Assad may not be the culprit

April 6, 2017

by Martin Odoni

McCarthyism remains alive and well, it would seem.

After the horrific chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria, this week, the finger of blame has been pointed squarely at the regime of Bashar al-Assad. There was a similar attack in Damascus in August 2013 of course, and there was a very similar leap-to-conclusions in the public discourse in the weeks that followed.

Accusations against Assad then were reckless, irresponsible, and opportunistic. Accusations against Assad this week are similarly premature. I must stress that it is entirely possible that Assad is behind Tuesday’s attack, and I am certainly not trying to say he is not a brutal or oppressive leader. But there are reasons to be cautious before we assume this atrocity must be his handiwork.

Firstly, the chemical attack in 2013 did not establish a precedent for this behaviour from the Assad regime against its own population, as it does not appear to have been Assad’s doing. Lengthy investigations by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concluded by early-2016 that the Damascus attack was likely committed by one of the Radical Islamist factions opposing the regime in the Syrian Civil War* – probably al-Nusra.

Secondly, as the same investigation points out, it is quite evident that rebel factions in Syria have some kind of supply line, probably from Libya, for chemical agents, whereas, as best we can tell, Assad actually disposed of his stockpile of chemical weapons under pressure from the US and Russian Governments during 2015. It is not beyond the realm of possibility of course that Assad faked the disposal in some way, or obtained a new supply of chemical agents, but even so, there is a significant enough doubt over his guilt that we should at least wait until an investigation is carried out before we draw any conclusions.

Some public remarks the likes of US President Donald Trump and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson have hurled around the world since the attack are not only short on evidence, they are mired in hypocrisy. While Trump sheds crocodile tears over the deaths of “innocent children, innocent babies, little babies,” he quietly suppresses the fact that he has repeatedly tried to block these babies from escaping from the war to, say, the United States of America with his prejudicial travel-bans. Apparently, these same babies he currently mourns for are people he also imagines constitute a serious terrorism threat. Trump also keeps skating over the matter of the US Air Force and its allies, at his instruction, killing over a thousand innocents in Syria and Iraq through the month of March, while other beloved ‘friends’ such as Saudi Arabia use weapons and aircraft provided by Britain and the USA to butcher the people of Yemen.

Somehow, all these atrocities count as ‘less severe’ than what happened in Khan Sheikhoun, and indeed, the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, sees them as a good reason to socialise with the House of al-Saud. But hey, she refused to wear a head-scarf! That taught them a lesson, right?

As for ‘BoJob’ Johnson and his obnoxious claims that “all evidence suggests” Assad is behind the attack, I would be very interested to know precisely what evidence he has seen that others have not, as what is in the public domain at the moment is ambiguous. Jets that were apparently part of the Syrian Air Force carried out the attack that released the chemical agents, but as Russian diplomats have pointed out, it is just possible that there were chemical weapons in the buildings that were struck, and they may have been released by proximity to the explosions. (As Sarin is easily destroyed by combustion, there are reasons to question that, but the chemicals might still have been released without being caught in the eye of the explosions.)

Yes, Assad is a very obvious suspect, and it is too early to say he must be innocent. But it is also too early to say with snarling confidence that the attack was his doing. Given how confident we can be of who is committing some of the other crimes in the Middle East at the moment, the self-righteousness of the accusation makes it sound like a diversion more than a moral stand.



At the risk of saying, “I told you so!” I argued in the weeks after the Damascus attack that there were aspects of the story blaming Assad that did not add up; –

A) A ballistic rocket launch from a Government silo was detected on the morning of the attack, but it was about an hour-and-a-half later that the warheads struck. How could rockets require an hour-and-a-half just to reach Damascus from about seventy miles away? Even a car travels faster than that, and moving at that speed the missiles would not have been able to get off the ground.

B) Why did Assad wait until Eastern Ghouta, the area of Damascus that was targeted, had pretty much been brought back under Government control before dropping chemical weapons on it? Surely if he was prepared to use them, he would have deployed them earlier in the battle, while the rebels were well dug in there? Is it not likelier that rebel factions, realising that they were losing the territory, would use chemical weapons at the stage it happened as an act of desperation, instead of Assad risking wiping out his own troops with them?

C) The chemical used was a low-grade nerve agent known derisively as ‘Kitchen Sarin’. Why would Assad bother using ‘Kitchen Sarin’ when he had a confirmed supply of warheads armed with the more effective ‘Industrial Sarin’?

One Response to “Assad may not be the culprit”

  1. Sophia.George 💋 Says:

    Reblogged this on Site Title and commented:
    I really do enjoy reading your posts. Although the subject matters are rarely such that you could use the word ‘enjoy’ in the same paragraph. I love how when the right wing media are spinning trying to get speculations and accusations across the headlines, your calm unbiased objective approach to it all, runs rings round all of them. You also project your anger in your words without the need of swear words or casting aspersions about anyone or anything. The posts read so very well and although it shouldn’t be a comfort, it is in-so-far as you stick to the facts and use language that that people like me aren’t scared of unlike popular media outlets who’s main aim seems to terrify the majority xxxx

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