After all the fuss, noisy propaganda and manoeuvres at the United Nations, the so-called Syrian ceasefire has broken down suddenly, shamefully and irrevocably. In reality it was an abortion that was dead even before it was born.
“War is the father and king of all, and has produced some as gods and some as men, and has made some slaves and some free.” (Heraclitus)
“They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14)
The UN Security Council had unanimously approved a resolution demanding a 30-day ceasefire in Syria to allow aid deliveries and medical evacuations. This was supposed to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Eastern Ghouta, an enclave near Damascus that has been held for some time by forces hostile to President Assad that has been bombarded by government forces for the past week.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the situation in Eastern Ghouta is like "hell on Earth". That is true. But most of Syria could answer to that description. The whole country has been devastated by six years of war in which Syria has been the battleground for the actions of rival foreign powers and their local and regional proxies.
The picture that is shown to the world is one of unmitigated horror in which Barrel bombs and shells are dropped on an area, where some 393,000 people remain trapped. Schools and hospitals are said to be deliberately targeted. The bodies of dead and injured children are paraded before the cameras.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights points an accusing finger at the Syrian regime and Russia, although Russia denies direct involvement and the Syrian government has denied targeting civilians and said it is trying to liberate the Eastern Ghouta from terrorists. Who should we believe?
The 'United Nations'
The vote on the resolution was delayed several times as a squalid comedy was played out at the United Nations. Russia, an ally of Syria's government, predictably demanded changes to the text. The Americans and their stooges on the General Council, equally predictably, accused Moscow of stalling for time.
Evidently the Russians were in no hurry to sign up to a ceasefire because their Syrian friends were winning the war on the ground. The Americans, by contrast, were in an almighty hurry because their side was getting a pasting. The fate of the poor people suffering the ravages of a brutal war really did not enter into their calculations, except that the Americans and their allies were cynically using the images of that suffering in order to gain a cheap propaganda victory over Russia.
The US representative at the UN accused Russia of having "dragged out the negotiations". She angrily protested: "In the three days it took us to adopt this resolution, how many mothers lost their kids to the bombing and the shelling?" How strange that she did not display the same tender concern about the countless children and their mothers who were slaughtered by the indiscriminate bombing and shelling of Mosul! Could it be that the difference was that those bombers were piloted by Americans? But we shall speak more about Mosul a little later.
Russia’s UN envoy, Vassily Nebenzia, said the ceasefire would not be possible without agreements between warring factions and he attacked the barrage of propaganda over the situation in the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta. "We know that the humanitarian situation in Syria is dire and requires urgent measures to be taken," he said. "It is important to engage not just with Eastern Ghouta," he added, "Assistance needs to be delivered to all parts of Syria."
During lengthy and heated debates the Russians insisted that the resolution’s text be altered so that Damascus was not presented as the sole party to blame for the violence. In the end the Russians signed the UN Security Council resolution to impose a 30-day ceasefire in Syria. But what exactly did they sign? The so-called ceasefire document was so vague and general that it did not even specify a date from which it should be implemented. It did not specifically refer to Eastern Ghouta, but to Syria as a whole.
Realising that the US had once again been completely outmanoeuvred by the wiles of Russian diplomacy, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, called for the ceasefire to be implemented immediately but said she was sceptical that Syria would comply. On this she was, of course, absolutely correct.
In the end the 'ceasefire' amounted to a mere five hours during which the UN was supposed to deliver the promised aid and people were supposed to be allowed to leave the beleaguered areas. None of this has happened. The jihadists continued to shell Damascus and the Syrian air force continued to drop bombs. No aid was delivered, and those who tried to flee from Eastern Ghouta were hit by mortar shells fired by the jihadists to stop them from leaving.
What’s in a name?
The Americans claim that they are fighting alongside 'mainstream' rebels, who now go under the pleasant-sounding pseudonym of “Syrian activists”. Active they most certainly are, especially in the realm of the internet and propaganda. But as a fighting force they are insignificant. The groups that really hold power in the enclave are militant jihadists who share the same poisonous ideology as ISIS and al Qaeda, with whom the main jihadist group is affiliated.
