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Iraq, Libya, Syria.. It's Like Groundhog Day - To Hell With the Facts, Bombs Away

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We've seen it all before. It's like Groundhog Day, the location is different - Syria not Iraq or Libya - but the rhetoric remains the same.

While the discredited 'Weapons of Mass Destruction' mantra is gone, in its place the same humanitarian tipping point pared down - chemical weapons.

It is widely agreed that historic stockpiles of chemical weapons still exist in military facilities in Syria, but there has been no evidence of the Assad regime carrying out the attack on Ghouta or any other locations.

There have been indications, however, over the past year that Syrian rebels themselves may have obtained, tested and even used chemical weapons.

In May it was reported members of Syria's militant Al Nusra group were arrested in Turkey with 2kg of sarin. While in July a Turkish jihadist site claimed rebels had obtained chemical weapons from a military base they had overrun in Allepo.

Further back in 2012 of last year the purported rebel faction Kateebat A Reeh Sarsar (Brigade of Chemical) released a propaganda video showing poison gas tests on rabbits.

The video showed an array of chemicals from the Tekkim company, including sodium nitrite, potassium permanganate and potassium chlorate (all oxidisers that can be used in the creation of gas). Masked militants threatened to use them on Assad's people if the West did not intervene.

But this isn't talked about.

William Hague instead insists the rebels have no chemical capabilities and do not possess the 'weapons systems' or motivation to deliver them. 

In saying this he ignores documented evidence of the rebels use of median range rockets, never mind the fact sarin nerve gas (if that's what it is) can be disseminated into the atmosphere using a simple handheld humidifier (something the Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo demonstrated in its 1994 attack over a wide area in Matsumoto that killed eight and injured 200).

On other points the Foreign Secretary has misled.

"Over the past year we have seen evidence of the repeated small-scale use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime," he said.

In actual fact there has been no documented evidence of the Syrian government using chemical weapons against the rebels, only the claims of the rebels.

An investigation in May by the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria into an alleged attack by the Syrian government on a rebel area concluded that it was in fact probably carried out by the rebels.

The UN's Carla del Ponte, one of the world's most respected war crimes investigators, said: "There are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated. This was used on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities."

Despite this previous finding of rebel groups possibly gassing their own people and then blaming Assad, Britain, France and the US have stuck steadfastly to the line that the rebels could not kill their own people.

No evidence has been produced, nor a motive for the Syrian government carrying out an act that would almost guarantee Western military intervention.

For it to happen on the day weapons inspectors arrived made even less sense.

Over the past few months the Syrian government has staged several convincing defeats of the rebels, recapturing the city of Qusair and the Baba Amr district of Homs.

Though the New York Times reported in February that large shipments of arms, paid for by Saudi Arabia, had been smuggled to the rebels across the Jordanian border, the Government still enjoys overwhelming military superiority.

It begs the question: Why would the Assad regime need to deploy chemical weapons at all?

Since Saddam Hussain's gassing of the Kurds in Halabja in 1988 there have been few more incendiary actions to initiate then a chemical attack. Any government in the world understands the significance of it, but so does the opposition. 

The prospect of Colonel Gaddafi using chemical weapons was also raised in the build-up to bombing Libya, further demonising a regime that had primarily been criticised for shelling rebel towns in its civil war. Gaddafi was repeatedly accused of breaking a ceasefire with rebels, even though it was clear from reports by journalists on the ground that the rebels were continuing to attack government positions.

Rebel groups have learnt how to get the upperhand in the PR war against their enemy, particularly where it fits in with foreign policy objectives in the West. Such tactics have been honed since the Yugoslav conflict, when Bosnia and Croatia, and then the rebel 'Republic of Kosovo' were represented by American PR firms such as Ruder Finn, who lobbied on their behalf in the US.

Unquestioning acceptance of the inaccurate and of the unsubstantiated has become the norm.

Even the alleged death toll of up to 1,300 from the chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Ghouta remains unproven and backed mainly by YouTube footage. Doctors Without Borders have independently estimated 355 dead.

And yet the higher undocumented figure is still repeated ad naseum to further dramatise the tragedy and increase the drive for military action.

Without wanting to suggest there wasn't a gas attack (because there clearly was) there has been a lack of the most basic factual indicators including no autopsy findings of the physiological changes that sarin gas causes in the human body. In the rebel-controlled area where it occurred facts are being obscured.

What we have had are the highly emotive pictures of dead children, evidence of a brutal atrocity but on what scale and carried out by whom?

Last night's reluctant decision by the government to delay missile strikes and allow UN weapons inspectors more time may only prove a hiccup in the snowballing momentum to bomb Syria.

The US say they believe the Assad regime has perpetrated chemical weapons attacks based on samples taken from various sites, but again this is not proof of who did it. Instead the very existence of chemical weapons is being taken as a tacit example of the Syrian government's culpability.

Perhaps the most galling aspect of Hague and David Cameron's bullish pursuit of military action against Syria is its transparency. 

They use the same tactic Tony Blair employed in the build-up to the 2nd Iraq War - 'repeat an accusation enough and you can pass it off as fact'. Perhaps like Blair the PM wants to believe the public too callow to tweak to this lack of substance. 

In the meantime Blair, the Middle East's so-called envoy for peace, is advocating missile strikes on Syria by employing the bogus assertion that by not taking action we instead dither and allow a humanitarian crisis to unfold.

"We have collectively to understand the consequences of wringing our hands instead of putting them to work," he intoned in his most evangelical pronouncement yet.

Hague has parroted the same view stating we "cannot allow diplomatic paralysis to be a shield".

Blair also claimed Syria would become a breeding ground for extremists, ignoring video footage of summary executions of soldiers and civilians by the rebels, some factions of whom have vowed to wipe all Alawite Shias off the face of the earth.

And much like Blair's 'Dodgy Dossier' claim, prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, that Saddam Hussain could launch chemical weapons strikes on UK targets within 45minutes, Hague has more subtly introduced the concept of a direct threat to the UK.

"We must proceed in a careful and thoughtful way, but we cannot permit our own security to be undermined by the creeping normalisation of the use of weapons that the world has spent decades trying to control and eradicate," he wrote in the Telegraph.

The lone voice of common sense has been Russia, which quite rightly has asked for evidence before action.

There is a long and chequered history of opposition groups providing false information to the West or staging outrages to justify military assistance.

Iraqi defector Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi admitted he made-up WMD claims that were the basis for the invasion of Iraq - in order to oust Saddam. And in Libya rebel claims of massacres of the civilian populace were not supported by recorded mortality rates.

It must be asked if the chemical attack in Ghouta was planned by Syria's rebels to escalate US and European intervention, paving the way for the type of rout we saw in Libya.

If Iraq taught us nothing else it should be that our leaders respect the truth and not regard manipulation of the facts as a justifiable means to an end - the means to a war.

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