The Aleppo holocaust and the wider conflict

Published: January 5, 2017
The writer is a former interior secretary and a 
former ambassador

The writer is a former interior secretary and a former ambassador

Aleppo has been devastated in a relentless conflict with international community watching helplessly. Its heritage and civilisation have been wiped out. Thousands have been killed while countless others have been maimed, crippled for life in one of the most brutal and senseless factional fighting that recognised no rules and was constrained by no regard to lives of innocent civilians.

The Syrian war — now more than five years old has caused the migration of some three million people in addition to tens of thousands having been internally displaced. In terms of human suffering and misery, it has been and remains one of the most horrendous conflicts of modern times.

Daesh and remnants of al Qaeda on the one hand, supported by the Gulf kingdoms and the regime forces supported by militias from Iraq and Iran as well as Hizbullah have attacked, killed, destroyed with impunity every object, building, houses, mosques, temples, schools, hospitals and whatever came their way with impunity. Russian jets, on the side of the regime forces, have dropped bombs of all descriptions on population that was deemed to be sheltering the rebels. In a desperate gamble to save Bashar al-Assad’s tottering government the Russian military went berserk to cause wholesale destruction to towns ,villages as well as killed untold number of civilians.

There could be some explanation for the scorched earth policy of the regime (assisted by Russia that was adopted in Aleppo… Assad wanted to convey a message to other rebels in the country to be prepared for meeting the same fate. At the same time, he wanted to remind his countrymen that any asylum given to rebels would not be tolerated and would invite the harshest and most fierce response from the regime.

The US involvement in the conflict was marked by ambivalence. The Pentagon wavered between a full-scale endeavour to help eliminate the forces of the Assad regime and extending half-hearted support to the non-Daesh rebels. The Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, exploited this procrastination to the full — launching a decisive bid to crush mercilessly the resistance groups and ensuring the fall of Aleppo.

But the conflict rages on. The fall of Aleppo is not the end of the war in Syria. The forces that have been unleashed would not be subdued so soon. The question is what caused this war that was the shaming of humanity?

History bears witness to the fact that whenever an established order, no matter how despicable that is — is destroyed with ulterior motives, a vacuum is created and to fill that vacuum many factions, forces driven by myriad considerations of lust, greed, tyranny, power, ideology, ethnicity move in to assert control and authority. This is what has been happening across North Africa and the wider Middle East in the wake of the so-called Arab spring. But the war in Syria and Iraq has more to do with another crucial — either deliberate or inadvertent miscalculation — the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. That was the apocalypse. The invasion was predicated on the wholly erroneous assumption that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that posed danger to peace and stability of the region. There was no concrete evidence of such imaginary weapons of mass destruction. Indeed none were found subsequently. But the invalid assumption or basis for dismantling Saddam’s regime was actually a subterfuge for wiping out the biggest standing army in the Middle East that could pose threat to the Zionist state of Israel.

Saddam’s regime was dictatorial, totalitarian where dissent or opposition was not tolerated. And so was Bashar al-Assad’s. But the question is: are Iraq and Syria better today or they were better 13 years ago before the US military invasion of the area?

The creation of an environment in which vicious entities like Daesh would grow and flourish is an abominable crime. But would there be any ‘Nuremberg trials’? Perhaps not. And perhaps the region would never ever be the same again in terms of peace and the welfare packages that were offered to the people especially of Iraq.

Aleppo, its destruction, the loss of lives and the terrible suffering it caused to the people will be a living testimony to the indifference of humanity, to the barbarism unleashed by the forces of the regime the militias of Iraq and Iran and Hizbullah and those of Russia and in equal measure by the rebels mostly Daesh as well as the indecisiveness of the US in dealing with wars that were the direct outcome of its (US) paranoid policies.

As Aleppo bleeds and more misery and suffering looms for other Syrian towns the belief in humanity and its noble ideals and principles is shattered. But would any lessons be learnt? The biggest beneficiary of the conflict in Syria, Iraq,Tunisia, Libya and Egypt is the state of Israel. Was that the overriding objective?

The role of Russian President Putin, the Syrian regime as well as the fanatical and diabolical Daesh would go down in history as sinister monsters inflicting untold misery on helpless population in one of the cradles of civilisations. The cultural loss to humanity is irretrievable. But the human cost would certainly justify instituting a war crimes tribunal.

The conflict would deepen sectarian polarisation in the Arab world. Countries like Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen would face the grim prospects of ethnic divisions. The rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia would be perpetuated. The US arms sales to the Arab Middle East would grow exponentially. That goal has been accomplished. 

Published in The Express Tribune, January 6th, 2017.

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