backing.
The UNSC and International Community hasn’t hitherto dealt with the chemical weapon issue well, and again under pressure from Russia has failed to take demonstrative action which could lead to these dreadful weapons becoming the norm on battlefields of the future.
A helicopter No Fly Zone in Syria would save hundreds of lives per week, and more support for the Peshmerga will allow them to kick ISIS out of Mosul and thence Iraq.