The tragic and deplorable chemical attack on Damascus on 21st August 2013 by the Syrian regime brought echoes of the unforgettable Halabja massacre in 1988. Over 5000 innocent Kurdish civilians dropped where they were in an attack that crossed all boundaries, with thousands more injured and suffering life-long ailments.
Yet, as the shocking as the chemicals attacks are in Syria, some of the world looks on with doubt that Bashar al-Assad’s regime would perpetrate such action, even accusing the rebels of “fabricating” the event pointing to the timing of the attacks with UN weapons inspectors having just arrived in the country on their long awaited mandate, mere miles from the affected zone.
But a dictatorship is just that, it will not stop at nothing to cling to power or realize narrow minded goals. Terror is a rule not an exception. More importantly, why would the Syrian regime hoard some of the largest chemical weapon stockpiles in the world if it was afraid to use them? The US and most EU powers have already confirmed the use of chemical weapons by the regime during the bitter conflict.
Going back to Halabja, the West knew very well the chemical might and arsenal of Saddam, after all they were his allies against Tehran. Saddam’s forces reverted to chemical weapons on a number of occasions to desperately repel advancing Iranian forces. The regime had already destroyed thousands of Kurdish villages, terrorized the Kurdish population and committed mass murder, why would they hesitate at other means to annihilate the Kurds?
However, strategic interests of the West at times play a more crucial role in foreign policy than real justice or protection of human rights. In the aftermath of the Halabja massacre, Western governments and media were initially muted. The US intelligence agencies even blamed Iran for the Halabja attack. Ironically, Halabja was used 15 years later by the US and the coalition to justify the overthrow of Saddam.
In Syria, the ever thick and moving “red line” of US President Barrack Obama has been crossed many times. However, Washington has done all it can to avoid becoming embroiled in the complex Syrian conflict.
The fact that the Syrian regime would even contemplate such attacks speaks volumes about their perceived threat of international intervention. This sets an even more dangerous precedent for other so called “rogue states” keeping a close eye on Western response.
If the US and its EU allies finally act, it would be because they are dragged and shoved unwillingly than any real passion for action. Over 100,000 have already died and human suffering in Syria has become an acceptable norm without any concrete international response.
Of course, the dangers of regional spillover will intensify with any Western military response and the risk of an uncertain and Islamist led post-Assad Syria hardly soothes Western hesitancy, but one must place politics, sectarianism and strategic interests firmly to one side when hundreds of innocent children are suffocating to death under toxic gases.
If the Syrian regime has a grain of credibility left then it must urgently allow UN inspectors access to the scene. If they are innocent, then what have they to hide?