Middle East questions validity of US pretext for war

Why would Syria’s Bashar Hafez al-Assad launch a deadly chemical attack on a scale not yet seen in his country’s civil war — as American and allied officials assert his loyalists did last week — when he seemed to be holding his own in the stalemated conflict, and just as international weapons inspectors arrived in the country?  There would have been no logical benefit for his government in launching the attack. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/28/world/middleeast/reports-of-syria-chemical-attack-spur-question-why.html?ref=world   Even some of those advocating a military response have expressed puzzlement over why he would take one of the few actions that could push a reluctant American government to respond.

The attack, which killed hundreds of people in heavily bombarded suburbs east and southwest of Damascus, the capital, appears to have been by far the most widespread and deadliest use of chemical weapons in Syria, where toxic gases have been used in several smaller attacks over the past year, with each side accusing the other of using the internationally banned weapons.

On the eve of last Wednesday’s attack, Mr. Assad’s forces had consolidated gains around the central city of Homs, aiming to secure the heavily populated corridor running from Damascus through the government’s coastal strongholds to the divided northern city of Aleppo.

The security forces have remained relatively cohesive and organized. The government has scaled back its military goals, recognizing that it cannot fight everywhere at once, but it displays a greater ability than the rebels to systematically make decisions about allocating resources and weapons to areas it considers important at a particular time.

Evidence from videos and witnesses suggested that the toxic substances in last week’s attack were delivered by improvised tube-launched missiles that could be used by smaller, more mobile units than were thought to be needed for chemical weapons.

Syria’s allies Russia and Iran have said the attack was carried out by rebels, who produce many homemade weapons.

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