Thursday, 1 March 2018
As long as we ignore Syria, or appease the main aggressors, it will continue to escalate
'This area is basically the eastern suburbs of the capital city, Damascus. It is predominantly working class, and it is one of the areas where the flame of the democratic protest movement burned most fiercely in 2011. When that was met by extreme repression by the Assad régime - gunfire, mass arrests, torture, rape - the people formed self-defence militias, and since then it's been total war. First the régime, then its allies Iran and Russia, have been bombarding the area continuously. From the air, from the land. In 2013 they killed over a thousand people in the area with sarin gas in five hours, and the place has been under a watertight siege since 2013, so tight that children and the elderly are dying of malnutrition.
So even before the latest escalation, the situation in the Ghouta for the 400,000 remaining civilians is absolutely desperate. There is no ceasefire. It's just political theatre. It's true that the United Nations passed a resolution, and the Russians agreed with that, calling for a ceasefire in the whole of Syria for 30 days. It never happened. The main reason for that is that the Russians, as they've done before, as everybody knew they would do, they included a proviso that the war on what they call terrorist groups can continue. So there is a ceasefire, but not against terrorists.
Now the problem here, is that Russia for years now, has described as terrorists anything that it hits. And what it hits repeatedly, almost on a daily basis, are schools, hospitals, market places, and residential blocks. There is no ceasefire on the ground.
The Russians have introduced a five hour daily pause in aerial bombardment. This is part of the psychological war, because if you read about the psychological strategy of bombing, apparently civilian populations break faster when bombing is paused and resumed, and paused and resumed, than if it is just continuous. So this is a joke, really. No aid has got through. No civilians have got out.
And, of course, most civilians don't want to get out. It is very sad, that Emmanuel Macron for example, the French President, is calling for the civilians to be removed from the area. That's what happened in Aleppo in the end. It is better than them all being killed, but it would still be an internationally sanctioned war crime. Forced population displacement is a war crime. And now our great European statesmen are calling for war crimes, just that they be done a little more gently.
I don't think the Assad régime would still be there, if it weren't for the huge amount of help it has received from Iran and Russia. Iran has been providing a financial lifeline. It provides transnational Shia jihadist militias organised by Iran, from Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, and even further afield. This is the majority of Assad's ground troops now. They're not Syrians any more. And even with those Iranian forces, without Russian bombing, he wouldn't have been able to get back a lot of the country as he has. So I don't think he would still be there without international support.
But Russia and Iran are in there because the United States kind of allowed them. When Obama was, I think rightly, doing his nuclear deal with Iran, he ignored something that's much more destabilising, which is Iran keeping this bloodthirsty dictator in power, by sending international Shia jihadists to police Sunni Arab areas. Which obviously creates a backlash. The Shia jihadists organised by Iran don't threaten us in the west directly, but indirectly they do, because when you have Shia jihadists policing Sunni Arabs, this is a huge recruiting sergeant for groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. They say to the people, "You thought it was about fighting for democracy. Now you see Shia are coming from all over the world to kill you. Therefore it's not about democracy, it's about your identity as Sunni Muslims."
The international involvement is escalating, and it is out of control. Obama had a red line over the chemical attack which disappeared, and handed Syria to Russia, and I think he thought: let them deal with it. In the last weeks, we've seen again, that the Russians can't deal with it. This is escalating. We've had Iran and Israel fighting each other in Syria in recent weeks. We've had Turkey and Kurdish groups fighting in Syria. We've had the Americans bombing a group of Russian mercenaries and killing dozens. This is still escalating, and so long as we ignore it, or appease the main aggressors, it will continue to escalate, and it will have effects everywhere.
In 2012 and 2013, Western powers stopped countries providing advanced military equipment to the Free Army militias. They said we don't want more weapons going in. They didn't stop the Russians and Iranians pouring weapons in, and they didn't do anything about the international jihadist groups were beginning to build a base there. They sat back and watched the Syrians being slaughtered, until inevitably, as you would expect, al-Qaeda and ISIS and transnational jihadist groups arrived into the chaos, and made a base.
And then they got involved. Let's not imagine the West is staying out of Syria. The Americans are bombing every day. They're supposedly bombing ISIS, and that's a good thing, Syrians are happy that ISIS is no longer in charge of cities like Raqqa. But unfortunately, to liberate Raqqa from ISIS, they had to destroy the city completely. The vast majority of Raqqa's population are no longer there, because their houses have been totally destroyed.
So, the Americans are involved, they are bombing, killing civilians, and dong a lot of damage. But they're not doing it in any concerted way, to address the issues that led to this in the first place. They're just taking this myopically as a War on Terror. They are bombing the symptoms not looking at the causes, not empowering the Syrian people themselves.'