The so-called moderate Islamists are an invention. They are merely a convenient fig leaf intended to conceal the fact that the CIA is backing the Jihadist monsters in Syria as a cynical means of settling accounts with Assad. Unfortunately for them, it is Assad, with the backing of Russia and Iran, who is settling accounts with the rebels.
The Syrian jihadist group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS), which was known as al-Nusra Front until it broke off formal ties with al-Qaeda last July, has rebranded itself on more than one occasion. But these chameleon-like changes have not altered the reactionary nature of these jihadi outfits one single iota. As the French say: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose (“the more it changes, the more it's the same thing”).
The jihadis deliberately impede provision of humanitarian aid to Eastern Ghouta and block civilians from leaving the suburb. Just as in Aleppo and Mosul, they are keeping hundreds of hostages, including women and children. They also continue the shelling of Damascus, which is also in breach of the “humanitarian pause”, although very little of this is given much attention in the western media.
The UN resolution did not apply to members of the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), or al-Nusra. For good measure, Russia asked for the resolution to include other groups "co-operating with them". And so the final text specified that operations may continue against "individuals, groups, undertakings and entities" associated with IS, al-Qaeda or other groups designated by the Security Council as terrorists. It is hard to see which of the “rebel” groups this does not apply to!
The biggest and most important rebel groups – that is, the jihadists and their associates – were not covered by the truce. The Nusra Front is affiliated to al Qaeda, despite their attempts to deny it. And since they do all the fighting and possess all the serious weaponry, and therefore hold real power in the occupied territory of Eastern Ghouta, the so-called ceasefire was not worth the paper it is printed on.
Mosul and Aleppo: a tale of two cities
The media in the west are making a big fuss about Eastern Ghouta, just as they made a big fuss about Aleppo. But they were strangely silent about the fate of Mosul, a city of two million people, upon which a far greater crime was perpetrated. It took Iraq's US-backed forces nearly nine months to wrest Mosul from the Islamic State. The city was finally “liberated” on July 10 last year. But the cost was truly terrible. Today all that remains of most of this once-great city are mountains of rubble and shattered stone that covers an unknown number of dead men, women and children.
Thousands of families have been left without a home. Schools have been levelled, utility grids wrecked, highways pounded into broken dirt roads. All five of the city's bridges spanning the Tigris River have been damaged. The main hospital complex where a battle raged for more than a month is a burned out shell. The list of devastation includes:
- Nine of the 10 major hospitals
- 76 of the 98 medical centres
- 6 big bridges across the Tigris
- Three-quarters of Mosul’s roads
- 400 educational institutions, including schools, universities and education centres
- 11,000 residential housing units
- 4 electrical power plants and 65 percent of its electrical network
- 6 water purifying systems and much of the city’s water infrastructure has been booby trapped
- The pharmaceutical industrial complex
- All grain stores
- Two large dairies
- 212 oil refineries, petrol and fuel stations
- All public buildings
- All state and private banks
- 63 religious centres (churches and mosques), most of them valuable historical sites
- 250 workshops, factories and small factories, including agro-industries
- 29 hotels
- More than 40,000 civilian casualties
- 38 out of 54 residential areas in West Mosul are destroyed
A staff director in the office of the Nineveh governorate, said that “while eastern Mosul is half-destroyed, the devastation in the western half is much greater”. A member of a local volunteer group said that the destruction in west Mosul is close to “99 percent.”
This terrible destruction, amounting to the physical liquidation of a great city, was mainly carried out by American bombs, missiles and artillery and the use by the American army of white phosphorus, a weapon that is internationally forbidden for use in populated areas. All these add up to serious US war crimes.
But whereas in Aleppo (and now in Eastern Ghouta) we were bombarded with daily denunciations of the crimes – real or imaginary – of the Syrian regime and its Russian allies, the terrible crimes perpetrated against the people of Mosul were hidden under a thick carpet of silence, lies and half-truths.
