Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Syrian evidence has to be a lot harder than Iraq's

James Revill in The Guardian adds his voice to those doubting that the Syrian regime is responsible for all the chemical attacks which have been shown in TV news broadcasts. The argument that the rebels would not use chemical weapons on their own would hold water only if the forces opposing Bashar al-Assad were homogenous. In addition to the genuine revolutionaries, an al-Qa'ida associate seeks to impose a Sunni rĂ©gime by force as well as the probable involvement of a Salafist group or groups funded from Saudi. One has only to consider the way the groups nominally supporting the Spanish Republicans during the civil war fell out among themselves, to see that the indiscriminate deployment of chemical weapons by anti-Assad forces is quite possible.

The government side is hardly monolithic, either. Russia no doubt has agents in the country of its only ally in the Middle East. It is possible that the chemical attacks have been carried out by a (Shiite) Hezbollah unit from Lebanon, who would not be too concerned about a Western attack on Damascus. Informed opinion is that the culprit is a rogue Syrian army commander who has gone beyond his brief. It does not seem credible that Bashar al-Assad himself would deliberately invite a US attack, given the clear warning from President Obama last year.

Before launching missile strikes which, however "surgical", are bound to kill and injure bystanders, President Obama needs to be absolutely certain not only chemical weapons have been used but also who used them.

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