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Syria has been going through a crisis since time immemorial. The force that has been driving the crisis is the need for Syria to stay at the peak of power. However, since other countries have also been struggling to assume the same power, Syria has found itself in a situation that has forced it to use all the available means to retain its powers. The situation has culminated in the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime. President Bashar al-Assad’s government brought much hope of a better future to the people and civil rights activists.
His entry into power was marked by the release of political prisoners and conferences where discussions on political reforms took place. However, in a turn of events, the Syrian president changed his stand and ordered a halt to all discussions about political reforms.
He also ordered the re-arrest of all political prisoners who had been released initially. Bashar seemed to have taken up the advice of his close advisors who viewed his actions as a show of weakness. The change that many people were hoping for was not forthcoming, thus leaving them disappointed.
In 2011, rebellions that were taking place in the Middle East affected Tunisia and Egypt. This situation motivated the Syrian people to rise and call for reforms. It initially began with the mobilization of people to mass action through social networks. However, this initiative did not result in mass turnouts. The spraying of graffiti by high school children on their school walls ignited the flame. The slogans indicated that the Syrian people were no longer interested in the current regime and that they needed a change.
All these children were arrested. Their whereabouts remained unclear. What followed next was a protest by their parents demanding their release. The government ignored their demands and seemed not startled by their behavior. After intense pressure, the government finally succumbed to the demands of the parents. However, this move did not make things any easier for the government. There were signs of torture on the children, which drew much sympathy for the affected families from people across the country.
People were now fed up with having to lead their lives in constant fear of the government. The country erupted into a series of massive anti-government protests that demanded the removal of the government from power and the institution of reforms. The country’s economy was performing poorly. There was increasing unemployment in the country. Continued economic sanctions that were imposed against the country were affecting it negatively.
The country’s population was fast running out of patience and wanted to see political and economic change. The protests were initially peaceful but with time evolved into an armed conflict resulting in a civil war. The government fought hard to dismantle the rebel groups and end their activities. However, the rebels continued gaining ground, thus presenting a threat to the government control of the country. The situation was made worse when some foreign countries came to the aid of the rebels.
The continued defeat of the government led to its use of chemical weapons to suppress and deter opposition. As the paper reveals, this situation led to the intervention of the UN. The paper explores the situation in Syria that led to the use of chemical weapons, the effects of the use, and the role of the UN in the crisis.
The Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria
The basic understanding of a chemical weapon is any toxic chemical in a delivery system, which may be a shell or a bomb (Trapp 7). The United Nations’ understanding of a chemical arsenal is any poisonous substance that has the effect of bringing about damage, sensory exasperation, impermanent incapacitation, or bereavement via its reaction.
Basing on the description of chemical weapons and their effect, the UN was able to conclude that indeed, chemical weapons were being used by the Syrian regime against its citizens (Ruffini and Ruffini 176). It made use of samples from seven of instances in which the regime is said to have employed the use of chemical weapons. Therefore, it suffices to explore why such weapons were used before proceeding to reveal an instance where such weapons were used.
During the outbreak of the civil war, the Syrian government felt threatened. Its efforts to clamp down on the rebel factions seemed not to bear fruits since the opposition, and other groups that were fighting against the government kept on concurring and capturing territories that were initially under government control (Mackenzie 11).
The situation for the Syrian government became even worse when some foreign countries sided with the rebels and even began giving them support in terms of military skills and strategies, ammunition, and intelligence. This turn of events strengthened the rebels, thus posing a big threat to the government. President Bashir al-Assad had initially sworn not to step down from power. He had resolved to stay in power at all costs.
For this reason, after observing the developments in the country, he resorted to the use of chemical weapons out of desperation. He seemed not to consider the fact that his reputation and that of his country were already tarnished. If he had considered this situation, in any case, it means that spoiling this already poor reputation further did not bother him at all. His actions showed the extent to which he was willing to go to maintain his grasp on power.
Assad strongly believes in a secularist state as opposed to a religious one. Syria is currently the only country that has remained a secular state in the region. He knows that if he steps down, the country’s leadership will probably be taken over by the affiliates of the Islam religion who form a majority of the population. A democratic process of electing leaders will always ensure that Muslims take a vast majority of the leadership roles (Yahia 174).
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Assad believes that having most leadership positions in the hands of the Muslims means that they will most likely ensure they put in place policies that give due advantage to the Muslims while disadvantaging other minority groups. The resultant government may also make Islam the state religion. In some of his speeches, he has been quoted saying that he does not believe the West might intervene in the Civil war militarily since this move can be suicidal.
According to him, the consequences of such action will be too dear for the western countries to contemplate (Mucha 140). This seems like one of the factors that make Assad confident about his ability to emerge the winner in this situation and implement his ideologies. Therefore, his plan to use chemical weapons remains the only strategy that will make him cling to the heights on power.