Humanitarian disaster ignored by the West
Far more serious than the physical devastation is the devastation of human lives. The extent of civilian casualties remain unknown to this day, since neither the US or its allies in Baghdad have made any effort to count the corpses, many of which are still lying under the rubble. It is believed that more than 40,000 civilians were killed as a result of the massive firepower that was used against them, especially by the federal police, air attacks, quite apart from the numerous victims of ISIS itself.
Yet this huge humanitarian disaster has gone largely ignored by the western media. The truly catastrophic number of civilian deaths in Mosul gets little international coverage in the media or attention from politicians and journalists. Compare this to the international outrage at the bombing of East Aleppo by the Syrian government and Russian forces at the end of 2016.
None of those involved, ISIS, the international coalition, the Iraqi government, not even the United Nations, have come up with any information about the real numbers of victims. Airwars, basing itself on press reports, estimates that 5,805 civilians were killed between 19 February and 19 June 2017. But, as we know, press reports only cover a fraction of the actual number of deaths.
Why was the figure of civilian deaths in Mosul so shockingly high? The explanation can be read in a report by Amnesty International (AI): At Any Cost: The Civilian Catastrophe in West Mosul.
Although this report does not provide a precise figure of the number of deaths, it confirms the terrible damage that was caused by continuous artillery and rocket fire for a period of five months in a closed area with civilians who were unable to escape. Many Mosul residents remained in their homes because ISIS killed the people who tried to escape. But many remained because the government asked them to. The army dropped leaflets from helicopters asking residents not to flee. This amounted to a death sentence.
The indiscriminate bombing and shelling, particularly in the final assault on the old city resulted in a bloodbath in which most of the victims were women and children. It is believed that more than 4,000 bodies are buried under the rubble in West Mosul alone, where the stench of rotting corpses still fills the air. The brutality of the Iraqi troops is confirmed by many eye witness accounts. A testimony in an article from the online news site Middleeasteye quotes an Iraqi soldier: “We killed them all, Daesh, men, women and children. We killed everybody.”
“There are many citizens among the bodies,” says an Iraqi major. “After the liberation was announced, the order was given to kill everyone and everything that moved.” Speaking on condition of anonymity, the Major said those orders were wrong, but the soldiers had to follow them regardless. “It was not right at all,” he said. “The majority of the Daesh fighters surrendered, and we just killed them.”
During the nine-month siege 1,048,044 people were forced to flee. Not many have returned. Men, women and children who escaped from the destruction of Mosul are housed in tent camps, often in virtual prisons. Women and children suspected of being family members of IS warriors killed in the siege are redirected to “rehabilitation camps”.
Once they were tormented by ISIS. Now they suffer crimes and abuses at the hands of the Iraqi troops. But nobody is ever held accountable. Premier Al Abadi has often criticized human rights organisations investigating the crimes. Torture and abuse are institutionalised within the Iraqi armed forces, and in all cases they are tolerated by the judiciary.
Baghdad estimates $100 billion is needed nationwide to rebuild. Local leaders in Mosul, the biggest city held by IS, say that amount is needed to rehabilitate their city alone. The UN estimates 40,000 homes there need to be rebuilt or restored, and some 600,000 residents have been unable to return to the city, once home to around 2 million people.
So far no one is offering to foot the bill. The Trump administration has told the Iraqis it won’t pay for a massive reconstruction drive. Iraq hopes Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries will step up, and Iran may also take a role. The UN is repairing some infrastructure in nearly two dozen towns and cities around Iraq, but funding for it is a fraction of what will be needed. As a result, much of the rebuilding that has happened has come from individuals using personal savings to salvage homes and shops as best they can.
And while every single detail of the siege of Aleppo was examined, repeated and magnified by our 'free press', hardly any attention was paid to the horrors suffered by the people of Mosul. One is entitled to ask why.
Yet another 'gas attack'
The complete failure of the American diplomatic offensive at the UN provoked anger and despair in the ranks of the rebels, who have responded with a torrent of rage. But it is a rage born out of impotence. Without direct American support, the Syrian rebels count for nothing. They are being systematically ground to dust by Assad’s forces. But the Americans are not very eager to commit a serious military force to the Syrian quagmire. How to force them to intervene?
