With Removal of Materials Under CW Agreement Nearly Complete, Concern in Syria Over Chlorine Use

Yesterday, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons noted another delivery of materials by Syria under the agreement calling for Syrian chemical weapons-related materials to be destroyed. Tuesday’s delivery took the current totals to 86.5% of all materials to be removed and 88.7% of the Priority 1, or most dangerous, chemicals. That leaves only “two or three” more deliveries to complete removal of all of the materials that Syria declared under the agreement and appears to have Syria on track to meet the current goal of all materials being removed later this month and destroyed by the end of June.

But, because this is Syria, significant controversy continues to swirl. The latest issue centers on the  likely use of chlorine gas. That chlorine has been used seems fairly certain, but each side in the conflict accuses the other of being the perpetrator. It should be noted from the outset that chlorine is a widely used material with many peaceful uses and is not covered by the agreement under which Syria gave up its chemical weapons. It was used by Germany in WWI, but more effective chemical agents have since taken its place.

One central question on whether it is Assad’s forces who used the chlorine hinges on whether it can be shown that the gas was released from helicopters or airplanes, since the rebel forces have no air capabilities. Numerous news outlets quote anonymous US officials suggesting that chlorine has been delivered by aircraft, but no proof has been offered (nor has Syria provided proof that the rebels are responsible for the chlorine).

Today’s New York Times article is typical of the anonymous accusations against Syria:

Nearly 90 percent of the chemicals in Syria’s arsenal have now been exported and only a few shipments remain, international monitors reported Tuesday, but the progress was overshadowed by growing concerns that the Syrian military may be dropping bombs filled with chlorine, a common industrial compound not on the list of prohibited poisons.

Disarmament experts said that if the unconfirmed reports that Syrian warplanes and helicopters have been using chlorine-filled bombs in the civil war were true, that would be a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention treaty signed by Syria last year and could constitute a war crime.

But CNN went much further in the accusations against Syria on Monday:

The Obama administration and its allies believe the Syrian government may have used chlorine gas in a deadly attack this month on its own people, several U.S. officials and other diplomats told CNN.

The alleged assault that killed at least two and affected dozens of others occurred in the village of Kafr Zeita, a rebel-held area.

While there is no firm proof as the matter is being looked into, several U.S. officials and Western diplomats say the United States believes the regime of Bashar al-Assad is responsible because it has such chemicals and the means to deliver them.

“Our assessment is it is, at a minimum, concentrated chlorine dropped from helicopters,” a U.S. official said. “That could only be the regime.”

The official did not speak for full attribution.

As usual for accusations in Syria, attention is turning to video posted to YouTube. Today, one focus is on a chlorine canister attached to a detonator. The chlorine canister appears to have come from China:

China’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that it was investigating reports that a chlorine canister bearing the name of the country’s biggest arms maker was shown in footage believed to document a gas attack in Syria this month.

Attacks this month in several areas in Syria share characteristics that have led analysts to believe that there is a coordinated chlorine bomb campaign, with growing evidence that it is the government side dropping the weapons.

In the rebel-held village of Kfar Zeita in the central province of Hama, 125 miles north of Damascus, opposition activists uploaded video of people choking and being fed oxygen following what they said were bombs dropped from helicopters on April 11 and 12.

Further footage showed a partially exploded canister with the chemical symbol for chlorine along with the name of Chinese arms manufacturer Norinco.

But Reuters then goes on to note the danger of YouTube analysis for assigning blame in the war:

Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the videos and Norinco, also known as China North Industries Group Corporation, has not responded to requests from Reuters for comment.

The use of chlorine in these attacks is a clear war crime. With the battle in Syria still essentially a stalemate wherein Syria has regained at least some lost ground, each side stands to benefit from the other being found to be guilty of chlorine use. Because of this, all evidence presented must be evaluated carefully to guard against falsification.

