The Tragedy of Syria and Our Struggle to Remain Conscious

As of about two months ago, the UN estimates that around 1.5% of Syria’s prewar population—that’s more than 300,000 civilians—have died during this war. This works out to be an average of around 83 civilian deaths per day. The percentage of the population that has been lost is greater if we include combatant deaths and probably greater yet if civilian deaths resulting from living under poor conditions were also to be calculated.

The war has become a battlefield for various countries, groups, and militias and their geopolitical interests. From Iran to Russia, the U.S. to Turkey, as well as the many groups and breakaway groups involved—it’s simply hard to keep track. Along with it being a proxy war, it also became a war within a war when the fight against ISIS was raging on.

According to Brett McGurk (White House coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa), part of America’s goal in Syria continues to be maintaining “military pressure” on ISIS, as well as reducing violence, dealing with the humanitarian crisis, and supporting Israel.

Perhaps two of the above four are being met, but is the U.S. really reducing violence and effectively addressing the humanitarian crisis?

Sure, the blame does not fall entirely upon them for this conflict, but their presence therein should be scrutinized.

Since al-Assad wants the U.S. out of Syria, it would be understandable to want them to stay, but to what extent are U.S. actions preventing the terrible atrocities taking place in Syria on a daily basis?

I’m not able to provide a comprehensible and definitive answer to this question, but given the track record of the U.S. in almost every war since WWII, their “help” in the conflict is more than likely causing more damage.

RELATED: The US Is Back in Somalia: Elephants in the Room Ignored

And that’s a big deal. Especially considering the damage that has already been done, particularly when we consider civilian casualties throughout the course of the battles against ISIS—something we’ll be discussing. First let’s take a quick look at the recent activities of the U.S. in Syria, which often go under the radar.

The U.S. Strikes Again

The U.S. was not always an active participant in Syria. In fact, Obama prided himself in veering away from direct military involvement in Syria despite even his advisors wanting him to.

But look how hard it’s been for them to stay out of it.

Biden, who has not shied away from carrying out attacks in Syria, ordered an airstrike in Deir az-Zor, on facilities of an Iranian-backed group (Iran denies any association with them) on August 23, 2022.

The U.S. strike was carried out in retaliation against alleged strikes, from an Iranian-backed group, on two U.S. military installations in northeast Syria.

These events were part of a larger tit-for-tat between Iran and the US in Syria:

“Wednesday’s attack came less than 24 hours after U.S. airstrikes targeted facilities in Syria used by extremist militias linked directly to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Those strikes Tuesday in Deir ez-Zor, Syria, were themselves a direct response to a rocket attack last week that targeted American troops in Syria.”

Whatever you may think of the U.S. strike (it’s understandable that they’d want to limit Iran’s power in Syria), it’s important to recall that Biden (or whoever directed him towards doing this) basically acts with impunity in foreign countries, as has been the case with every other president at least for the past few decades.

The democratic process of the U.S. previously used to require the approval of Congress for taking such measures, but Congress gave up this right. After 9/11, it passed the Authorization of the Use of Military Force resolution, which allows presidents to bypass Congress when making military decisions.

Consider the following from Anand Gopal (writing in 2020):

“After 9/11, Congress passed the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which Presidents have since invoked to justify at least thirty-seven military activities in fourteen countries, including the U.S. war in Syria, without formal declaration or public debate. Whether this or that pile of rubble was produced lawfully, or whether or not American boots touched Syrian soil, is not nearly as important as the fact that the U.S. was free to raze a foreign city [in this case, he means the battle of Raqqa in 2017, though we could also consider Baghuz in 2019] with no public discussion or accountability.”

Another reason why Congress may not wish to declare war is that doing so also gives the president significant economic control at home, so authorizing the use of force without declaring war is a convenient work-around.

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Removed From the Situation

Couple this impunity with being far removed physically and emotionally from those you attack and you now have a serious problem. More pointedly, we Muslims have a problem. So many of these wars involve Muslim lands. And even with those that don’t, they often at least involve lands that are culturally distinct from the West.

Consider this quote from former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara regarding how the America’s handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis in large part hinged on their ability to understand the Soviets. He contrasts this with their inability—or unwillingness perhaps—to understand the Vietnamese:

“In the Cuban missile crisis, at the end, I think we did put ourselves in the skin of the Soviets. In the case of Vietnam, we didn’t know them well enough to empathize with them. There was total misunderstanding as a result.”1

But credit should be given where credit is due. According to the Intercept, the U.S. has acknowledged more civilian killings than their counterparts have:

“During the seven-year campaign against ISIS, the U.S military has admitted killing more than 1,300 civilians. While monitors like Airwars put the real figure far higher, other militaries barely accept any responsibility for civilian harm: France has not admitted to killing a single civilian, and the U.K. has acknowledged responsibility for just one civilian death since 2014.”

