The international inspectors responsible for the control of the chemical weapons’ destruction process in Syria left their hotel in Damascus to get started on October 2, although fierce clashes between the army and the rebels were taking place in the suburbs of the capital of Syria. The rebels themselves are interfering with the normal and safe work of OPCW inspectors. The task assigned to them by UNSCR 2118 – to destroy the whole chemical arsenal of Syria by mid-2014 – is very difficult to achieve given the work terms and conditions in the country where war continues. If the legitimate government of Syria is providing a maximum level of cooperation, the rebels and their foreign sponsors do not want to comply with the Security Council resolution, thereby disrupting its implementation. Their activities take place against the background of ongoing fighting.
On the OPCW experts’ first day of work on the northern outskirts of the city, violent clashes between Syrian troops and militants associated with Al-Qaeda saw at least 12 government soldiers killed. Combat operations are going on in other areas very close to Damascus. These clashes demonstrate the huge problems that the inspectors face, all the more the case given that an advance team of 19 experts, who arrived from The Hague, has already started to work, and they were joined by 14 other UN staff. Over the course of a week, the number of experts will be further supplemented and will be divided into several groups to work in several different areas connected to chemical weapons.
The United Nations workers have approximately nine months to complete their mission – to destroy the approximately 1,000 tons of Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal. The OPCW experts in the Hague said today the priority for inspectors is to have to investigated Syria’s chemical weapons production potential by November 1. Several inspectors will verify the information concerning Syria’s initial disclosures, what weapons and chemical precursors it has and where they are located. Others will begin to plan the logistics of checking each site where chemicals or chemical weapons are located.
They are mandated to conduct “surprise” inspections, visiting areas where they suspect there may be undeclared weapons, as the UN Security Council resolution states that they need to be provided with easy access. But how they perform their mandate in a country where there is war going on is a great question.
And the fact that Damascus is cooperating has been proved. Syrian authorities have provided the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) with additional material relating to the storage and production of chemical agents in the country. As the official representative of the United Nations Secretary General, Martin Nesirky, told reporters on October 4, information in this regard came from the OPCW Director General Ahmet Üzümcü. “OPCW’s Technical Secretariat has received from Syria additional disclosed information about its programs to develop chemical weapons, received on September 21. This additional information is being studied by the OPCW,” said Nesirky. He did not disclose the details of the information provided by Damascus, suggesting that the organization itself be directly contacted for that information. Martin Nesirky also said that Ahmed Üzümcü will inform the member states of the OPCW of the information received from the Syrian authorities when, on Tuesday, October 8, he will appear at a meeting of the executive board of the organization, which is headquartered in The Hague.
The UN representative said that Damascus had properly co-operated with the advance team of OPCW inspectors and with the United Nations, which is preparing for the start of the chemical weapons disarmament operation in Syria. “Experts have conducted a number of meetings with the Syrian side and received technical diagrams that they are now studying. As far as I know, they have not yet visited any of the chemical industry sites. As we have already said they intend to begin field inspections next week,” said Nesirky.
However, Saudi Arabia and the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf as well as Turkey, which support the Syrian opposition and supply them with weapons, are also required to comply with resolution 2118. And so it turns out we have a game with only one set of goal posts. And if these countries continue to foment war in Syria, interfering with the disposal of chemical weapons, they should be held accountable for this, according to the text of the UN document. And the United States is also required to use its influence on its allies in the anti-Syrian coalition. But the problem is that many of these groups are simply out of the control of their external sponsors. As the influence of the ideas of radical jihad has increased dramatically in the north of Syria, Western countries’ influence is falling. Moreover, from the western Iraqi province of Al-Anbar, inhabited by Sunni, have poured into the east and north of Syria hundreds of Al-Qaeda fighters and regular bandits that have fought against U.S. troops, and then the army of Shiite Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. It is obvious that they consider the United States no less an enemy than Assad. And then last week, 11 armed opposition groups formed a new coalition, which allegedly ended their pro-Western orientation and proclaimed that their main cause was the establishment of a Syrian state based on the norms of Sharia.
There are difficulties with the implementation of other parts of the UN Security Council resolution – the holding of the Geneva-2 conference to begin the internal Syrian peace process. Damascus immediately expressed willingness to do so, but the opposition has put forward a lot of preconditions, including the requirement for Assad to step down. In practice, the United States supports such a non-constructive approach. This means that the chances of holding the Geneva-2 conference are virtually none.
Over the last few days, there have been reports that radical Salafi-leaning groups with the participation of the Saudi intelligence services and their overseer Prince Bandar himself are once again preparing another provocation using sarin. Most likely they will launch another Soviet-made round, delivered from Libya, or one loaded with Western-made sarin, at a residential quarter of Damascus, Aleppo or another major city. The methods for fabricating provocations is already known. As well as the names of those behind it.
Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi spoke in this regard on October 4: “In all areas under the control of the army, we are responsible for the safety of the inspectors and their work, and in the areas where the militants are in control, the terrorists and their backers from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey should take responsibility for the safety of the inspectors. In areas that are under the control of opposition fighters operate Jabhat al-Nusra fighters and the al-Qaeda, and the Syrian government is not in contact with these groups. Presumably they have to ensure the safety of the inspectors. As will those who are sponsoring these militants from Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. They should share this responsibility.”
In any case, the armed opposition has chemical weapons, which has no relation to those of the declared Damascus chemical weapons stockpiles of the official Syrian army. They have chemical weapons, which according to confirmed data, were supplied from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in recent months. They themselves announced that they have such weapons. And they have shown video footage confirming this information. The governments of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have to answer for this before the UN Security Council. Syria spoke of this before the incident in Khan al-Assal in the province of Aleppo. However, the United States and its allies did not heed this warning.
Pyotr Lvov, Doctor of Political Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.