Understandably, China’s Foreign Ministry urged Reuters not to jump to any conclusions regarding the chlorine canister:

In a statement later emailed to Reuters, the ministry said China “scrupulously abides by its non-proliferation obligations” and strictly controls exports of dual-use items, including sensitive chemicals.

“Chlorine is a raw material that has wide industrial uses, and it is not on any nation’s or organization’s list of controlled items,” it said.

“China hopes that relevant media can objectively and fairly report this, to avoid causing misunderstanding.”

With Bandar now apparently out of the picture, but his MANPADS likely in it, Syria remains a point of significant international focus amid calls for extended US training of rebels and continuing reports of infighting among the varying Islamist factions in the rebel groups.  Meanwhile, Syrian citizens continue to suffer, with shelter destroyed and food scarce.

14 replies
  1. TarheelDem says:

    Was this a weaponized chlorine cannister manufactured in China?

    The difficulty here is that chlorine is a very common industrial chemical and all sorts of cannisters are made for industrial use. With China being the world’s manufacturer of choice (by corporations) of most everything, a non-weaponized chlorine cannister could have come from almost any country or acquired in various legal or illegal markets.

    The politics of the situation seems to point away from the Assad regime. They are reported to be currently ascendant. There is ongoing diplomacy however convoluted. And someone sure wants to trigger a war involving the US in Syria by forcing Obama to make good on his “red line” statement.

    The use of Ukraine by neo-cons in the US to divert attention from Syria and Iran is fairly well documented. IMO, that was a purely domestic political action by burrowed in Bushies (even if they were appointed by Obama and confirmed by a Democratic majority in the Senate) to create a crisis in a mid-term election year to take the shine off of the diplomatic openings with Syria, Iraq, and Putin. With GOP Senators riffing Cold War hysteria and the “Democrats are soft on defense and endanger America” mantra, President Obama has to adopt a political swagger aimed at domestic audiences. The clear domestic political struggle is aimed at frightening the administration away from historic ground-breaking diplomacy (what little is going on) and creating a foreign policy failure before November.

    Given the panic in the deep state, as evidenced by Clapper’s nominal shutdown of friendly leaks and the current Senate-CIA tussle over the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture and Saudi Arabia’s concern over US rapprochement with Iran, is it so inconceiveable that Brennan (already branded with Ukraine) would conduct a rogue false flag activity in Syria to force Obama away from diplomacy and into war.

    • Jim White says:

      I’m pretty sure it’s just a standard chlorine canister. That’s why I think maybe Reuters was a bit irresponsible to tie the canister to a company that they described as an arms manufacturer.

  2. Don Bacon says:

    **CNN: The Obama administration and its allies believe the Syrian government may have used chlorine gas in a deadly attack this month on its own people, several U.S. officials and other diplomats told CNN.**
    There are those anonymous sources again, a favorite of the pro-war US media. Actually, as of yesterday, the US has not taken a position on it.
    Jen Psaki
    Daily Press Briefing
    Washington, DC
    April 21, 2014
    MS. PSAKI: We have indications of the use of a toxic industrial chemical – probably chlorine – in Syria this month in the opposition-dominated village of Kfar Zeita. We are examining allegations that the government was responsible. We take all allegations of the use of chemicals in combat use very seriously. We’re working to determine what has happened, and we will continue consulting and sharing information with key partners, including at the OPCW.
    QUESTION: And did you – do you think that the Assad regime has crossed the redline again by using this —
    MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not going to speculate here. Obviously, there needs to be an investigation of what’s happened here. We’re working with our partners to determine what the facts are on the ground.
    Jen Psaki
    Daily Press Briefing
    Washington, DC
    April 22, 2014
    QUESTION: I just want to know if there’s anything more you can say about the chlorine that apparently was used that you talked about yesterday.
    MS. PSAKI: There’s nothing new to update you on. We have been in touch with the OPCW. I should say our ambassador to the OPCW has been in touch.

  3. milkshaken says:

    Chlorine gas is used as disinfectant in drinking water treatment plants – it is essential, and there is no suitable replacement unless Syria was to buy and instal new equipment that purifies water by ozone. You have to consider the massive loss of civilian life in cholera epidemics if chlorine imports were banned.

