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OPCW Alerted to Turkey’s Alleged Use of ‘Chemical Weapons’ on Kurds in Northern Syria


Patrick Henningsen
21st Century Wire

If recent history has taught us anything, it’s that nothing can trigger a snap UN Security Council meeting or a western military intervention quite like reports of a ‘chemical attack’ in the Middle East.

Yesterday, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) sprung into action following images and a statement which were posted by Mustafa Bali, a spokesperson for the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Bali claims to have evidence of ‘chemical weapons’ being deployed by the Turkish forces against Kurdish civilians in northern Syria.

Defense Post explains the media trajectory of this story which began to cascade across western media from Wednesday:

“Bali’s accusations came after the SDF-aligned AHNA news agency on Wednesday, Foreign Policy on Thursday, and The Times of London on Friday reported children were being treated for severe abnormal burns. The Times report said the “terrible wounds” suggest Turkey “is using white phosphorus against Kurdish civilians,” while ANHA accused Turkey of using “internationally prohibited phosphorus.”

The complaint has now made its way to the Hague. In a statement made yesterday to Newsweek, the OPCW said the following:

“The OPCW is aware of the situation in northern Syria and is collecting information at OPCW Headquarters with regard to the alleged use of chemical weapons.”

“So far, the OPCW has not yet determined the credibility of these allegations.”

Clearly, past events in Syria have demonstrated that even the perception of a ‘chemical attack’ is enough to trigger western military action.

In geopolitical terms, the stakes are extremely high right now in Syria. Both Turkey and the US are vying to retain control over key parts of Syrian territory, while Damascus and its ally Russia are determined to stabilise and liberate “every inch” of Syria’s sovereign lands.  If chemical weapons are seen to have been used against civilians in Syria, the conflict might immediately be escalated, at least in the near term.  Escalation would become a top agenda item for the international community, prompting further physical involvement by the West.  This conflict theatre – could evolve in the same way that ISIS would provoke a renewed western imperative should it magically surface around Syria’s highly coveted oil fields or along crucial stretches of the Syrian-Iraqi border once again.

It was Thursday’s article by Foreign Policy Magazine (part of the Bezos media empire) which triggered a UN investigation into the SDF claims, but Foreign Policy’s editors were adamant to place any blame squarely on “Turkish proxies,” namely, the former jihadist paramilitary legion formerly known as the Free Syrian Army (recently rebranded as the “Syrian National Army” by the Syrian opposition in exile).

Needless to say, when you combine the words ‘Kurds’ and ‘chemical weapons,’ it will immediately evoke images of Halabja, Iraq in 1988. But what is being presented here is not allegations of sarin, mustard gas, or even chlorine – all of which we’ve heard about often in the Syrian War since 2013. The incident in question appears to indicate the use of white phosphorus, a substance which is not banned under international chemical weapons conventions, although its use is meant to be heavily regulated.

The question still remains whether or not these claims are in fact credible, or whether the Kurdish faction has learned to play the WMD media game in Syria. Previous dubious claims made by the various Syrian opposition forces and their adjuncts the White Helmets – of chemical weapons used by ‘the regime’ in Syria – have not furthered the cause of truth and justice on the matter, not least of all after Western and Gulf state-backed terrorists and White Helmets were caught staging a fake ‘chemical attack’ in the Damascus suburb of Douma in 2018, along with numerous other fabricated incidents apparently designed to elicit western military intervention in Syria. The official narrative of a ‘sarin and chlorine attack’ in Douma completely collapsed following the release of a leaked OPCW whistleblower’s engineering report intentionally omitted from the OPCW’s main Fact Finding Mission most likely because it cast serious doubt on western-backed ‘rebel’ and White Helmet narrative that chlorine cylinders were dropped by ‘the regime’ from helicopters on two apartment blocks before killing over one hundred civilians by chlorine asphyxiation.

By the same token, jihadist FSA rebels do have previous form using chemical weapons in the field, and have also been the recipient of billions of dollars in US weaponry since 2012, which could possibly include white phosphorus munitions. The same could also be said of Israel’s own supplying of ‘rebel’ fighters in Syria – a practice which is already well-documented by now.

White Phosphorus: Made in the USA

Over the years, the international community has only marginally, if at all, seriously reacted to similar reports of white phosphorus use in conflict zones around the world, perhaps because the culprits have been the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

US military use of white phosphorus is legendary, most notably during its Siege of Fallulja in Iraq in 2004, and later in Afghanistan, but also more recently in 2017 in during its aerial bombardments against ISIS in Raqqa, Syria, and in Mosul, Iraq.

Israel has repeatedly used white phosphorus over densely populated areas during is many incursions into Gaza, a practice which drew accusations of war crimes in 2009 – which forced Tel Aviv to announce that it would be removing the chemical agent from its arsenal in 2013, although reports continued to surface of its use by the IDF.  Still, hardly a rebuke was ever issued in the western media.

In its illegal undeclared war of aggression against its neighbour Yemen, Saudi Arabia has also been repeatedly cited by international groups for using US-supplied white phosphorus against Yemenis. When pressed on the matter, US officials did confirm they’ve supplied the Saudi military with white phosphorus, but refused to admit exactly how much and when it was supplied.

Technically speaking, white phosphorus has legal battlefield applications – either as a field marker, or as a smoke screen to conceal troop movements, and therefore the substance is not banned under international chemical weapons conventions, such as Protocol III of 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons. However, its use is strictly proscribed to avoid its use against people, or “in close proximity to civilians” or against civilian property. Traditionally, the US military has been able to circumvent these regulations by stating that they had given civilians ample time to evacuate in advance of an artillery assault on a town or city.

Further announcements by the UN and the OPCW regarding the validity of the SDF’s claims are expected next week.

STAY TUNED FOR UPDATES.

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Author Patrick Henningsen is an American writer and global affairs analyst and founder of independent news and analysis site 21st Century Wire, and is host of the SUNDAY WIRE weekly radio show broadcast globally over the Alternate Current Radio Network (ACR). He has written for a number of international publications and has done extensive on-the-ground reporting in the Middle East including work in Syria and Iraq.

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