During a recent visit to Jerusalem, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a warning to Syria in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons on their own citizenry. In his statement, Kerry said, “These are crimes against humanity and they cannot be tolerated.” (1)
Such stern words are very reminiscent of the stern warning George W. Bush issued to Saddam Hussein more than a decade ago. Actually, the entire situation in Syria appears to have some parallels with the search for Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq surrounding the 2003 invasion of the country. These parallels beg the question, is the search for Syrian chemical weapons the same as Iraq WMDs?
In 2002, the UN Security Council issued Resolution 1441 to President Hussein which stated that it was providing, “a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations.” (2) Additionally, the UN sent a weapons inspector to Iraq in search of the weapons; however, the search returned no weapons of mass destruction, but also could not account for a large quantity of chemical weapons.
The Iraqis claimed that these weapons were destroyed; however, the US believed that this was untrue. It was this belief, which was said to be based on CIA intelligence, and the fact that Iraq had “not genuinely accepted UN resolutions demanding that it disarm,” (3) which caused the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In 2006, a large cache of degraded chemical weapons was found, though it was thought that these weapons were created during the 1980s and well beyond their shelf life.
Fast forward about seven years; it appears that the search for chemical weapons has been reignited. This renewed search is focused on Syria when allegations began to arise that surface-to-surface rockets filled with sarin nerve agent were used in Damascus, which is described as the, “the most significant confirmed use of chemical weapons against civilians since Saddam Hussein used them in Halabja in 1988.” (5)
US intelligence confirmed that chemical weapons were used on the civilians and believes the Syrian government was responsible for the attack. Meanwhile, the Syrian government is blaming the rebels.
Recently, the US, Russia, and Syria came to an agreement that Syria would disarm and destroy its chemical weapons cache, which is about 1000 metric tons strong. Full disarmament is expected to be achieved by the middle of 2014; if not, the US is threatening military action.
The Syrian Situation
The situation in Syria has some eerie parallels to that of what occurred in Iraq in 2003. Though the investigation is only in its initial stages, many are wondering if the issue in Syria will lead the country to war just as it did during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
This all hinges on what UN investigators find or do not find during their investigation. Though it is said that Syria prohibited the UN from investigating immediately after the news of the attack broke, (an in effort to allow the evidence to degrade) the country has recently complied with the recent request to provide information about their weapons program.
However, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is not providing any details about what Syria has submitted. UN inspectors are expected to be in Syria by November of this year. Depending on what they find, the US/Russian reaction to what is found, and if Syria continues to comply with the disarmament agreement will be able to tell if the search for chemical weapons in Syria will mirror the search for WMDs in Iraq completely.
Unfortunately, as this recent tragedy unfolds, the two seem to share some very disturbing and similar origins. However, unlike Iraq, Syria seems to be complying with the resolutions to disarm to date. Hopefully, this is a foreshadowing that the situation in Syria will not follow that path of Iraq in 2003.
Author’s Note: To date there are still a number of rumors, conspiracy theories, conjecture and even unanswered questions surrounding the various “unofficial” reasons why the US invaded Iraq in 2003. Those items were intentionally not mentioned in this article. This article’s intention was to lay out the similarities and differences in what occurred in Iraq in 2003 and what is currently going on in Syria based on official reports. The rumors, conspiracy theories, conjecture and unanswered questions surrounding the 2003 invasion of Iraq and if any of those can apply to the current situation in Syria will be addressed in a later article.