Syria’s chemical attacks reopen sensitive debate in Iran

September 16, 2013

Syria’s ally laments its own chemical attack victims, engineers begin Costa Concordia salvage effort, and North and South Korea reopen their joint industrial complex. Today is Monday, September 16, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.

Fayegh Fallahi, who was injured in an Iraqi chemical attack during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, uses oxygen as he rests at his home in Nowdesheh in Kermanshah province 425 miles southwest of Tehran, July 5, 2008. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

In Hussein’s shadow. Still suffering from the effects of chemical weapons used during the Iraq-Iran war more than thirty years ago, Iranians grow uncomfortable with the possibility their ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was responsible for a chemical attack that killed roughly 1,400 Syrians last month:

An Iranian war veteran fell into a coma in a Tehran hospital last week after suffering respiratory failure, his lungs ravaged by mustard gas during the Iran-Iraq war 30 years ago. Hadi Kazemnejad is one of up to 1,000,000 Iranians who were exposed to chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, officials say. Between 10,000 and 20,000 people were killed and 100,000 of those who survived have developed illnesses, often chronic. Cases like Kazemnejad’s point to the long-term damage of chemical warfare and also help explain Iran’s nuanced reaction to allegations regional ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used such weapons against his own people. Chemical attacks on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21, in which an estimated 1,400 people died, have reopened a sensitive debate among Iranians over their country’s support for Syria.

On Saturday, the U.S. and Russia reached an agreement to place Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal under international oversight. Syria will have a week to declare its secret stockpile, and must allow international inspectors to eliminate all chemical weapons by the middle of next year, a target Kerry called “ambitious.” Syria’s ongoing civil war will make the already-painstaking disarmament process even more difficult. After a meeting between the U.S.. France and Britain on Friday, the office of the French president said that the countries will increase pressure on Syria to comply with the arms deal, and press for a strict U.N. draft resolution that will punish the Syrian government if it doesn’t comply. Although the deal buys Assad time, it comes at a cost:

By requiring Assad to surrender a chemical weapons arsenal which until last week his government had barely acknowledged, it would strip him of both a fearsome military advantage over rebels at home and his most potent deterrent to any further attacks by Syria’s enemy Israel.

A photo of a U.N. report shows inspectors confirmed the use of sarin gas on civilians in Syria last month. Syrian opposition forces are dismayed by the deal, saying that renewed attacks by government forces against rebel-held suburbs of Damascus mean the West no longer poses a credible threat to Assad.

People look on as the capsized cruise liner Costa Concordia lies on its side next to Giglio Island, September 16, 2013. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

Costly Concordia. Engineers began one of the most ambitious maritime operations in history to lift the capsized Costa Concordia cruise ship upright:

At a cost estimated so far at more than 600 million euros ($795 million), it is expected to be the most expensive maritime wreck recovery ever, accounting for more than half of an overall insurance loss of more than $1.1 billion. A multinational team of 500 salvage engineers has been on Giglio for most of the past year, stabilizing the wreck and preparing for the start of the lifting operation. The ship, a floating hotel carrying more than 4,000 passengers and crew, sank when rocks tore into its hull after it came too close to shore at the start of a Mediterranean cruise.

The wrecked ship has been on its side since it ran up against rocks in January 2012, killing 32 people. It will take months before it can be re-floated. Click through for live coverage of the endeavor.

South Korean workers exchange won to U.S. dollar at a bank branch at the customs, immigration and quarantine office area, just south of the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, north of Seoul on September 16, 2013, before they go to inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won

Playing nice. North and South Korea on Monday reopened the joint Kaesong industrial zone after tensions between the two countries shuttered the park for five months:

The Kaesong factory park, a rare symbol of inter-Korean rapprochement, has sat idle since April after North Korea pulled out its 53,000 workers and was restarted amid a thaw in ties that has seen the two Koreas hold talks. Hundreds of South Korean trucks and trailers loaded with raw materials crossed into the North. Workers lined up to exchange money into U.S. dollars and took in South Korean cigarette packs that workers say are a source of friendship with Northerners. “I will greet North Koreans ‘Happy Chuseok’ because we are both Korean,” said Kaesong worker Kim Chung-jin, at a bank counter before his departure, referring to the Thanksgiving holiday celebrated by the neighbors this week. “I hope the shutdown will never happen again.”

The two nations are technically still at war, and today South Korea’s military shot to death a man attempting to float across a river to the North.

Nota Bene: The U.S. and Cuba resume talks on restarting direct mail services.


The pen is mightier – President Obama and his recently-elected Iranian counterpart are pen pals. (BBC)

Accelerated ed – A 13-year-old Indian girl pursues a master’s degree. (Associated Press)

Unquenchable thirst – Kenya’s discovery of a new water source won’t be enough to solve droughts. (Bloomberg Businessweek)

No laughing matter – A creepy clown spooks residents of an English town. (The Atlantic Cities)

Experiment in empathy – A wealthy family’s trial with poverty makes headlines in South Africa. (New York Times)

From the File:

  • Judge to decide whether to halt 9/11 case at Guantanamo.
  • Egypt security forces storm Islamist-controlled town.
  • Suicide bomber kills three police in Chechnya.
  • Australia’s new PM unveils first cabinet.
  • China rejects interference in Hong Kong.
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