Clearest Indication Yet That Some Chemical Weapon Sites in Syria Are Under Rebel Control

One of the underlying assumptions for folks who joined the rush to claim that the UN report on the August 21 chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus proved the attack was carried out by Syrian government forces was that only government forces had access to the refined versions of chemical weapons that the Assad regime had amassed. That aspect of the story began to crumble quickly once the accidental diplomacy kicked in and it became clear that chemical weapons inspectors would need cooperation from both the Syrian government and rebel forces to gain access to all sites where chemical weapons are present. Today’s New York Times presents the clearest indication yet that it isn’t just access routes to chemical weapons sites that the rebels control, but that the rebels control some of the sites themselves:

A Western diplomat in the Arab world said that though the Syrian government was legally responsible for dismantling its chemical weapons under an international agreement, its opponents should also cooperate in the process, because several chemical weapons sites were close to confrontation lines or within rebel-held territory.

Somehow, though, the Times only discusses this very important piece of information in light of the need for rebels to grant access to the sites to the OPCW without noting that the rebels had direct access to chemical weapons (or their immediate precursors) previously belonging to the Syrian government. This admission by a “Western diplomat” completely invalidates the assumption that rebels had access only to crude, “home-made” versions of chemical weapons.

Today’s news fully underscores the need for a true ceasefire (as I have been shrilly pointing out for some time now):

“The international community also expects full cooperation from the opposition,” the diplomat said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a delicate issue. “However divided the opposition might be, it would look very bad if the government was seen to be cooperating fully, while inspections were held up because of problems with the opposition.”

The inspection team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the watchdog group in charge of implementing the agreement along with the United Nations, has not publicly cited any specific instance of opposition fighters’ impeding access to chemical weapons sites. As with agencies that deliver relief aid, the inspectors face a complicated and uncertain process that requires cease-fires with multiple parties among fluid lines of combat.

Clearly, a general ceasefire by all parties would be much better than the current, piecemeal arrangement where it appears that localized agreements are put into place for individual excursions by the inspectors.

Finally, it should also be noted that however the Obama administration got to the diplomatic route involving the OPCW, we got new details over the weekend on how the Bush administration orchestrated the removal of the previous head of OPCW because he wanted to send inspectors into Iraq in 2001-2002 to verify that Iraqi chemical weapons had been destroyed in the 1990’s:

More than a decade before the international agency that monitors chemical weapons won the Nobel Peace Prize, John R. Bolton marched into the office of its boss to inform him that he would be fired.

“He told me I had 24 hours to resign,” said José Bustani, who was director general of the agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague. “And if I didn’t I would have to face the consequences.”


But Mr. Bustani and some senior officials, both in Brazil and the United States, say Washington acted because it believed that the organization under Mr. Bustani threatened to become an obstacle to the administration’s plans to invade Iraq. As justification, Washington was claiming that Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader, possessed chemical weapons, but Mr. Bustani said his own experts had told him that those weapons were destroyed in the 1990s, after the Persian Gulf war.

“Everybody knew there weren’t any,” he said. “An inspection would make it obvious there were no weapons to destroy. This would completely nullify the decision to invade.”

What a different place the world would be today if Bolton and his neocon buddies hadn’t held such sway during the George W. Bush presidency.

9 replies
  1. bevin says:

    Moon of Alabama adds vital context to the NYT report:

    “After being fired on the U.S.’s insistence Mr. Bustani went to court and the International Labor Organization, which has jurisdiction over international organizations, was unambiguous in its judgement 2232:

    “The court found that undue political influence by the United States led to Mr. Bustani’s dismissal and that allowing such dismissal for purely political reasons was contrary to the principle neutral position of international organizations like the OPCW. The OPCW was ordered to pay Mr. Bustani not only for moral damage and legal costs but also his full salary up to 2005 when his term would have regularly ended.

    “But in the NYT’s account that ILO judgement never happened. It is not once mentioned in the story.”

  2. Cheryl Rofer says:

    As usual, these statments need to be parsed very carefully. The statement in the Times doesn’t say that the sites are under rebel control, although it could mean that.

    “several chemical weapons sites were close to confrontation lines or within rebel-held territory.”

    They still could be under government control; it may be that nobody knows, although the head of the OPCW seems to be saying that this is not the case: “he said one abandoned chemical weapons site was in rebel-held territory and that routes to other sites went through opposition-held areas.”

    All sorts of “maybes” can be attached to this, of course. We simply don’t know. But I don’t understand why it’s so important to establish that the rebels might have gotten control of some chemical weapons. The big problem is the government stocks and the government-controlled sites. Getting control of those is the first priority for OPCW. Even if the August 21 attack was by the rebels, and the evidence for that is practically nonexistent, the outcome, disarming everyone of cw, is good.

    As the OPCW inspectors get to more sites, we’ll have a clearer picture.

    [BTW, that attachment to copying really sucks.]

  3. Denis says:

    @Jim: What a different place the world would be today if Bolton and his neocon buddies hadn’t held such sway during the George W. Bush presidency.

    Boy, did you get that right. Just remember: their agenda is primarily Zionist. Dig down deep enough into all of the ME uprisings in the last decade and you will find the fingerprints of the CIA and Wolfowitz & Co.

    @Jim: Clearly, a general ceasefire by all parties would be much better than the current, piecemeal arrangement where it appears that localized agreements are put into place for individual excursions by the inspectors.

    Yes, clearly. . . but, we’re not talkin’ a binary ceasefire between Party A and Party B. This is not Appomattox or Versailles. We’re talkin’ Party A facing off against Parties, B,C,D,E,. . . And then Parties B,C,D,E . . . facing off against each other.

    Who would you get on the hook to discuss a plenary ceasefire? OK, Assad, sure. But for the other side, who? No one person controls Nusra, Qaeda, Ghuraba al-Sham, and on and on. Likely SAA and FSA will have to join forces against the jihadists and run them out of the country before any ceasefire is possible. The neocons/CIA have created a monster beyond their control, and its beginning to threaten their main client, GoI.

  4. Jim White says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Yes, the careful parsing is important. But, until now the biggest explanation that I could see for Syria and Russia suddenly endorsing disarmament was the possibility that some of the Syrian armed forces were acting independently of the chain of command when the Aug 21 attack took place (or were at risk of doing so in the future). However, even disregarding who carried out that attack, the knowledge that a site or sites were under rebel control (even if the rebels didn’t realize the identity of the site) would suddenly jump out to me as a huge motivator for both Syria and Russia to endorse the current disarmament path.

  5. Jim White says:

    @Denis: Yes, getting to a true ceasefire is a multilateral mess on one hand, but with all the infighting, perhaps the different factions would also do a good job of monitoring one another (I know, hopelessly wishful thinking…).

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