Sources in Iraq say Syrian President Bashar Assad’s inner circle is engaged in
“intensive debate” between those who advocate using chemical weapons as a last
resort and those who warn of the dangers of such a step, Kuwaiti daily
Al-Seyassah reported on Thursday.
The debate comes amid growing Western
fears that a desperate Assad could turn to chemical weapons as rebels close in
Al-Seyassah said its reporters spoke to a “prominent figure
in Iraq’s Islamist Sadrist movement” in Baghdad. The movement, led by
popular Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, is supportive of Assad but has
previously denied reports it has sent fighters to Syria to help put down the
Assad’s security and intelligence chiefs believe the rebels’
convergence on the capital provides a unique “opportunity to exterminate them,”
the source said.
The Iraqi Sadrist leader said the Syrian regime’s
political military and security factions have become more desperate as rebel
forces converge on Damascus, and therefore the regime won’t hesitate to use “any
weapon” against the opposition, Al-Seyassah reported.
This faction, led
by Gen. Ali Mamlouk, Assad’s special security adviser and former head of the
General Security Directorate (GID); his deputy Gen. Abdel-Fateh Qudsiya; current
GID chief Maj.-Gen. Mohammed Dib Zaitoun; military intelligence chief
Maj.-Gen. Rafiq Shahada; and Gen. Rustum Ghazali, the head of the Political
Security Directorate, believe such a move could help quash the uprising once and
The majority of Syria’s military leaders and the Defense
Ministry have warned, however, that if the army itself resorts to chemical
weapons against the rebels, that move may result to the armed forces’ “complete
disintegration,” since while the army does not really oppose the use of such
weapons, it does not want to be directly involved in using them against the
Syrian opposition, the source told Al-Seyassah.
Mamlouk, Qudsiya and
Zaitoun have proposed that special units of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps,
rather than the Syrian Army, be asked to carry out security leaders’ orders to
use chemical weapons, the source said.
The report comes after US
officials said last week they have intelligence that Syria may be making
preparations to use chemical weapons against opposition forces. On Monday, The
Washington Post reported comments by a senior American defense official that the
US is concerned about “indications of preparation” for a possible use of
US intelligence officials have also intercepted one
communication within the last six months they believe was from the Revolutionary
Guard Corps’s elite extraterritorial unit, the Qods Force, according to the
Washington Post. That communication reportedly urged Syrian regime members to
use its supplies of Sarin nerve gas against rebels and the civilians supporting
them in Homs.
Syria has one of the world’s largest chemical weapons
arsenals, according to Leonard Spector, executive director of the James Martin
Center for Nonproliferation Studies based in Washington. Syria’s arms cache
includes “traditional chemical agents, such as mustard, and more modern nerve
agents, such as sarin, and possibly persistent nerve agents, such as VX,” he
told the BBC on Tuesday.
While Damascus has never confirmed that it has
chemical weapons, it has insisted that it would never use them against its own
Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad reiterated this position on
Thursday, telling Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV that “Syria would never use chemical
weapons, even if it had them, against its own people.”
Mekdad said the
West’s “theatrical talk” of chemical weapons was merely a ploy to justify
military intervention against Syria.
According to Al-Seyassah, its Iraqi
source said that Iran has discussed the use of chemical weapons with Moscow, and
Tehran supports their use “widely and extensively.”
Moscow believes the
Syrian regime could resort to limited use of chemical weapons as a deterrence if
it were forced to act to stop Damascus from falling into the hands of the armed
opposition, especially in the suburbs of Douma, Moadamiyeh, Zamalka and Kafr
Batna, where intelligence shows there are more armed groups including those
affiliated with the Al-Nusra Front (Jabhat al-Nusra), the source
The Al-Nusra Front is an al-Qaida-affiliated Sunni jihadist
paramilitary group, which has claimed responsibility for several suicide
bombings including in Damascus and Aleppo. The US is moving to designate the
group as a foreign terrorist organization because of its links to al-Qaida.
According to Al-Seyassah, its source said Assad’s inner circle
could well decide to use chemical weapons only in a limited initial operation,
but that use could be expanded depending on the circumstances and
Syria’s security and intelligence chiefs are “not indifferent,”
however, to the international community’s response as it prepares its plans,
first to carry out chemical weapons strikes and second to direct its air defense
system to counter Western fighter jets that may intervene to strike Assad’s
forces and strategic sites, including chemical weapons stores, according to
The US warned Syria last week not to use chemical weapons,
saying that would be a “red line” for Washington.
US Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton told reporters in Prague on Monday that Washington was
“certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur,” but has
not said what form that action might take. Washington has also not said what it
might do should Syria’s chemical weapons cache fall into the hands of opposition
Al-Seyassah also quoted its source as saying that the decision
whether or not to use chemical weapons was “not in the hands of President
Assad would “not sign any document proving that he is resorting
to this weapon to attack the rebels, and therefore the decision will likely be
taken by Mamlouk, Qudsiya and Zaitoun and the IRGC leadership,” the paper quoted
the source as saying.
Tehran, which has much to lose if Assad falls, has
been accused by the US last week of continuing to ship arms to the Syrian regime
via Iraqi airspace. The Syrian opposition have also accused the Revolutionary
Guard Corps of providing military assistance to Assad.
In May, an Iranian news
report that was quickly removed quoted Qods Force deputy commander Esmail
Gha’ani as admitting that the Revolutionary Guard Corps’s elite extraterritorial
unit was aiding Syria. In September, Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Brig.-Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari said that while Qods Force agents were in Syria, Iran
did not have a military presence there.