Syrian Chemical Weapons Destruction: Update 55

Ahmet Üzümcü, Director-General of the OPCW, revealed in a press conference during his visit to Japan in February that Iraq had reported to the Organization that ISIS members have attempted to obtain chemical weapons. In the same conference Üzümcü warned that the complete destruction of chemical weapons production and storage facilities in Syria may take until September. This raised international alarm surrounding ongoing ISIS attempts to obtain chemical weapons and apprehension given their largely unabated growth in power in Iraq and Syria. Indeed, a precedent does exist as the Iraqi government reported in October 2014 that Iraqi security forces had been attacked with chlorine gas by ISIS north of Baghdad. A further 300 victims died from a similar attack in September in the city of Fallujah.


During the Executive Council meeting of the OPCW on 4 February, Iran sought to block a move by the US and Russia to present a mildly worded statement expressing “serious concern”. Had it succeeded, this measure would have allowed the OPCW Director-General to send a report to the UN Security Council to investigate the recent use of chlorine gas in Syria. So far the UNSC has refused to take such action, and this statement blocked by Iran had the power to potentially elicit such an investigation. The statement had support from the Executive Council’s other 39 members and would have passed. Given that the organization works on the principal of unanimity, it is unlikely any such move will successfully reoccur in the future. Iran, Syria’s principal ally, has long sought to prevent the UNSC from imposing any action on the state, be it sanctions or military force. The unique vote in the OPCW EC, however, showed just how isolated both Syria and Iran are in trying to prevent further OPCW and UNSC investigations into use of chemicals in the Syrian civil war. The United Nations unanimously passed UN Resolution 2139 in 2014 which called for an end to the use of barrel bombs in the Syrian conflict. In January 2015 UN Deputy Humanitarian Chief Kyung-wha Kang said, “the call continues to be ignored.”