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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Syria Chlorine Allegations: Why Chlorine?

Syria Chlorine Allegations: Why Chlorine?
June 21, 2015
last updates August 9

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Why chlorine? As considered here, it's a two-part question: why would Assad choose chlorine? And why would the rebels want "Assad" to be seen as making that choice?

To hear opposition activists and the media outlets they write the news for, it's clearly "Assad" and his helicopters that are behind this (based mainly on helicopter claims). Presuming that, as most do, it's only natural to feel that "he" should ideally be stopped. Some sort of aerial solution might be required.

Most reports note president Assad denies the chlorine charges, citing its lack of usefulness. As he said on April 20 “this is another fake narrative by the western governments … The regular armaments that we have are more influential (effective) than chlorine ... We have our regular armaments, and we could achieve our goals without it. So, we don’t use it.”  Considering that and its illegality in the presence of Obama's "red line," it's an illogical weapon. But the media and leaders don't buy that denial, and offer their own reasons why Assad had in fact decided to use this weapon, over and over as alleged.

Chlorine clearly wasn't chosen for its lethality. It's been speculated Assad miscalculated with the Ghouta chemical massacre in 2013, never meaning to kill nearly 1,500 people with the Sarin attack. But a big death toll was probably intended - by whoever - and now with no Sarin, "Assad" seems happy just leaving people choking while hardly killing anyone.

Including the six killed on March 16, the death toll from a reported 35+ alleged chlorine attacks is said to be ten, as of mid-June. Of those, at least 8 reportedly died only because they were somehow trapped in a confined basement area with no help for too long - fluke cases. It's not necessarily that they were trapped like that, it just shows the activists realize dying from chlorine requires some additional explanation, true or not. There are studies with graphics, one of which "Syricide" helpfully tweeted here, showing that, basically, "You have to be physically strapped down & unable to move a few meters to safely escape a #chlorine plume."

So why do those supporting the allegations think it makes sense for "Assad" to continue this?

Why Would Assad Choose Chlorine?
Dr. Mohammed Tennari, the sometimes-elusive director of the Sarmin field hospital that hosted most of these ten deaths, has a working theory many are finding credible. His June 17 presentation to House of Representatives foreign relations committee (PDF) explains the dictator's likely thinking:
This is a form of collective punishment by the government. Though the chlorine-filled barrels have killed far less than barrel bombs filled with explosives and shrapnel, they have added a new type of psychological torture to the people of Idlib. The fear and confusion caused by chemical attacks has driven new waves of mass displacement throughout Idlib. Each day, we worry about what the next day will bring. This is no way to live.
Allied chemical weapons expert Hamish de Bretton-Gordon concurred, telling the Guardian “People I know and speak to in Syria are still absolutely terrified by chlorine. I tell them that it is not really that poisonous, but their line is always that ‘we can hide from bombs and bullets … but we can’t hide from gas’. And that psychological weapon is I think the key thing why Assad still uses it.”
This is about the same motive as everyone else has guessed - to terrify, terrorize, and displace, as punishment for being freed from government control. This psychological effect is both why "Assad" does it and why it must be stopped. But it sounds like the radiological "dirty bomb" issue - an easy weapon to defuse. Studies show clearly that the only danger past the initial blast is panic-related. Counter-terrorism educators know and explain that if everyone knows not to panic, everyone will be fine. And if everyone knows that, the "dirty" part ceases to anything to the weapon. The same could be done here, but maybe it's too much for the Syrian activists and their allies to handle - they can't or won't change peoples' minds, and   they've decided air war is the solution to forcibly remove the cause of the irrational fear.

Why Would the Rebels want "Assad" to be Seen as Making that Choice?
Chlorine is not created to be a chemical weapon, and as we see it's not a very lethal one - certainly no good replacement for "Assad's" lost Sarin. But it does technically count as a chemical weapon, when used as it allegedly has been. It may well cross Obama's red line (he suggests maybe it doesn't, but that might be a dodge). The Syrian government may well avoid a full-on US attack even after this, but it wouldn't be for a lack of trying - they're allegedly playing with fire here, again, and with little logical reason.
But it was decided to keep chemical attacks and Assad synonymous. There may well be a few reasons to choose chlorine as the exact chemical, but in this case one overriding and obvious answer captures my attention wholly: this this replacement chemical can't be lost the same way "Assad" lost his Sarin. This time they cannot offer to hand over all chlorine in the country in return for no attacks. It's far too common to eradicate like that, and more importantly it's needed for national survival anyway, mainly to purify drinking water to stop waterborne disease. The chlorine has to stay. If anything in the picture changes, this time it won't be a chemical. It will be "Assad."
So now we have two main choices, as activists would summarize it. One option is watching the alleged chlorine attacks continue - letting Assad and chlorine continue to coexist in Syria. The other option Tennari and allies propose is to finally "get rid of Assad" totally and for good, or at least limit his capabilities/decimate his forces in some areas - even if the latter becomes a slippery slope into the former. Tennari told the Guardian: “we would like to see a no-fly zone,” and that is probably just why "Assad" has decided to again force this choice on his future in Syria, hoping for a decisive "no future" answer this time. 

When Would Rebels Want to Sow That Narrative?
As soon as it became clear the Syrian government (aka "Assad") had successfully surrendered its stocks of Sarin and other chemical weapons, and the world's powers believed it. On April 22, 2014 it was reported by the UN that about 90% of that work was done, with the remainder on track (Xinhua - L.A. Times). Informed people would know before that announcement that things were headed that way. Starting April 11 and continuing into the summer, aerial attacks with chlorine gas were alleged on both sides of the border between Hama and Idlib provinces in central Syria. At least four of these attacks among many more had a small death toll - once with the first attack on Kafr Zita, and again on April 21, just ahead of the UN announcement.

And what would they want to say with this opening campaign? Consider the top picture - bombing runs against Syria's government is all that can save the children of Syria. It certainly wouldn't be the activists coming up with their civil defense plans, according to a video of April 12. The day after the first alleged chlorine attack in Kafr Zita, locals in that same town showed off how they had just decided to have their children hide from the bombing in deep-dug trenches.  This isn't likely what they really did, but ask what was the purpose of acting like it was?

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