According to reports published by international organizations, the ISIS terrorist group conducted at least 52 chemical weapons attacks in Syria and Iraq from 2013 to 2016.
Addressing the issue, Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman to the Russian foreign ministry, in a news conference said that gas attacks were by no means limited to the ISIS and other militant groups such as the Al-Nusra Front stockpiled dangerous chemical materials and used them against the civilians and the Syrian army forces.
The Iraqi officials so far tried to trivialize the chemical attacks by the terrorists in their country to avoid affects on the morale of the civilians and the forces fighting on the battlefield. But the Syrian government several times reported use of poisonous gases by ISIS and other militant groups, all of which were ignored by the international organizations.
2017, however, has been a different year for the matter, with the chemical attacks receiving special attention by the global community. Such an attention was largely called by the grave chemical weapons incident in Syria’s Khan Sheikhoun town. Following Khan Sheikhoun tragedy, reports emerged taking about use of chemical material in attacks particularly in Mosul by the militant fighters.
The reports suggest that attacks of this kind in both Syria and Iraq ranged from light to severe, with the material used in them including dangerous agents like carbon, chlorine, mustard, and sarin, raising a series of questions about the nature of such attacks and the suppliers of such weapons to the terrorists.
Why are gas attacks attractive to the terrorists?
The answer to this question is not that difficult. Gas attack is very practical for terrorist groups such as ISIS whose policy is based on causing maximum degree of intimidation and terror among the civilians as well as the military personnel of the opposite side. Moreover, chemical attacks are carried out at low cost while they inflict high costs and damages on the opposite party. Additionally, the chemical warfare agents’ effects last for a long time in the attack site and the governments need to take costly measures to clean up soil and water sources.
The casualties of chemical attacks are highly heavy, with their mental influences on the humans being severely tragic. Furthermore, attacks of this kind send the affected places into a state of chaos. This means negative impacts on the opposite side and setting up roadblocks to its progresses while buying time and opportunity for counterattacks by the terrorists. Now that terrorists are being defeated in different battlefields, chemical attacks seem to them the most effective way to slow down army forces advances.
Where do the chemical weapons come from?
Regarding the origin of chemical agents several assumptions come down, all of which can be true at the same time. The first one is about the chemical materials with simple formula. It suggests that the terrorists themselves produce the agents using a team of skilled chemists. This theory can be true to some extent, but it can at the same time be dismissed due to use of sarin gas which is not easy to produce. This, however, gives rise to other two theories.
According to the second explanation, ISIS has captured places that were earlier used to produce and stockpile chemical materials. The Iraqi officials in 2014 announced that ISIS terrorists seized control of a military site outside Baghdad the capital where nearly 2,500 rockets armed with sarin gas were held. This theory is also applicable to Syria, where the militants could have captured former chemical agent storehouses. The Khan Sheikhoun chemical incident that killed dozens of the civilians could stand as proof to this guess as evidences show that a rocket hit a chemical weapons storehouse and caused the sarin agent to distribute across the site.
The third view, blames foreign sides for providing terrorists with chemical materials. In 2015, a Turkish member of the parliament disclosed that Turkey delivered nerve agent to the foreign-backed militants in Syria.
“The terrorist groups in Syria have received sarin gas from Ankara,” member of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) Eren Erdem was quoted as saying.
The Turkish MP triggered the case for debate in the country’s parliament as he supported his argument by documents. In May 2016, the famous investigative journalist Seymour Hersh disclosed that Hillary Clinton, the former US Secretary of State, approved sending Libya’s sarin gas to the Syrian militants via the Turkish borders. Pointing to a report by the British intelligence agencies, Hersh also said that a secret agreement in 2012 was reached between the Obama Administration and the leaders of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, to set up a sarin gas attack and blame it on Syrian government as a pretext for attacking the Arab country.
Why has US-led Western coalition kept silent about the issue?
First, the main excuse that drove the American 2003 invasion of Iraq was the Iraqi chemical weapons that Washington argued they should be destroyed. This proved to be a total US failure as ISIS holds chemical weapons in Iraq. This challenges the American performance in its Iraq occupation, as it questions the American capability of keeping the terrorists from accessing weaponizable gases.
Second, a chemical attack was conducted in August 2013 in Eastern Ghouta, a suburb in east of the Syrian capital Damascus. The attack was blamed by the West on the Syrian government. The West declined to provide evidence for its anti-Damascus claims, but the Syrian government as an act of good faith agreed to a deal to destroy chemical weapons and transfer the material out of the country. The UN later confirmed that Syria destroyed all of its weapons. Full destruction of Syrian chemical stockpiles gives rise to the possibility of terrorists arming with nerve agents with help of foreign sides. Many experts insist that the US-led West along with its regional allies are staunch patrons of militias fighting the Syrian government.
And third, the West takes advantage of the chemical attacks to put strains on Syria. Before Khan Sheikhoun tragedy, which called global attention, the Western silence to the chemical attacks was for self-clearing. As in 2013 President Assad was the main target of blames, in Khan Sheikhun incident the West blamed Damascus before any probe was allowed to be launched by independent investigators. The Syrian government strongly denied conducting any chemical weapons attack.
A week ago, the Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman warned of the terrorists’ plan to launch chemical attack that will give the US pretexts for anti-Syrian military action.
“US is preparing fake chemical attacks in order to bomb Syrian forces,” she told the media.
She further talked about transfer of gas agents to Syria’s ISIS-held Raqqa from Mosul, the northern Iraqi city falling to the government forces. She argued that transfer of chemical materials in large amounts, while the area is encircled and watched by the coalition forces, could signal the Western support to and even complicity with the terrorists.