    Also, chlorine is nowhere as deadly as sarin, as irritant and suffocating gas it gets the fighters holed up to run. It is worth mentioning that US military did a pretty similar thing in Iraq – illegal ground use of white phosphorus in battles of Fallujah. (White P munition is allowable as flares for battlefield illumination but is banned and classified as a chemical weapon in ground use – because it is a potent poison, burns like a devil’s version of napalm and the produced heavy corrosive smoke behaves as a suffocating gas). US military used white P “to smoke out” the insurgents holed up in Fallujah on several occasions, and there was almost no outcry.

  4. b says:

    “The use of chlorine in these attacks is a clear war crime.”

    Why? What law would have been broken by such use?

  5. Concerned reader says:

    Seems strange how little coverage Sy Hersh’s story about the rebel origin of the previous round of chemical attacks is getting in big media (or not, of course…) but I’d have thought some of the logic expressed there would apply equally well here: why would the Syrian state, which is by all accounts not losing, at least, its civil war, and is obviously keen on being seen to comply with the agreement to remove chemical weapons which was instrumental in preventing US forces sweeping into the theatre, suddenly jeopardise this agreement by embarking on a chemical spree at this point?

    Doesn’t make any sense to me.

    As a lay person struggling to understand these events, I’d be very interested in any comment you could make on the Hersh piece!

  6. jo6pac says:

    Well this is good news, the false flag neo-con thugs have now moved up a notch to not only accusing Assad govt. but China. I’m sure the next one will include Putin sneaking into Syria after he past through the Ukraine spreading poisonous gas at each stop.

  7. bevin says:

    Does anyone seriously doubt that the western sponsored, for the most part foreign mercenary forces, laughingly referred to as “rebels, are once more attempting to help their masters lay the blame on Syria’s government for these “attacks?”

    Hersh’s two articles are merely the tip of an iceberg of evidence that, inter alia, the Turkish government have been organising false flag attacks.

    The truth is that, with the exception of Obama and his fans, nobody believes that Assad is responsible for gas warfare.

    There is no evidence of Syrian government involvement. There is no motive for using either sarin or chlorine gas except by the “rebel” forces about whose organisation, arming, financing, personnel and provenance the US government has always lied and continues to do so.

    It is irrational to believe what the US government says about such matters.

    Is it really necessary to point that out to readers of this blog?

    • Denis says:

      Yep, Bevin. Here we go again. In the next couple of days John Kerry will give another of his speeches in which he demands that anyone who doesn’t buy the USG story better check their moral compass.

      Well . . . here is a recent compass-checking story presenting overwhelming biological evidence that the Ghouta Massacre was not the result of a sarin rocket attack by Assad, but rather a mass-execution in which the insurgents used carbon monoxide and/or cyanide.

      Murder in the SunMorgue: A Critique of the Sarin Myth and a Cyber-Investigation of the Ghouta Massacre Mystery.


  8. Don Bacon says:

    at State today:
    MS. PSAKI: So part of the [Russia – US] agreement was [for Syria] to become a member of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Obviously, there isn’t – there’s a lot that needs to happen to determine the facts on the ground. But the UN Security Council decided in the UNSCR, UNSCR 2118, that it would impose measures under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter in the event of noncompliance, including the use of CW.

  9. Les says:

    Funny thing about the Youtube videos. McClatchy has screen grabs of the videos indicating the Obama administration has likely shipped US-made heavy anti-tank weapons to the rebels.


    The media still clings on to the propaganda that only “non-lethal” aid has been given the rebels. I hear it almost every time there’s a broadcast on developments in Syria. Surely, methinks they doth protest too much.

  10. Brindle says:

    Thanks, EW for the excellent, clear work.

    Reading the NYT or WaPo is a learned skill, at least for me. More is revealed about the nature of propaganda dissemination than facts on the ground.

Comments are closed.