Commentary by Neil Clark, published on RT.com‘s ‘Op Edge’ feature, Sept 2, 2017
As Jan Egeland, the UN humanitarian adviser on Syria, has stated, if there’s a worse place to be in the world at the moment than the Syrian city of Raqqa, then it’s hard to imagine.
This week, the UN estimated that the battle to capture the de facto ISIS capital is costing the lives of 27 civilians a day.
It’s not just the almost non-stop aerial bombardment and shelling from the mainly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces that the 25,000 or so citizens in ISIS-held parts of the city have to endure. “Access to safe drinking water, food and other basic services is at an all-time low with many residents relying on food they had stored up earlier to survive,” says UN public information officer David Swanson.
Both ISIS snipers and the U.S.-led coalition have been targeting people trying to flee from the Middle Eastern hellhole. The UN notes that coalition forces have even been attacking boats on the Euphrates River, described as “one of the remaining escape routes for civilians.”
We can only imagine the headlines if Russia was doing all this. But because it’s the U.S. and its allies, the international reaction has been muted to say the least. It’s revealing to compare the “humanitarian” concern voiced by pro-war Western politicians and mainstream media outlets when Russia began its military operations in Syria in September 2015, with the lack of concern over what’s been happening in Raqqa.
The claim that Russia was fighting terrorists was widely ridiculed. The U.S. and its allies issued a statement saying that Russia’s actions, which included a strike on a ISIS training camp near Raqqa, would “only fuel more extremism and radicalization.”
On October 2, 2015, the claim made by then-U.S. President Barack Obama that Russian strikes would only “strengthen ISIS” made Western news headlines.
Accusations that Russia was committing war crimes also received prominent coverage. But when the U.S.-led coalition bombs ISIS, the reporting from mainstream outlets is different. Then, the operation is presented much more positively, with little or no talk about how it will “strengthen” the enemy or “fuel more extremism and radicalization.” There is also little or no talk of war crimes.
A meticulously-researched alert from Media Lens earlier this summer compared the coverage of the sieges of Aleppo and Mosul:
When Russian and Syrian forces were bombarding ‘rebel’-held East Aleppo last year, newspapers and television screens were full of anguished reporting about the plight of civilians killed, injured, trapped, traumatised or desperately fleeing…
By contrast, there was little of this evident in media coverage as the Iraqi city of Mosul, with a population of around one million, was being pulverised by the U.S.-led ‘coalition’ from 2015; particularly since the massive assault launched last October to ‘liberate’ the city from ISIS, with ‘victory’ declared a few days ago.
As I noted here in an earlier Op Edge, it was deemed a ‘Thought Crime’ by Imperial Truth Enforcers to actually refer to the recapture of eastern Aleppo by Syrian government forces as a ‘liberation.’ Pro-war Labour MP John Woodcock even went so far as to call the left-wing Morning Star newspaper “traitorous scum” for daring to defy the gatekeepers and use the ‘L’ word.
But of course, if it’s the U.S. and its allies doing the bombing, then using the word ’liberation’ is de rigueur, regardless of how much death and destruction the ‘liberation’ causes.
There have been no calls from ‘Inside the Bastille’ Western politicians or media pundits for people to protest outside U.S. embassies about the number of civilians killed by coalition airstrikes in Raqqa – as there were over Aleppo. And absolutely no likening of coalition actions to those of the Nazis.
It’s worth noting, too, that while the U.S. and its allies repeatedly called for a “humanitarian pause” in the fighting for Aleppo, they’ve rejected the UN calls for one in Raqqa. “Going slower only delays the liberation and subsequently costs more civilians their lives,” U.S. Colonel Joe Scrocca, director of public affairs for combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, told Middle East Eye.
What makes the double standards even more outrageous is that without the warmongering actions of the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East, there would be no ISIS/ISIL in the first place. The ‘Coalition’ is fighting in Raqqa a monster that – like Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s famous novel – they helped to create. The terrorist organization known by the names of ‘Islamic State,’ ‘ISIS/ISIL,’ or ‘Daesh,’ grew out of the chaos that Bush and Blair’s illegal invasion of Iraq had unleashed. As Patrick Cockburn, author of the book ‘The Rise of Islamic State,’ puts it, “ISIS is the child of war.”
Furthermore, the spread of IS to Syria was actually welcomed by the U.S. and its allies as a way of weakening the secular Ba’athist government in Damascus, which Western neocons were desperate to see toppled because of its friendly links with Iran and Russia.
“If the situation unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria, and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran),” – declared a secret U.S. intelligence report, which was declassified in 2015.
In 2016, a leaked tape conversation between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and anti-government Syrian activists revealed how the U.S. was pleased to see Islamic State gain territory. “The reason Russia came in is because ISIL was getting stronger,” Kerry admits, flatly contradicting the claims made publicly by the State Department in October 2015 that Russia wasn’t targeting ISIS/ISIL.
“Daesh was threatening the possibility of going to Damascus and so forth,” Kerry went on. “We were watching. We saw that Daesh was growing in strength, and we thought Assad was threatened. We thought, however, we could probably manage. You know, that Assad might then negotiate,” he said.
The U.S. and its allies didn’t just watch with pleasure as ISIS expanded – they aided the process. They did this not only by giving money and weaponry to ‘moderate rebels’ who then – surprise, surprise – defected to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s head-chopping outfit, but by targeting forces that were opposed to Islamic State. Israel, for instance, has bombed Syria on countless occasions in the last few years, but each time its attacks have been against those fighting ISIS. “An aspect of the conflict in Syria that has not received the attention it undoubtedly deserves, has been the role of the Israeli Air Force (IAF) in acting as the de facto air force of Daesh [ISIS] and sundry other Salafi-jihadi and rebel groups fighting in the country,” notes John Wight.