The answer of the jihadis was immediate and, again, entirely predictable. They stepped up the propaganda campaign, but this time they introduced a new (but hardly novel) twist. During the siege of Aleppo the western media gave a lot of publicity to the so-called White Helmets, a group that claims to be an impartial humanitarian NGO dedicated to saving lives in Syria. In reality, this 'NGO' is a jihadi organization whose sole aim is to produce shocking videos of civilian casualties (not a difficult task in today’s conditions in Syria) in order to get the sympathy of world public opinion.
This manoeuvre proved to be so successful that the White Helmets were awarded an Oscar for the 'Best Documentary Short' showing its daily operations in 2017. This is despite the fact that they have repeatedly been accused of falsifying information and staging bogus 'rescue' attempts.
It is now alleged that several people were admitted to medical facilities in nearby Al-Shifoniyah, showing symptoms such as "dyspnea, intensive irritation of the mucus membrane, irritation of the eyes and dizziness". Several women and children were experiencing difficulty breathing, according to the White Helmets and that “at least one child” had died as a result of suffocation.
Although there has been absolutely no independent verification of these claims, that has not prevented the 'free press' of the western world from reproducing them every day as though they were statements of fact. Typical of the headlines was the one in Sky News, which screamed: Syria regime "in deadly chlorine gas attack on civilians".
This would not be the first time that the jihadists have used the accusation of a gas attack on Eastern Ghouta in order to get the Americans to intervene militarily. They did exactly the same thing in 2013 when a noisy international campaign about an alleged chlorine gas attack was used by Obama to justify sending US warplanes to bomb Syrian army positions.
The Obama administration maintained it intercepted communications from a senior Syrian official on the use of chemical weapons, but requests to see that transcript were denied. So was a request by the AP to see a transcript of communications allegedly ordering Syrian military personnel to prepare for a chemical weapons attack by readying gas masks.
For all the hullaballoo in the media, there was not a shred of evidence for these alleged attacks except for some grainy video pictures that proved nothing. Inconsistencies over the death toll and other details related to the attack fuelled doubts among sceptics. Two days after the alleged attack, state television broadcast images of plastic jugs, gas masks, medicine vials, explosives and other items that it said had been seized from rebel hideouts. One barrel had “made in Saudi Arabia” stamped on it.
The scepticism was even reflected in such an unlikely place as The Times of Israel. In an article published in that paper on 8 September 2013 Charles Heyman, a former British military officer who edits The Armed Forces of the UK, an authoritative bi-annual review of British forces, was quoted as follows:
“We can’t get our heads around this — why would any commander agree to rocketing a suburb of Damascus with chemical weapons for only a very short-term tactical gain for what is a long-term disaster?”
Why indeed! And the same question must be asked today. In January, just before various factions of Syrian society gathered for the Syrian National Congress in Sochi, Russia, the US Secretary of State time used the reports to blame Russia for all the chemical weaponry-related incidents in Syria, regardless of who actually conducted it.
In any murder enquiry the first question the lawyers ask is Cui bono, literally "who benefits?" What benefit could Assad or his army gain from using a weapon that would inevitably invite retaliation by the USA? The question answers itself. Assad had no interest whatsoever to make such a stupid mistake that would seriously harm his interests. One might accuse Assad of many things, but stupidity is surely not among them.
The Syrian army insists it does not possess any chlorine gas, since it was all handed over as part of a deal agreed with the Americans and Russians some years ago. This was confirmed by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Even if this were not the case, the Syrian army does not need to use any more weapons than the deadly and overwhelming force they are already deploying to crush the rebels.
The Syrian government forces have been carrying out operation Damascus Steel, to clear Eastern Ghouta of Islamist units that have been terrorising the locals for years, and who have rejected any initiatives to lay down their arms and leave the area. Since the Syrian army is in the process of launching a decisive ground offensive against the jihadis, the last thing it needs is to employ such an unreliable weapon as chlorine gas, which could quickly turn against them if the wind changed direction.
In realty the only ones to gain from the use of chlorine gas are the jihadis – who are known to possess it and would certainly be prepared to use it for the purpose of blaming the Syrian government and thus preparing the ground for air attacks by the Americans.
