Do Western observers deny that the West does bad things because they are part of a conspiracy led by some government or special interest group? Or is it because they are stupid, or are caught in some patriotic psychosis? If it is — as it so often is — the latter, then the situation in northern Iraq and Syria in the past few years must really be testing the limits.
The brutal truth is that in the struggle for northern Iraq and Syria, the West is now becoming a killing machine on a par with Bashar Al-Assad and Daesh, the so-called Islamic State. It wasn’t always like this, and Donald Trump has not helped.
In the course of the battle of Aleppo, for example, Syrian and Russian warplanes have exacted an estimated 11,355 civilian casualties. When you take into account deaths from shelling, that figure rises to some 17,000. In the course of liberating Mosul, between 19 February and 19 June, Amnesty International has documented 5,805 civilian deaths; people killed by US, British and other Western warplanes, as well as Iraqi ground forces. Joel Wing, of the excellent Musings in Iraq blog, calculated that 6,340 civilians were killed between the battle starting in October last year and mid-March. Much of this has been attributed to the over-use of artillery by Iraqi forces, as well as the loosening of the rules of air engagement prescribed by the US President.
Let’s say for argument’s sake that to liberate Mosul from Daesh, pro-Western forces took roughly the same number of civilian casualties as those in Aleppo — 11,000. Let’s then take Aleppo, which Assad had liberated from Al-Qaeda (in effect); casualties totalled 17,000.
The difference of course is the time-scale. The battle for Aleppo took 1,618 days. The battle for Mosul took 280 days, give or take. So on each day, on average, pro-Assad warplanes were killing nearly 11 civilians. The US and Iraqi led coalition killed some 61 civilians per day. Which side, if an alien landed on earth and was asked to choose, would they guess was showing more restraint? Had the battle of Mosul continued and Daesh held out for perhaps another twelve weeks, the US-led and Iraqi-led coalition would by then, at the rate of civilian casualties they were generating, surpass the number of civilian casualties Assad has taken in four and a half years in Aleppo.
The coalition would have achieved this in only six months. Nobody anywhere in the mainstream press, except perhaps the Independent, would expect this liberation of Mosul to be called, as Aleppo was, a “holocaust” or a “slaughterhouse.” Yet the scenarios were strikingly similar. The decent rebels had been all but chased from the city and it was worth defending ordinary Aleppo residents from the dominant groupings.
The Fatah Halib coalition carried out “repeated indiscriminate attacks that may amount to war crimes,” according to Amnesty International and allegedly used chemical weapons, which are a red line in all circumstances except when our guys use them.
While the regime dropped barrel bombs, Ahrah Al-Sham fired their own “hell cannons” indiscriminately into Syrian civilian neighbourhoods. Ahrar Al-Sham has fought alongside both Daesh and Al-Qaeda and been accused of abducting and torturing those who live under its version of sharia. If Nusra Front was to establish an expansive emirate either replacing the Syrian state or taking up a good portion of it, Ahrar Al-Sham has said that it would join them in this.
That would be a country run by Al-Qaeda. That would be, if the world could remember the 7/7 bombings and 9/11, obviously “A Bad Thing”. In today’s topsy-turvy world, though, it is no longer seen as so bad.
Meanwhile, in Mosul, another bastardised version of the caliphate has been established. The so-called Islamic State ruled over Mosul and nobody doubted that the city needed to be liberated. Using local troops rather than Western ground troops was a good start, but the air bombardment and the indiscriminate use of artillery meant that the total number of civilians being killed by pro-Baghdad forces appears to have outstripped the numbers of casualties exacted by Daesh. As PRI puts it, “Those numbers only tell part of the story, as thousands of bodies may still lie under the rubble in the western half of the city, yet to be counted.”
What hope then for the people of Raqqa? Again, nobody doubts that the city needs to be liberated. Again though, the US-led coalition has been accused of failing to stop casualties.
“Hundreds of residents in Syrian city reportedly killed by airstrikes on Isis stronghold amid changes in targeting policy under Trump,” reported the Guardian. It said that at the end of last month, 62 people were reportedly killed in airstrikes carried out by the US-led coalition on a residential area, encouraged to be trigger happy by Donald Trump. Two weeks ago, activists said that around fifty people, mostly women and children, were killed in the Bousraya neighbourhood after a coalition bombing raid struck a residential building.
The UN is unimpressed. “We note in particular that the intensification of airstrikes, which have paved the ground for an SDF advance in Raqqa, has resulted not only in staggering loss of civilian life, but has also led to 160,000 civilians fleeing their homes and becoming internally displaced,” announced Paulo Pinheiro, the chairman of the UN commission of inquiry into Raqqa war crimes.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Al-Hussein said that the casualty estimates which have been released are a “conservative” figure, and that, “Civilians must not be sacrificed for the sake of rapid military victories.”
If Trump doesn’t learn the lessons of Mosul, he risks being seen as the Assad of Raqqa. Whether he will still be in office by then is unclear, but he certainly won’t care. Future Americans may pay the price though. The psychosis that grips us all sometimes, especially when faced with a menace like Daesh, must be cast aside. The US-led coalition is moving away from its roots as a liberator from evil, and becoming a war crime machine.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.