Fears for Syria’s WMD

Syrian soldiers raise their weapons while holding a picture of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as they leave the eastern city of Deir Zor following a 10-day military operation on August 16, 2011. Syria has repeatedly said it is battling "armed gangs" -- a claim denied by rights groups who say the regime's crackdown on anti-government protests has killed 1,827 civilians since mid-March, while 416 security forces have also died. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

There are growing concerns as to what will become of Syria’s large stockpiles of deadly chemicals, such as its many sarin-based warheads, if the regime is to suddenly collapse.

According to the Washington Post weapons experts have ranked Syria’s chemical stockpile as probably the largest in the world, “consisting of tens of tons of highly lethal chemical agents and hundreds of Scud missiles as well as lesser rockets, artillery rockets and bomblets for delivering the poisons.”

While many countries have signed the UN Chemical Weapons convention and destroyed their chemical weapons arsenals, Syria has refused to do so and has instead continuously developed an ever larger and deadlier stockpile of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

“The question about whether terrorists could take the weapons is a concern in any country undergoing a period of instability,” Radwan Ziadeh, a prominent opposition figure told GlobalPost. “Syria has many weapons according to sources.”

The weapons falling into the wrong hands could spell disaster. The deadly nerve agent sarin killed 13 people and injured around 1,000 in 1995 when it was used in Tokyo’s subway system during a terrorist attack.

“This is a scenario that’s on the radar screen if things go downhill,” a US security official who monitors events in Syria told Washington Post. “A lot of people are watching this closely.”

However for many Syrians in opposition, the fear of deadly poisons falling into the wrong hands is bad semantics: They say the stockpiles already are in the wrong hands, of a regime that has shown a callous disregard for human life.

In the five months since the Syrian people rose up against the 41-year old Assad family dictatorship at least 2,200 people have been killed by security forces, according to the UN.

“The regime seems to have no red lines,” said Ziadeh. “Everyone is concerned about the regime using WMD on its own people. They seem willing to use anything to stay in power. They have used helicopter gunships, tanks and artillery – now all they have left is chemical weapons.”

In 1988 Iraq’s Baathist dictator Saddam Hussein dumped a toxic cocktail of chemical agents, including mustard gas and the nerve agents sarin, tabun, VX, and likely the blood agent hydrogen cyanide on the small Kurdish town of Halabja killing between 3,200 and 5,000 people, and injuring around 7,000 to 10,000 more.

“I don’t think the Syrian regime will do this,” said Ziadeh. “I hope there are some responsible people in the regime who would consider the consequences.”