The US has repeatedly warned that it may conduct more direct air strikes against Syrian forces if chemical weapons are used in the country. Last April President Donald Trump ordered Tomahawk missile strikes on Shayrat Airbase, in response to a chemical attack in Idlib, which the US, without a single shred of evidence, immediately pinned on President Bashar Assad. French President Emmanuel Macron also promised to “strike” Syria if any evidence emerges that chemical weapons are being used against civilians.
The sole purpose of this media campaign is to sow confusion in world public opinion, blacken the name of America’s enemies and provide a “moral” justification for further imperialist meddling in the affairs of the Middle East. However, the ongoing propaganda war will not have the desired result. The war will end with the victory of the Syrian government forces on the battlefield. In the final analysis that is all that counts.
Washington’s impotent rage
In reality, US imperialism has no right to point an accusing finger at anyone. It was America’s criminal invasion of Iraq that is the root cause of the present bloody mess that has caused so much death, destruction and misery to millions of innocent men, women and children.
In its attempt to achieve total domination of the region Washington has supported directly or indirectly the most reactionary forces in the Middle East. There was no need to tell us that Saddam Hussein was a bloody monster, or that Assad is a dictator. But how does Washington square its professed 'love of democracy' with its backing of Saudi Arabia, that haven of Wahhabi terrorism, which relied on torture, public executions, beheadings, crucifixions and stoning to death to keep its people in a state of submission?
It is public knowledge that Saudi Arabia has been behind every terrorist Jihadi outfit from the Taliban and al Qaeda, from Bin Laden to ISIS. Saudi extremists were behind the attack on the Twin Towers in New York. Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with it. Yet it was Iraq and not Saudi Arabia that was invaded and destroyed. And Washington, in the person of Donald Trump, still maintains the most cordial relations with the monsters in Riyadh.
Some misguided people on the left have allowed themselves to be deceived by the misleading propaganda in the media. They imagine that the 'rebels' are the true inheritors of the revolutionary wave that swept Syria seven years ago. But that movement was swiftly destroyed, not so much by Assad as by the counterrevolutionary Saudis who replaced it with their own reactionary brand of Islamism.
The Saudis (and also the Qataris) armed and financed the reactionary Jihadi gangs that have rampaged across Syria for the past six years, slaughtering, raping, torturing, burning and destroying everything in their path. These gangs go by different names, but they share the same warped Islamist ideology and agenda. They are also backed by the CIA and the Pentagon, who habitually describe these butchers as 'rebels', or, to use the recent euphemism 'Syrian activists'.
These groups are being sustained by imperialism for its own cynical interests. They receive huge subsidies from the Saudis who are striving to achieve the dominance of their own ultra-reactionary brand of Wahhabism. Whatever one might think of Assad, it is quite monstrous to suggest that the victory of these reactionary gangsters would be anything less than a bloody nightmare for the people of Syria.
It is necessary to cut through the thick fog of propaganda and misinformation and to expose the real interests of the different forces at work. We must proceed from fundamentals. American imperialism is the most counterrevolutionary force on the planet. The left cannot give it any support either directly or indirectly.
As for the so-called United Nations, that yet again stands exposed for the fraudulent farce it always was. During the recent debate France's UN representative, François Delattre, moaned that the resolution was very "belated". He dramatically declared failure to act could spell the end of the UN itself. But the dramatic impact of this statement was somewhat blunted by the fact that everybody present was well aware that the (dis) United Nations was finished a long time ago.
The UN in reality is just a talking shop where the smaller nations are allowed to fuss and make pompous speeches and thus are made to feel important, while the big powers actually decide what happens. Only a fool like M. Delattre believes that the UN can actually decide anything of importance – always assuming that he believes it himself.
Turkey and the Kurds
The Russian intervention in Syria decisively tipped the balance in Assad’s favour. The fall of Aleppo marked a decisive turning point and a devastating and humiliating defeat – not just for the USA, but also for its allies, especially Saudi Arabia. Washington’s representatives rant and rave in the debates in the Security Council. But in reality this is impotent rage that is intended to conceal a complete inability to act where it counts – on the battlefield.