Chemical Attack on Ghouta
The August 21 incident of attack in Ghouta near the city of Damascus provided the clearest indication and evidence of the use of chemical weapons. Most parts of the area were at that time under the control of the opposition forces. The Syrian government’s motive in using the chemical weapons was to intimidate the opposition and make it relent in its war against the government.
The opposition was fast becoming a real force to reckon. Assad’s regime was afraid of losing power if it were to continue fighting using the ordinary weaponry. Therefore, the assault was carried out using rockets that contained a compound content that was identified as sarin. Credible proof of this element was found in regions such as Moadamiyah and Ein Tarma. Happening is one of the biggest chemical assaults in Syria that took the lived of many innocent individuals.
It occurred within a short period during the morning hours. About 1729 people were critically injured with 51 of them being rebel fighters. The occurrence is touted as the biggest of a chemical attack since the one experienced in the Iran-Iraq war. According to experts, the quality of the sarin used in the Syrian case was of higher quality about the one in the Iraq-Iran war. Higher quality implied higher purity, and hence deadly.
The perpetrators of the attack are likely to have made use of chemicals in government custody judging by the quantity and quality of the chemicals. Persons with expertise in the use of such weapons must have done the handling of the chemicals. Such expertise can only be found in the military. This observation points out the government’s involvement in the use of such weapons. The kind of weapons needed to launch and propel the rockets that were used to deliver the chemicals could have only been in the custody of the Syrian government.
Two alleged interruptions of contact incriminated the Syrian administration to the extent of attracting outstanding media reporting. One of them is a handset call that was cut off involving Syrian administrators. The unit passed it to the US. The second one was also a phone call that was allegedly intercepted by the German Bundesnachrichtendienst involving the Iranian Embassy and a high-ranking Hezbollah representative where the official mentioned that the poisonous gas had been used (Mackenzie 11).
According to the official, an order by Assad to attack using chemical weapons was a strategic error. On August 29, the Associated Press reported that two US intelligence officials confirmed that the US had intercepted communication between low-ranking officials of the Syrian government who did not have any direct connection with the powerful government officials or high-ranking officials in the military.
According to German intelligence, German newspapers, later on, reported that it was highly unlikely that Assad was responsible for ordering the attacks. Based on contact disturbance by ‘Oker,’ a German ship, the Bild newspaper reported that intelligence disruption experts found out that chief martial officers in the Syrian armed forces had been repeatedly and unsuccessfully seeking the go-ahead to inaugurate chemical assaults.
The intelligence officer concluded that Bashar al-Assad might have disapproved of the use of chemical attacks in the August 21 incident. This claim seems to be consistent with the comments of a senior intelligence officer in the US who said that sensors placed on the stockpiles of the Syrian government’s chemical weapons did not depict any signs of preparation for the use of chemical weapons before the attacks in Ghouta (Mackenzie 11). This evidence seems to suggest that Bashar al-Assad may not be to blame after all.
The Outcome of using Chemical Weapons
In the aftermath of the attack, both the opposition and the government accused each other of perpetrating the chemical attack. However, independent observers, together with Arab and Western governments, lay the blame squarely on forces that were allied to the Syrian government under the stewardship of President Bashar al-Assad. The Russian government took a unique stand by seemingly siding with Assad’s regime.
In its statement, it accused the rebels of conducting the chemical attacks secretly and then condemning the government falsely to attract the sympathy of other countries. Russia believed that the rebels were trying to frame the government for the attack so that it can get military assistance from other countries (Katz 41).
In a quick reply, investigators dismissed this argument as unconvincing and based on ‘poor theories.’ They explained that the hexamine, a chemical component of which Bashar’s administration had about 80 tones in its stock, was in the formula of the chemical weapon.
Debates prevailed in several countries on whether a military intervention against the Syrian government was necessary. The debates seemed to bring about a change of heart to the Syrian regime. The Syrian government declared its wish to join the convention on chemical weapons in an attempt to get rid of its chemical weapons. However, it did not admit to the use of chemical weapons in the Ghouta attack.
Sources confirmed that indeed Syria had made an effort to destroy about 92.5 percent of its chemical weapons but missed the agreed-upon deadline. There were still claims by the British and French governments that there still existed continued use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government forces (Katz 41). England claimed that the Syrian regime was using chlorine as a war weapon and that it was still in possession of a chemical warhead of a kind that could be used to strike in a way similar to the Ghouta attack.
In the aftermath of the August 21 attack on Ghouta, several LCC media journalists went to the area to document the evidence of the attacks. Nearly all of them died because of inhaling neurotoxic fumes. Murad Abu Bilal was the sole survivor from the LCC media house. The videos that were recorded during a visit to the Ghouta region were posted on YouTube (Trapp 20). They attracted media attention from across the globe.
