100 Years of Chlorine from WW1 1915 to Syria 2015.
The 22nd of April 2015 is the 100 year anniversary of the first mass use of chemical weapons. At the 2nd Battle of Ypres the German Forces released nearly 200 tonnes of chlorine gas which killed around 4000 Allied troops, and so began the dreadful history of chemical weapons.
Extensively used throughout WW1, extensively developed by the Nazi’s, in WW2, extensively used by Saddam Hussein in the Iran/Iraq war and against the Kurds at Halabja in 1988, and still extensively used by the Assad Regime against the Opposition in Syria.
The effects of chlorine attack against people in 1915 are exactly the same in 2015, death to the unprotected by suffocation as lungs are destroyed by the toxic gas. On the 16 Mar 2015 a family of six sheltered in their cellar in a town called Sarmin in Syria from aerial bombardment, just as those soldiers did in 1915, and the heavier than air gas found and killed them in their trenches and their cellar.
The major chemical attack in the Syrian civil war occurred at Ghouta in Damascus on 21 Aug 2013, when the Assad Regime dropped up to 1000KGs of nerve agent Sarin, killing up to 1500 people mainly women and children. The Rebels were pushing Assad very hard in Ghouta and many believe he was on the point of defeat after fighting them [rebels] for 18 months, and he used chemical weapons as a last ditched effort to stave off defeat. It worked – spectacularly.
The UK Government voted not to take military action after Ghouta and not to support President Obama’s plan for strategic strikes to take down Assad’s command and control and destroy key sites and chemical weapons facilities. The British vote unfortunately made Obama recalibrate. I for one, believe it is the greatest strategic military mistake this century, which kept Assad in power, killed and injured thousands, and fuelled the rise of Islamic State. Had the strategic attacks gone ahead as the US wanted, the ensuing situation would certainly not be worse than it is today. At the other end of the scale the Assad Regime could have fallen and ISIS could have been stopped in its tracks.
In my opinion, the only hope of stopping the chemical attacks in Syria is some sort of No Fly Zone (NFZ), but it has to be limited. A complete NFZ would be difficult for the Coalition to police and bring it into conflict with Syria and Iran who are also fighting ISIS with jets. However, a limited NFZ should be achievable and is the only realistic demonstrative action the UN could take in response to these continuing chemical attacks.
In the last 4 months 90% plus of the chlorine attacks have been in Idlib Province and even as Ambassador Powell and others briefed the UNSC last Thursday on the atrocities in Sarmin on 16 Mar 15, chlorine barrel bombs were allegedly being dropped on Idlib City. Hence a limited NFZ over Idlib Province, for just helicopters, which is whence the barrel bombs come, should be militarily and politically achievable. There is no ISIS activity in this area, so the Regime could not claim it would affect their battle against them. This could possibly appease the Russians to abstain rather than veto this proposal. In military terms, with the Coalition command and control structure in place over Syria and Iraq to prosecute the air campaign against ISIS, this limited NFZ should be achievable in policing and prosecution terms.
It would be incongruous, and a missed opportunity if the International community and the UN cannot demonstrate resolve do something to save the innocents of Syria who continue to suffer at the hands of this dreadful weapon which has terrified people for 100 years. It would be poetic to see some progress with a NFZ starting tomorrow.
This article was originally featured on The What & the Why.