One section of the US ruling class wanted to continue the war, but this attempt was doomed to failure. Putin outmanoeuvred them at every step. When the Russians called a peace conference in Kazakhstan (a client state of Russia) the Americans and Europeans were not even invited. In the end, despite all the public rhetoric, the Americans were reluctantly obliged to accept the fait accompli dictated by Moscow.
Nobody today can doubt that the Russians are now the dominant power in Syria. The USA decides nothing. That is a very bitter pill for the Americans to swallow, but swallow it they must. They are trying to put on a bold face, making the most of their chance to score cheap propaganda points making hypocritical protests about the conduct of Assad and the Russians when their own conduct is hardly a wonderful lesson in morality and humanitarianism.
ISIS has been defeated in both Syria and Iraq. And it is only a matter of time before Assad’s forces, with the backing of Russia and Iran, will snuff out the remaining points of opposition as a man snuffs out a candle. Of course, it cannot be excluded that the Americans might use the propaganda over an alleged chlorine gas attack to launch some kind of air strike. But such actions cannot and will not determine the ultimate result of the war, which will be determined by troops on the ground.
However, despite everything, the root problem has not been solved. What will happen now? Iraq and Syria have fragmented and will remain unstable through the next period. The Iranians, have increased their influence throughout the whole area to the alarm of the Americans, Saudis and Israel. The Turks have launched an offensive against the Kurdish forces in Afrin in order to grab what they can.
Jihadist militants and members of groups classified as terrorist organisations in the USA and Europe are playing a prominent role in operations by the Turkish armed forces against the Kurds, while pro-Assad Iranian militias have joined forces with the Syrian army and the Kurds to resist the Turkish invaders.
For its part, Moscow is also playing a dirty game in Syria. It is balancing between the different forces, always pursuing its own cynical interests. It has saved Assad, but has also been manoeuvring with Turkey. Without Russia’s permission, it is doubtful if Erdogan would have sent his army into Syria to attack the Kurds. No doubt Putin extracted an agreement from Erdogan not to oppose the operations of the Syrian and Russian forces against the jihadists in Idlib, that had been supported by Turkey. Whether or not the Turks will keep to their side of the bargain is an open question.
Russia has been in a de facto alliance with Iran in the war in Syria. But Moscow does not want Iran to get too much influence in Syria, which is another reason why its policy has lately tilted in the direction of Turkey. Russia had backed the Kurds, but did not hesitate to stab them in the back as soon as it suited their interests. Probably Putin calculated that a Turkish assault on the YPG would bring them into conflict with the Americans.
Turkey is supposed to be an ally of the United States and is a key member of NATO, but increasingly, the Turks and the US have found themselves backing opposing forces in Syria. This causes a further headache for Washington, which cannot risk antagonising the Turks and pushing them closer to Russia. Once again, the Kurds will find out that it is foolish to seek salvation by relying on the favours of imperialism.
The YPG are in possession of heavy weapons. This has increased the risk factor for the Turkish military. Erdogan cannot take the risk of a large number of Turkish soldiers being killed which would cause a reaction inside Turkey. That is why Turkey is now relying on the jihadist groups. The Turkish planes prepare the ground by carrying out air raids, these groups then follow. And the Turkish troops then follow them.
But this time the Turks have probably overreached themselves. Turkey initially said that it would only need a few days to take Afrin. But it will prove a hard nut to crack. The Kurds are battle hardened fighters who are struggling for their survival. With the support of the Syrian and Iranian forces, they may be in a position to give Erdogan a bloody nose. That will force the Syrian Kurds into the arms of Assad, who will probably be ready to offer them a deal with autonomy, on condition that they remain part of Syria. That in any case is better than what they can expect at the hands of Erdogan.
Thus the war in Syria has reached a new stage: one in which the entire direction will be dictated by forces and interests that lie outside its borders. The alliances between the different powers are constantly shifting and will shift again in the future. The war can drag on for some time to come. Only one thing is certain. The main victims, as always, will be the long-suffering people of Syria.