Professional forecasters who studied the film pointed to the well-built verification of the presence of deadly poisonous substances that had been deployed in the assaults. Some of the symptoms that were observed in the videos include tremors, foaming at the mouth, and rolling of eyes (Sharp and Blanchard 15). A very disturbing image of a small child who was suffering from miosis was revealed. Miosis is a pinpoint effect on the pupil that is associated with sarin whose use in Syria had taken place before.
Ralph Trapp is a former scientist with an organization that works on the ways of prohibiting the use of chemical weapons. He revealed how the footage depicted the effect that a chemical attack would have on a civilian area. From the scenes from the videos, one can make sense of the high death toll reports. With a gas attack, especially in the buildup area, one would expect the effects to be adverse. The footage changed the opinion of some of the chemical weapon experts who had initially ruled out the possibility of sarin.
There would have been stronger indicators in terms of symptoms for sarin to be present. Among these experts is Jean Pascal Zanders who later on changed his opinion on the issue saying that he strongly believed that indeed sarin was used in the attacks. However, he cautioned against rushing to conclusions about the issue and called for people to maintain an open mind, exercise patience, and wait upon the United Nations’ report after it had concluded its investigations (Sen and Al-Faisal 196).
In an interview with the BBC, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commander and chemical and biological expert, said that images in the footage resembled the ones he had observed in previous incidents. However, he was quick to add that he was not in a position to verify the images.
Evidence of Chemical Attacks
Witnesses’ statements of the delivery methods and accompanying symptoms were consistent with the use of chemical nerve agents. Witnesses said that the remains of the rockets that were used to carry the perceived neurotoxic gases could be seen still intact in the affected areas (Sankari, Atassi, and Sahloul 84). This finding was suggestive of a situation that involved chemical weapons whereby the delivery rockets or bombs did not detonate when they were exposed to the surface.
In a report that addressed Syria, CBS News confirmed the scrutiny by organic and compound armaments professionals who depicted some steadiness that singled out the armed forces as the only body that had admission to comprehension regarding the release of the projectile gadgets and the element (sarin) that were apparently utilized in Ghouta to slaughter many innocent civilians. British officials have been on record saying that no opposition group was capable of conducting an attack of the magnitude that was witnessed in Ghouta.
A human rights body reported that two kinds of projectiles were employed in the chemical attacks. According to the report, the first type was a 140mm-projectile that was manufactured in Russia with the capacity to convey three missiles, with each carrying 2200-gram sarin substance. The second type was a 330mm rocket whose warhead was designed to bear and deliver a huge load of liquid chemical agent (Sankari, Atassi, and Sahloul 84). Missiles professionals, among other bodies, have been following up on the use of arsenal in Syria.
However, they are yet to confirm the ownership of both types of projectiles or their origins by any of the resistant martial. Indications depict high chances of these rockets have been produced locally with a limited range.
In a research that was done at the beginning of 2014, the Massachusetts foundation of machinery reported that rockets that were used in the attack had a collection of approximately 2000 meters. This observation suggests that the ammunitions could hardly have been launched from the Eastern edge of the area that was controlled by the Syrian government.
While running some of the health facilities in the region of Eastern Damascus, which recorded 3600 patients in less than three hours following the attack, doctors reported that a large number of the patients who were arriving at their facilities had excess saliva, convulsion, pinpoint pupils, respiratory diseases, and blurred vision (Sankari, Atassi, and Sahloul 84). Other symptoms included frothing at one’s mouth, suffocation, and muscle spasms.
Some statements from witnesses reported symptoms such as nausea, headaches, death at home while one was asleep, smell that was similar to that of rotten eggs and vinegar, bodies turning blue, form flowing from the nose and mouth, itching, and reddening of the eyes. A special report in an English newspaper gave an abstract of the declarations from spectators in Syria claiming that although many innocent lives may have been lost from chemical poisoning, many survivors were left weak, trembling, and bewildered.
In Syria, the center that was responsible for documenting violations published several testimonies giving a summary of descriptions by paramedics and doctors as foamy salivation, dyspnea, heart, and respiratory failure, oozing of blood out of the mouth and nose, memory loss, hallucinations, and severe agitation among others.
In his examination of the declarations by health officers in Syria, Dr. Amesh Adalja established that such testimonials pointed to what one can term as nerve-agent toxification. He feels that symptoms such as ‘unusually small pupils’ suggest that the effects are definitely for chlorine gas or mustard gas. Rather, they might have a link with soman, tabun, sarin, and VX.
Bart Janssens, the Director of operations at Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF), asserted that Medecins Sans Frontiers could not either confirm the cause of the symptoms scientifically or determine the person responsible for conducting the attacks (Sankari, Atassi, and Sahloul 84).
