On January 13, Russian Foreign Ministry expressed concern over repeated acts of «chemical terrorism» in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Iraq. The extremist groups used toxic chemicals such as chlorine as well as chemical warfare agents – mustard gas and sarin.
Chemical weapons (CW) continue to be employed in Syria and Iraq. A large-scale attack by the Islamic State (IS) or some other extremist group is a possibility. The IS has converted a pharmaceutical factory near Mosul into a production center for the manufacture of mustard gas. It had experts and the required precursors from oil industry. The group has also tried to procure biological and radiological weapons. The IS has been reported to evacuate CW-related equipment and experts to Syria.
According to the IHS Conflict Monitor, a London-based intelligence collection and analysis service, the Islamic State has used chemical weapons, including chlorine and sulfur mustard agents, at least 52 times on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq since it swept to power in 2014. More than one-third of those chemical attacks have come in and around Mosul.
In Syria CW were used repeatedly during the battle for Aleppo. The Syrian Army has discovered a large workshop of Jaish al-Fatah terrorist group that had been used for making chemical weapons in Eastern Aleppo, a military source disclosed on December 31 to the representatives of the International Committee of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), proving that terrorists used mustard gas in Syria. Not once, the OPCW expressed concern over the fact that the IS uses CW.
According to incoming reports, mustard gas agents are used now in Mosul, in particular against Qayyarah air base – the main facility used by US and Iraqi troops. Iraqi special forces discovered chemicals inside the Mosul University campus on January 14 in a second day of fierce clashes with IS militants.
According to Gadi Eizenkot, the Chief-of-Staff Israeli defense forces (IDF), various rivals in Syria might employ CW. This may provoke a resolute response to drag another actor into the conflict.
The United States is responsible for the situation because the Islamic State CW program is headed by former Iraqi Army officers who were made resign from the armed forces after the US invasion and left without means to survive.
Last April, Russia and China introduced a UN draft resolution on terrorists' use of chemical weapons in Syria.
According to the document, all countries, especially those neighboring Syria, were to immediately report to the UN Security Council any steps by non-state actors aimed at the production, acquisition, transfer, handling and use of chemical weapons and their means of delivery. It was also proposed to work out a mechanism for the OPCW to conduct investigations of chemical attacks.
The initiative was stymied as a result of opposition by «the friends of Syria».
The responsibility to protect civilians is a guiding principle for the international community. This problem cannot be just set aside. Russia and the United States have an equally obvious common interest in defeating the IS and promoting an end to the conflict in the war-torn country.
On January 14, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the Russian government daily newspaper, reported that Russia invited the incoming Trump administration to Syrian peace talks in Astana to be launched on January 23. This will be the first practical step to enhance the bilateral cooperation. The conference to be held in the capital of Kazakhstan is a good chance to address the issue of CW in the Middle East. Intelligence exchange could be a right decision.
The Russia-Syria-Iraq-Iran anti-terrorist information center is operational in Baghdad. Moscow is in a perfect position to function as a connecting link to implement the process of intelligence information exchange. Russia and the US can coordinate air strikes against CW production and storage facilities. After all, in 2013 both countries successfully cooperated to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles. Starting a dialogue on the CW could be the first step to revive cooperation and spread the process to other areas. If there is a will, there is a way.