I had just finished a session in the gym last evening, when I caught the headlines last night about the suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria. The changing room fell silent as people took in the news and the grim footage. The Kurdish man standing next to me watching the TV broke the silence saying that he had survived Saddam’s chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja (16th March 1988) but had lost his father and other close relatives. For those who have forgotten back on the 16th March 1988, Iraq dropped bombs containing mustard gas, Sarin and Tabun on the Kurdish city of Halabja. UN experts estimated that the number of civilians killed range from 3,200 to 5,000, with many survivors suffering long-term health problems.
Now this was not the first time that Saddam used chemical weapons against the Kurds, they were also used during Iraq's ‘Anfal’ offensive. This seven-month scorched-earth campaign in which an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 Kurdish villagers were killed or disappeared, and hundreds of villages were razed to the ground. The UN had confirmed in 1986 that Iraq had contravened the Geneva Convention by using chemical weapons against Iran. Iraq also used the blister agent mustard gas from 1983 and the nerve gas Tabun from 1985, in the face of human waves attacks from Iranian troops and poorly-trained Iranian volunteers. A UN Security Council statement condemned Iraq's use of chemical weapons in the war in 1986. The US, UK and other western governments still looked upon Saddam as ‘their own boy’ so continued supporting Baghdad politically and militarily until the closing stages of the Iran – Iraq war.
Now chemical weapons are being used in the Middle East again, this time in Syria. UN officials have said that the alleged chemical weapons attacks which Syria's opposition says killed hundreds near Damascus was a "serious escalation". Jan Eliasson, UN Deputy Secretary-General, made those comments after briefing an emergency UN Security Council meeting about Wednesday's incident. The Security Council also said that clarity was needed over the attacks. Some 35 UN member states (including the US, UK and France) have called for the UN chemical weapons inspectors that are already probing three sites of alleged chemical weapons use in Syria to be dispatched immediately to the scene to investigate. UN inspectors arrived in Damascus on Sunday with a mandate to investigate three locations including the northern town of Khan al-Assal, where some 26 people were killed in March.
Syrian opposition activists have said that more than 1,000 people have been killed after government forces launched rockets with toxic agents into the Damascus suburbs in the Ghouta region early on Wednesday. The Syrian government has denied the allegations, describing them as "illogical and fabricated" and the Syrian army says the opposition made up the claims to divert attention from the huge losses its forces had suffered recently. The areas said to have been affected included Irbin, Duma and Muadhamiya. Syrian opposition footage shows dozens of bodies with no visible signs of injuries, including small children, laid out on the floor of a clinic. Videos also show people being treated in makeshift hospitals, with victims, including many children, having convulsions.
President Obama’s administration has expressed its "deep concern" over the alleged chemical weapons attacks on Wednesday and formally requested the UN to "urgently investigate" the incident. The alleged attack comes a year after US President Barack Obama warned the Syrian government that using chemical weapons would cross a "red line". UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said that if confirmed, the attacks would mark a "shocking escalation in the use of chemical weapons in Syria". The Russian foreign ministry noted that the reports had emerged just as the UN chemical weapons inspection team had arrived in Syria, saying that "this makes us think that weare once again dealing with a premeditated provocation". The official Syrian Sana news agency said reports of the latest attack were "baseless", describing them as "an attempt to divert the UN chemical weapons investigation commission away from carrying out its duties". China and Russia (along with their fair weather friends India, South Africa and Brazil) have repeatedly backed the Syrian government since the crisis began have blocked a stronger Security Council press statement which supported by the 35 states.