CBRNe World’s editorial director Gwyn Winfield analyzed some of the videos of the victims in the Syrian attacks and commented through the magazine’s site saying that the nerve spasms and respiratory diseases are a clear outcome of the use of a demonstration a chemical warfare agent.
Assad’s Response to the Protests
Bashar al-Assad’s response to these protests resembled what his father had done three decades earlier in 1982 during an attempted coup on the government. The government resorted to violence in its attempt to quell the protests, which the opposition had also joined. There was an order from the government instructing security forces to use all means, as they would deem it necessary, to end the countrywide protests. This outcome led to the arrest, imprisonment, and even torture of protestors.
The president restricted rallies and protests, gagged the media, re-introduced the arbitrary arrest and detention of individuals, and scrapped off some of the rights that people enjoyed. The battles and bloodshed that followed culminated into a civil war. During some of the protests, Assad sent his security forces to kill innocent civilians (Trapp 8). This move intensified the war between the opposition and the government. Control of some cities kept changing hands between the government and the opposition.
Role of the UN
The UN plays a critical role in resolving conflicts. Its state of neutrality and independence makes it the most preferred institution in brokering peace between or among warring factions. In July of 2012, the Syrian overseas minister threatened to use both biological and chemical weapons against what he termed as unfriendly outside forces, which were pegged on felling the Syrian government that was duly elected by the people of Syria (Brodwin 34).
The statement welcomed varied reactions from different stakeholders in the negotiation of peace in Syria. The head of the United Nations peace mission in Syria left the peace talks. Several high-ranking officials in Assad’s administration also defected from the government. Barrack Obama, as the US president warned against a chemical attack by adding that it would cause the US to rethink its stand on the state of affairs in Syria. This turn of events seemed not to have startled Bashar al-Assad’s resolution.
In the spring of 2013, there were reports of chemical attacks in the country that spread worldwide. A medical charity led by ‘doctors without borders’ confirmed that it had treated more than 3000 patients for exposure to chemical attacks. 300 of the 3000 victims succumbed to the effects of the chemical attacks. Another chemical attack by the government on August 21, 2013, in the suburbs of Eastern Damascus resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people.
Calls emerged for the United Nations to investigate the matter using weapon inspectors (Trapp 10). The UN was determined to find out the truth about the different events that took place in the country. The UN Security Council reached a unanimous decision to send chemical weapon experts to Syria to unravel the mystery behind the chemical weapons. These efforts faced a setback as some unidentified snipers regularly shot at the investigators.
A bombardment of some of the towns was witnessed where the investigators were going to conduct investigations. The regime also had a habit of hiding evidence, which the investigators were trying to find. The UN continues to play a critical role in the crisis. It has been instrumental in ensuring that people who were affected by the war get access to shelter, food, and clean drinking water. At present, it is still involved in efforts to end the war.
However, the UN needs to speed up the process of finding a solution to this problem since so many lives are being lost every passing day. The UN has been at the forefront in helping Syria find a solution to the crisis that it is currently facing. It has been able to bring together representatives from the opposition and Assad’s regime through several peace missions.
However, the outcome of this initiative has not been encouraging. In the peace talks held by the UN, Assad has always maintained that he will not be willing to let go of power. This position has made it almost impossible to make any meaningful progress.
Another critical role of the UN is the provision of necessities for people who were displaced by the war. Through its various umbrella bodies, the UN has been able to reach out to the victims of the war. It has been able to provide them with food, clean drinking water, and housing. This effort is quite commendable. Also, one of the most promising steps that the United Nations took on the issue of Syria was the undisputed making of a declaration to wipe out Syria’s entire chemical armaments.
This decision came to a short while after the August 21 chemical attack on Damascus that claimed many lives. The UN set up a deadline for the Syrian government to implement this resolution. Although the Syrian regime did not fully meet the expectations of the UN, it was able to destroy about 92% of the available chemical weaponry. However, the UN needs to do more to ensure that all the remaining stockpiles of chemical weapons are destroyed.
The use of chemical weapons has devastating effects, which are difficult to comprehend. The effects are, in some cases, long term. The situation can be worse when these weapons get into the wrong hands. They pose a threat to the stability of nations across the world. The people of Syria have suffered a great deal from the use of these weapons. It is sad that despite the events that have taken place in Syria, many countries still keep stockpiles of chemical weapons.
There is no valid reason that can justify the possession of such weapons. Some of the world’s most powerful countries should lead from the front in the efforts to get rid of some of these weapons. It will be unfair for any country to try to solve the issue of these weapons without ridding itself of such weapons. However, any country that possesses them should justify the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons on its citizens. Assad needs to stop his use of chemical weapons.
The issue of Assad stepping down should be handled cautiously to ensure that peace returns to the country instead of another state of instability. Countries with democratic practices should ensure they protect their democracies to avoid a Syrian kind of situation.
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