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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More