Syria’s Chemical Scourge

The use of horrendous chemical weapons is on the rise in Syria and Iraq, but where are they coming from?

By Animesh Roul.

The terrible odor of chlorine gas drifts on the wind in the Syrian city of Aleppo. On April 7, four civilians were poisoned by this unpredictable and indiscriminate weapon, reportedly used by Islamist rebels against Kurdish fighters in the neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsoud.

Ever since Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons in the Ghouta suburb of Damascus killed upwards of 1,700 people in 2013, the terrible, chaotic nature of weaponized gas has become representative of the chaos of the conflict itself. When the winds switch direction, chemical weapons kill combatants and civilians alike, and in the chlorine-scented fog of war, all sides can—and do—claim that others fired the imprecise weapons. The use of chemical weapons is a war crime that demands investigation, but in the multi-faction Syrian and Iraqi theater of war, reports conflict as to who is using the weapons and from where they’re being acquired.

Illegal Weapons

Chemical weapons were banned over 90 years ago, in part because of their unpredictability, but also because of the terrible agony the weapons inflict not only on those who die, sometimes after hours of pain, but also on survivors, who can suffer from disabilities for the remainder of their lives.

The Ghouta incident, infamously labeled as ‘Syria’s Srebrenica’ (in reference to the July 1995 massacre during the Bosnian War) put immense pressure on the Syrian regime to declare and dismantle its chemical weapons stockpiles. Later in 2013, Syria acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and began dismantling its declared chemical weapons under the process established by U.N. Security Council Resolution 2118.

Even though international pressure in the aftermath of Ghouta led to the peaceful destruction of Syria’s stockpiles, especially of nerve gas and mustard agents, the use of some chemical agents, like chlorine gas, continued, mostly around …

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