The excuse will be something like: well, ISIS fought in densely populated areas and among civilians, which does seem to be true.

I don’t claim to be an expert on military tactics, but if I’m not mistaken, among the ways to deal with this involves increasing risk to the soldiers’ lives in exchange for decreasing risk to civilian lives. As Gopal pointed out in his article about the Battle of Raqqa, Allied French pilots flew lower in Vichy Territory (a shared homeland, a common people) in order to avoid civilian deaths. When no such bond exists, it is no wonder that fewer measures might be taken.

RELATED: Pentagon (Once Again) Finds Killing Muslim Civilians “Lawful”

Keeping People Far

Time and time again, what we the public witness is what seems like very little care for civilian populations abroad. One can’t help but think that the reason for this has more to do with the cultural and religious separation between the Western world and those whom they’re attacking.

This may seem either overly simplistic or trite, but I’ve come to view this as the reality that we really need to allow to sink into our brains.

This unfamiliarity perhaps also comes from the same place that stops some from accepting Islam, largely because it is foreign to what they know.

Consider this reporting which calls into question the reported number of civilian deaths during the Battle of Mosul in Iraq, 2017:

“Interviews with more than 20 journalists and aid workers who were on the ground in Mosul, both during and immediately after the assault, strongly support the view that many thousands of civilians died. Their reporting also showed that simply speaking with locals—something the coalition and American authorities confirmed to us they almost never do as a matter of policy, and Iraqi federal authorities have also not done—can uncover the details of fatal incidents.”

The journalist continues:

“Many families didn’t make it out. Journalists and aid workers spoke of how Iraqi counter-terror forces—who they described as more careful to avoid endangering civilians—had been depleted in the early stages of the fight. As a result, the less-well-trained security forces took their place in the fight for Western Mosul.”

“Americans continue to wage wars without a true understanding of the costs, while Iraqi civilians understand them all too well.”

It’s more than that. They continue to wage wars without making any attempt towards understanding the people.

Let’s move our discussion back to Syria, to Raqqa. In an article entitled “The U.S. is in Denial about the Civilians it’s Killing in Syria,” the author writes:

“The monitoring group Airwars currently assesses that 1,700 civilians have likely been killed by the U.S.-led air and artillery strikes in Raqqa governorate since March [2017]. A minimum of 860 civilians, including 150 children, are credibly reported to have been killed in Raqqa since the start of operations to capture the city on June 6. Despite these findings and corroborating evidence from U.N. bodies and nongovernmental organizations, Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townshend has described reports of large-scale civilian deaths as hyperbole. In one instance, the general prematurely called allegations not credible even before the coalition had completed its own investigation.”

In response to this report, Lt. Gen. Townshend wrote the following in an article entitled “Reports Against Civilian Causalities from Coalition Strikes on ISIS are Vastly Inflated”:

“The only way to save the people of Raqqa is to liberate them from the Islamic State. The Coalition will continue to take great care in our targeting to protect civilians from harm but we must maintain our course. We must maintain the initiative and we must liberate the people of Iraq and Syria from this real and mortal danger.”

According to the UN, 80% of Raqqa was left uninhabitable. Two years later, Airwars and Amnesty International conducted further investigations and stated that 1,600 civilians had died.

RELATED: On the Syrian Revolution’s 11th Anniversary

The War Carries On

Here are a few reminders that this war is far from being over and how the innocent continue to struggle:

  • On September 18, 2022, there was a failed attack on America’s Green Village Base in northeast Syria.
  • There was a drone strike, also during September, that killed four teenage Kurdish girls at a UN educational center in al-Hasakah, in northern Syria. While the U.S. condemned the strike (oh the irony), they did not mention who was responsible.
  • While we may not be in a position to know exactly what happened, various news outlets are blaming Turkey.
  • 29 people also recently died during a cholera outbreak, an illness that is spreading in large part due to contaminated water. There have been 338 confirmed cases since the outbreak started last month.

And of course, we have all the terrible crimes committed by the despicable regime of al-Assad and all who support him. What’s happening in Syria is so grotesque; so inhumane, that some even hope that after it’s all over, one specific infamous prison used by the Syrian regime will be “turned into a museum, like Auschwitz.”

May Allah enact vengeance upon the perpetrators, help us grow in consciousness and understanding of each other, and protect the civilians of Syria. Amin.

Notes

1 In: Robert McNamara in: Morris, Errol., The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara. 2003, 1:17:39.

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Mohammad samin

Assalmualikum muslim sceptic team ! Can you please put out more article on the current events of Iran? I am looking at western news sites and I’m hearing scary talks of a feminist revolution in Iran right now .

Nabila

The greyzone
WikiLeaks you can find real truth about all this wars on Muslims and Arabs Nato fighting iss or other terrorist ask your self who gives them weapons what cost millions?! it’s nato Africa is now being used for minerals!