Even before the ink has dried on the Russian American deal to remove and destroy all of Syria’s massive hoard of Chemical weapons, rumours as reported on Sunday in the Lebanese daily, Al-Mustaqbal, are swirling that Syria has moved 20 large trucks containing Chemical weapons across their border into neighbouring Iraq. The same newspaper claimed that because border guards failed to inspect the contents of the trucks, suspicions have been raised that they contained illicit cargoes. Lending credibility to these claims, the Head of the Free Syrian Army, General Salim Idriss told CNN that; “Today, we have information that the regime began to move chemical materials and chemical weapons to Lebanon and to Iraq. We told them do not be fooled.” According to the US, Russian agreement, Syria is required to disclose the complete details of its chemical weapons and related facilities by next Saturday. The plan requires Russia and America to follow a “tightly fixed schedule” that envisions international monitors taking control of Syria’s chemical weapons until they can be destroyed or removed from the country by mid-2014, a timetable that will be difficult to fulfil even in the event that Assad’s regime cooperates.
These nefarious rumours recall the heavy traffic of large trucks going the other way, from Iraq into Syria before the US Invasion and just prior to the inspections by the UN Weapons inspectors. At that time, David Kay, Head of the Iraqi Survey group was reported by The Daily Telegraph to have said: “We know from some of the interrogations of former Iraqi officials that a lot of material went to Syria before the war, including some components of Saddam’s WMD program. Precisely what went to Syria, and what has happened to it, is a major issue that needs to be resolved.”
Satellite imagery in 2003 also supported the increased activity on the Iraq-Syria border before and during the invasion and James R. Clapper, who headed the National Imagery and Mapping Agency suggested the trucks may have contained materiel related to Iraq’s WMD programs.
Supporting claims of this clandestine transfer from Iraq to Syria were widespread at the time:
- Ion Mihai Pacepa, a Romanian intelligence defector referred to a Russian plan to help Saddam Hussein to destroy, hide, or transfer his chemical weapons prior to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. “After all, Russia helped Saddam get his hands on them in the first place.”
- Georges Sada, a former Iraqi General declared on Fox News in 2002 that Saddam Hussein had removed all his stockpiles to Syria. In his book, “Saddam’s Secrets” he wrote about an ‘air bridge’ of 56 sorties of cargo aircraft commissioned to fly out Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.
- Nizar Nayuf, a Syrian journalist reported in the Dutch daily newspaper, De Telegraaf, that he was aware of three sites (al-Baida, Sjinsjar and Tal Snan) inside Syria, that were used to store Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
- Moshe Ya’alon, who served as Chief of Staff of Israel’s Defence Forces from 2002 to 2005, made similar claims in the New York Sun in December, 2005 that “He [Saddam] transferred the chemical agents from Iraq to Syria.”
- Ariel Sharon, Israel’s Prime Minister in December 2002, on Israel’s Channel 2 claimed that “…chemical and biological weapons which Saddam is endeavouring to conceal have been moved from Iraq to Syria.”
- Ali Ibrahim al-Tikriti, a former Iraqi General, renowned as the ‘Butcher of Basra’ said in February 2006, that; I know Saddam’s weapons are in Syria due to certain military deals that were made going as far back as the late 1980s that dealt with the event that either capitals were threatened with being overrun by an enemy nation”.
- John Loftus, the Director of “The Intelligence Summit”, wrote on November 16, 2007, that many documents from Iraq, point to Weapons of Mass Destruction being transferred to other countries such as Syria: “As stated in more detail in my full report, the British, Ukrainian and American secret services all believed that the Russians had organized a last minute evacuation of Chemical Weapons and Biological weapon stockpiles from Baghdad to Syria.”
It appears that the Syrians and Iraqis have been helping each other out for some time now and are quite adept at this game of cat and mouse across their mutual borders.
American vacillation and fear of being sucked into another unwanted Middle Eastern war, has contrasted starkly with Russian steadfastness in its support for its ally Syria. On the surface this plan is a windfall for all parties, as it avoids war. It is however a boon for both Syria and Russia, as it extends the life of the Assad regime by making it a party to the accord. It moreover, removes from Assad the responsibility for Chemical Weapons, that in any case he could not use again and of the onerous burden of keeping them out of the hands of the Free Syrian Army. Assad is now free to pursue and destroy his enemies with overwhelming conventional forces and airpower. While America wavers, about whether to supply heavy weapons to the Free Syrian Army, Russia has already indicated its readiness to supply more advanced weapon systems, such as the S300 air defence system.
By opting for the ‘diplomatic route’ the United States and the ‘free’ world may have added to the suffering of the Syrian people and will not have brought the conflict any closer to resolution. If Assad thinks he can hoodwink the world by squirreling his unwanted weapons in another country, as it is alleged Saddam Hussein did, then the diplomatic option will also fail. If these chemical weapons leave Syria, only to be dispersed into very unstable neighbouring countries, the whole region will be further destabilised. The worst case scenario of these weapons, crossing into Lebanon and falling into the hands of terrorist Hizbollah, to be aimed at being used against Israel, would have disastrous consequences. Indeed, if the history of Iraq is not heeded, the chemical weapons may slip through the hands of a complacent world!