We must not forget too that if Washington’s Endless War Lobby had got their way in August 2013 and the U.S. and its allies launched a full-scale military assault on the Syrian government – then Islamic State and its affiliates would probably now be in charge of the entire country. Yet the failure to bomb Assad four years ago is still openly regarded as a tragedy by Western regime-change hawks.
Of course, the key role that the U.S. and its coalition have played in the rise – and expansion – of the forces they are now bombing, is never mentioned in the mainstream reporting of the ‘Battle for Raqqa.’ We’re meant to believe that ISIS fighters appeared – like Mr. Benn’s shopkeeper “as if by magic” – and took control of Syria’s seventh largest city by complete accident. And, we’re certainly not meant to ask questions such as “From where did these terrorists obtain their weapons?” or, “Under what legal authority do the U.S. and its allies carry out air strikes in Syria?”
My 1987 Lonely Planet Guide to Jordan and Syria, says of Raqqa: “There’s really nothing to do or see, but it can be a good base from which to visit Lake Assad and the walled city of Rasafah, 30 km to the south.” The city is most definitely not a “good base” for tourists today.
One person who did manage to get out of “the worst place on Earth” earlier this year told RT’s Ruptly news agency: “The streets are full of dead bodies. The schools were targeted, the bridges, and mosques. The [dead] people are lying on the streets; some people were dragged by cars… Dogs were eating the [dead] bodies for there was no one to pick them up.”
The bombed-out ruins of Raqqa and the rotting corpses lying on its streets are a testament to a ‘liberal interventionist’ neo-con foreign policy, in all its bloodstained, hypocritical, ‘humanitarian’ glory.
Neil Clark is a regular contributor to the ‘Op Edge’ commentary feature on RT.com. He tweets on politics and world affairs @NeilClark66
‘Worst place on earth’: UN urges U.S.-led coalition to pause airstrikes to spare Raqqa civilians, RT.com, Aug 24, 2017
‘Illegitimate coalition’ must pay for destroying Syria – Damascus to UN, RT.com, July 22, 2017
‘400,000 deaths in Syria civil war directly attributed to U.S. and its allies’
Interview with Dan Glazebrook, on RT.com, Sept 1, 2017
RT: The U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State has confirmed another 61 civilian deaths are likely to have been caused by its air and artillery strikes in Iraq and Syria. That brings the total number of civilians it has acknowledged killing since the conflict began to 685.
Dan Glazebrook: I think it’s also likely to be a gross underestimate because we found out in 2012, for example, that all military-age males killed in U.S. airstrikes are not classified by the U.S. military as civilians, they’re automatically excluded from those statistics. So if I was walking down the street in Iraq, unarmed, and I was directly and intentionally blown to pieces by a U.S. airstrike, that would not be recorded as a civilian death.
I don’t know if they still use this criterion currently, but what we certainly do know is that the monitoring group Airwars suggested almost 1,500 people may have been killed in U.S. coalition bombings in Iraq and Syria in March of this year alone, including the terrible strike on a residential block in Mosul that is thought to have killed around 200 people. So these statistics are certainly likely to be a gross underestimate.
There are a couple of other points I’d like to make about this as well. This narrow focus on civilians, we must recognize, is deeply ideological because it serves to whitewash the true scale of the slaughter taking place in Iraq and Syria right now. Why should a 16-year-old boy, pressed into service by ISIS and then blown to pieces by the U.S. before even firing a shot, why should his life be considered so unworthy, so meaningless, as not to be recorded in any kind of statistic because he’s, “not a civilian”?
This use of the term and focus on civilians is actually a means of placing all soldiers, all militants, in the same category of subhuman and implies they deserve to be killed. More than that, not only do they deserve to be killed, but their lives are so meaningless and unworthy, they don’t even deserve to be recognized in any kind of balance sheet as to the costs of this war.
And a third point I’d like to make is that in 2011, Syria was at peace until, in that year, the U.S., Britain, and France sponsored a violent sectarian insurgency, an insurgency in Syria that eventually morphed into ISIS and spilled over into Iraq. So I would actually go further than this and I would attribute all 400,000 deaths in the Syrian civil war directly to the U.S., France, Britain and their allies.
RT:What would you make of comments made by U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis that Americans are the good guys and locals know the difference. Is there a difference between good bombs and bad bombs?
DG: No, of course, there isn’t, and what’s absolutely clear is their recklessness, which was actually bad enough under Obama but has increased under Trump.
The recklessness with which the U.S. is pursuing its foreign policy goals – and Britain and its allies in the coalition, I should add – have got complete impunity and complete disregard for the lives of those living in places like Mosul and Raqqa and it really shows the racism which is inherent in what’s going on here. Leaders of African and Asian states are denied by the West to have any kind of military means against an insurgency that happens within their borders. And yet when the U.S. and its allies decide they want to take on a population anywhere in the world, they have absolute impunity to do so.
In 2011, Gaddafi was trying to put down a proto-ISIS rebellion in Benghazi and was labeled by the West as a bloody genocidal dictator and so on. He was eventually subjected to torture and lynching by those states. When the U.S. decides it wants to carpet-bomb Mosul or Raqqa, thousands of miles from its shores, it can do so with complete recklessness and impunity and disregard for the populations living there.
Dan Glazebrook is a freelance political writer who has written for RT, Counterpunch, Z magazine, the Morning Star, the Guardian, the New Statesman, the Independent and Middle East Eye, amongst others. His first book ‘Divide and Ruin: The West’s Imperial Strategy in an Age of Crisis’ was published by Liberation Media in October 2013. He is currently researching a book on U.S.-British use of sectarian death squads against independent states and movements from Northern Ireland and Central America in the 1970s and 80s to the Middle East and Africa today. His website is here.