After an alleged chemical weapons attack reportedly killed up to 1,300 people in Syria last week, the Obama administration has announced it will consider a range of response options while U.S. ships head toward Syria in preparation for a possible full-blown military intervention.
Although the U.S. decries chemical weapons use in Syria as an unacceptable “red line” issue, an investigation by Foreign Policy, which featured recently declassified CIA documents, indicates that Washington once supported Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq War in attacks that killed thousands of Iranian soldiers and civilians.
“The U.S. government may be considering military action in response to chemical strikes near Damascus. But a generation ago, America’s military and intelligence communities knew about and did nothing to stop a series of nerve gas attacks far more devastating than anything Syria has seen,” Shane Harris and Matthew M. Aid report.
The administration of President Ronald Reagan never disclosed U.S. knowledge of Iraqi chemical weapons, while sharing satellite maps and strategic information that assisted the Iraqi military, led by Saddam Hussein, to carry out major chemical weapons attacks in its offensive against Iran.
Documents and interviews with former intelligence officials like Air Force Col. Rick Francona, point to the fact that the U.S. had solid evidence of Iraqi chemical attacks dating back to 1983. At the time, Iran was alleging that illegal chemical attacks were carried out on its forces, in violation of international law that prohibits the use of chemical warfare.
“The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn’t have to. We already knew,” Francona told Foreign Policy in a statement.
The U.S. supported Hussein even when he used chemical weapons against the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988. The attack involving a mix of mustard gas and nerve agents, killed 5,000 civilians and injured thousands more in an attack many consider an act of genocide.
Leaders in Washington and their allies now are attempting to justify a potential military intervention along “humanitarian” lines, to stop a foreign leader from using chemical weapons against rebel groups. The alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria marks the latest provocation in a brutal war that has killed more than 100,000 and displaced at least 1.7 million, according to United Nations statistics. President Obama announced two years ago that the use of chemical weapons would amount to crossing a “red line” that would prompt a U.S. response.
“We are gathering information on this particular event. What I can say is that unlike some of the evidence we were trying to get earlier that led to a U.N. investigator going into Syria, what we’ve seen indicates that this is clearly a big event, of grave concern,” President Obama said during a recent CNN interview.
Many policy experts warn that the influx of foreign fighters joining radical groups like the Nusra Front, the Syrian Islamic Front and other al-Qaida affiliates could further destabilize the region should the U.S. help topple Bashar al-Assad.
Reports of an influx of extremists were underscored this week by Alexander Lukashevich, a spokesman for Russia’s foreign ministry, who claimed that there are now between 6,000 and 40,000 foreign fighters inside Syria.
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