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Civilians suffer in Iraq and Syria

Jun 22,2017 - Last updated at Jun 22,2017

US-backed forces in Iraq and Syria have launched fierce assaults on Daesh-held Mosul and Raqqa, jangling alarm bells over the certain slaughter of civilians trapped or held as human shields in these cities.

Civilians living in both these cities have been urged to flee at risk of being shot by Daesh or, even, bombed or gunned down by attacking forces.

The UN estimates that there could be as many as 100,000 to 150,000 civilians in Mosul’s Old City, where Daesh intends to make its “last stand”.

According to UN coordinator Lise Grande, “conditions in the Old City are desperate” as there is little food and no potable water.

Some 850,000 people have already fled the city, exceeding the number the UN had expected.

The activist blog “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently” reports that Raqqa has “no water, no electricity, no communications and no safe place” while the US-led coalition targets “everything without taking into consideration the tens of thousands of innocent civilians” dwelling there.

Civilians who manage to escape Daesh are compelled to collaborate with the attacking forces; if they refuse, they are sent back to Daesh, states the blog.

US-recruited, trained, armed and financed Syrian Democratic Forces units control only small parts of the city. SDF and Daesh media report that there are major battles and a “large number” of combatants from both sides have been killed, but the blog counters by saying “all the killed ones are civilians”.

The blog also says that initially, US air strikes were accurate, but during the US-SDF Tabqa offensive, in April-May, targeting became random and general.

Furthermore, the US and its allies are using white phosphorus against urban areas, Human Rights Watch reported.

The use of this explosively combustible material is banned by international law except outside populated areas against concentrations of troops and tanks.

Israel made considerable use of this weapon during its assaults on Gaza in 2008-2009 and 2014.

By letting the US military off the leash, Commander-in-Chief Donald Trump has introduced this weapon into the Syrian conflict, with little or no comment from the media.

If the Syrian army had employed white phosphorus, the world’s press and human rights bodies would had screamed and called for those responsible to be hailed before the International Criminal Court.

At long last, UN war crimes investigators have decided to accuse the US and the Kurdish-dominated SDF of causing a “staggering loss of civilian life” in the battle for Raqqa, the city Daesh had proclaimed its capital.

The Independent Commission of Inquiry — which was off the mark when Syrian and Russian bombs hit civilian areas — said stepped-up air strikes have caused the deaths of at least 300 civilians in villages near Raqqa, 200 deaths in one, and driven at least 160,000 civilians from their homes.

In its report on the first 1,000 days of US-coalition action, the Syrian Network for Human Rights says 1,256 civilians were killed in the campaign against Daesh in Syria, 383 of whom children.

This could very well be an underestimate. No one knows.

Estimates published on June 18 by UK-based Airwars, which monitors US-coalition strikes, put the death toll at 3,962 in Syria and Iraq since the US-led air campaign began in August 2014.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has warned that civilians are five times more likely to be killed in urban conflicts than in wars outside inhabited areas.

Seventy per cent of all civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria have taken place in cities, the ICRC has revealed.

This assertion is, of course, only logical, as uprooting insurgents from urban areas involves attacks on cities, towns and villages.

Therefore, those attacking urban settings must chose their targets carefully and hit them with precision weapons.

Even those possessing such weapons do not use them properly.  The war in Yemen is a good example of the improper use of precision aerial bombs.

During the US- and Iran-backed Iraqi campaign to retake from Daesh the cities of Ramadi, Takrit and Falluja, civilians were killed or driven out of these cities and the urban landscape was devastated. This is also true of Syrian cities recaptured by the Syrian army and its allies from Daesh, Al Qaeda’s allies and various now largely taqfiri factions.

But the double standard has again operated when publicising these atrocities — Damascus and its allies are blamed and condemned, but not Baghdad and its partners — although the result is the same. The cause is also the same: forces hostile to the governments in Baghdad and Damascus have taken over by force key Iraqi and Syrian towns and cities.

Civilians ineluctably become hostages and victims. The weight of blame, therefore, falls on the armed groups.

Damascus has devised a way of avoiding all-out blitzes against population centres. But this can be painful for civilians as the Syrian army and its associates may lay siege to urban areas it seeks to clear of armed elements.

US-backed forces in Iraq and Syria are doing the same, causing the same amount of suffering.

Once Syrian insurgents decide to quit fighting, the government offers a choice of amnesty for armed elements ready to hand in their weapons or busing them to Al Qaeda-held Idlib province in the northwest. Civilians remain in their villages, towns and cities. 

The process, dubbed “reconciliation”, has worked in scores of cases, often, unfortunately, after heavy bombardment and loss of life and property.

Ultimately, Idlib will become a target of bombs, siege and blockade, and, perhaps, reconciliation.

Baghdad, operating under US and Iranian tutelage, has preferred the blitz option although corridors have been opened in Mosul to allow Daesh fighters to escape with their families.


Many fighters have shifted to Mayadin in Deir Ezzor province, in eastern Syria, where they hope to postpone their, inevitable, “last stand”.

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