News / Middle East

Syria Attack Compared To Chemical Use in Iraq

People, affected by what activists say is nerve gas, are treated at a hospital in the Duma neighborhood of Damascus August 21, 2013.
People, affected by what activists say is nerve gas, are treated at a hospital in the Duma neighborhood of Damascus August 21, 2013.
Chemical warfare experts are comparing the suspected poison gas attack on a suburb of Damascus this week to a deadly chemical weapons assault launched by Saddam Hussein on the Kurdish town of Halabja during the closing days of the Iran-Iraq.
 
Syrian opposition leaders are saying the attack this week killed hundreds and involved Sarin gas, a banned chemical warfare nerve agent. They say it was launched by forces trying to protect President Bashar al-Assad, whose government the opposition has been trying to overthrow for the past 29 months.
 
The chemical warfare experts say the look on the victims faces this week, the convulsions and the pinpoint pupils of their eyes were all reminiscent of the images from Halabja. They also say the tactic of first unleashing conventional air and artillery bombardment and then following up with the gas is similar to the line of attack employed by Saddam Hussein’s forces.
 
The Halabja in attack in March of 1988 killed up to 5,000 people and Sarin gas was one of the agents used in the assault.
 
“From the evidence I have seen coming out the last 24 hours from Syria, there are tremendous similarities with the attack on Halabja 25 years ago when Saddam used chemical and conventional weapons on the Kurds,” said Hamish Bretton-Gordon, a British chemical warfare expert.
  
“The windows were broken in and the roofs were broken in at Halabja by conventional artillery fire and air strikes to make the gas more effective to get into rooms and cellars,” Bretton-Gordon said. “We saw that yesterday [August 21] in Syria. There are many dead families in their cellars - this again is exactly like what happened in Iraq.
 
“When the bombardment started,” he continued, “many people dived in to their cellars expecting to be safe but, of course, Sarin gas and mustard gas is heavier than air and sinks down into the cellars. If you want to create genocide and kill lots of people this is probably the most effective way to do it.”
 
Syrian opposition activists say they are still finding the dead in cellars and that many of the victims are children. Doctors working in makeshift hospitals in the Damascus suburbs in the Ghouta region say they were overwhelmed with the wounded.
 
Preceded by air and artillery bombardment
 
Activists said Wednesday's attack took place after a heavy government bombardment in the region surrounding Damascus, where the army is trying to drive out rebel forces.
 
Video from the area posted by opposition activists shows dozens of bodies in the makeshift hospitals with no visible signs of injuries. Other videos show the injured convulsing and foaming at the mouth.
 
The Syrian government has denied carrying out any chemical attack, calling the allegations “illogical and fabricated.” Syrian government officials say the claims are being made up in order to try to persuade the West to intervene.
 
U.N. spokesmen said Thursday Secretary General Ban Ki-moon believes the attack “needs to be investigated without delay.” He has called for international chemical warfare inspectors “presently in Damascus, to be granted permission and access to swiftly investigate the incident.”

Independent chemical weapons experts and Western diplomats say they don’t believe the images of the dead and dying could be faked.
 
“I don’t think there is anyway the symptoms could have been faked, especially with the many children and babies we are seeing dying,” said Bretton-Gordon.
 
Andrew Green, a former British ambassador to Syria, says that while there is no firm evidence yet, “it is clear there was a tragedy in Damascus and that it was almost certainly chemical weapons and the Syrian government is very anxious to make sure no one gets there to find out.”
 
Permission needed to inspect attack sites
 
The British diplomat says Assad apparently is convinced he can get away with using chemical weapons.
 
“He has calculated this,” Green said of Assad. “It is very striking, if the regime were innocent they would be making every effort to get the inspectors in there, but they are doing the opposite and the Russians are backing them up, which suggests to me that the Russians think there are matters here that need to be hidden.”
 
The U.N. weapons team in Damascus is there to investigate previous allegations of chemical weapons use in the civil war that has left more than 100,000 dead. The team has a mandate to visit three sites previously agreed between the U.N. and the Syrian government after months of negotiations.

Chemical weapons experts say they have up to 10 days to get into the Damascus suburbs to be able to determine with any certainly if any chemical weapons were used, and if they were, which type. Sarin is a non-persistent gas, meaning that it dissipates quickly.

French chemical weapons expert Jean Pascal Zanders say it is important to get a team in the sooner the better.
 
“One of the key elements is to get the U.N. inspection team in there and they would be able to collect a variety of types of evidence from blood samples to soil samples and conduct autopsies.”

You May Like

Photogallery South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbasi
X
Scott Stearns
August 21, 2014 9:20 PM
The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid