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Raqqa synonymous with oppression, beheadings rather than enlightenment

Jun 13,2019 - Last updated at Jun 13,2019

Raqqa is in ruins. Thousands of civilians are dead. Survivors are recovering their remains from under the rubble of homes, shops, public buildings, schools, hospitals and mosques. The US is the main culprit. Britain and France are mere accessories to the crime of wrecking Raqqa.

Writing in The Guardian, Director of Amnesty International UK Kate Allen described the situation in Raqqa after its “liberation” from Daesh. She called Raqqa “a modern Dresden”. During February 1945, towards the end of World War II, US and British bombers dropped more than 3,900 tonnes of high explosives and incendiary shells on this city, both the capital of the German state of Saxony and a railway hub.

Located near the Czech border, Dresden was also the seat of the rulers of Saxony, who built splendid buildings and made the city a famous cultural centre. It is estimated that at least 25,000 civilians were killed during Anglo-US carpet-bombing and, perhaps, many times more. Between 100,000 and 200,000 refugees were in the city during the bombing, making it difficult to estimate fatalities.

Allen’s comparison between Dresden and Raqqa is valid. Raqqa became the capital of the 8th century Abbasid Caliph Harun Al Rashid, who ruled over the Arab Empire during Islam’s “golden age”. Like Dresden, Raqqa became a sanctuary for Syrians driven from their homes by warfare in 2011-2012, and there was an informal agreement between government and insurgent forces that Raqqa should not become a battleground. This was broken in March 2013, when the Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat Al Nusra and other groups, including Turkish-backed Syrian Free Army, seized control of Raqqa. In early June, Daesh took over and expelled its earlier conquerors.

Raqqa became a city of ignorance and brutality under Daesh, which proclaimed it as the capital of its false “caliphate” before waging war in Iraq. The name of Raqqa became synonymous with oppression and beheadings rather than enlightenment; its reputation under Harun Al Rashid.

Allen dismissed the claim that the US and its allies “have for years told a tale of ‘precision bombing’ and ‘surgical strikes’“. She argued, “It was a lie then and it’s a lie now. When huge numbers of bombs and missiles are unleashed on densely-populated cities like Mosul or Raqqa, civilians are killed in their hundreds, possibly thousands.”

She travelled to Raqqa to report on the situation there, where civilians have been given no assistance to rebuild, families live in gutted buildings and teams continue to dig beneath rubble to recover stinking corpses.

In a press release issued last month, Amnesty reported that it and Airwars have “revealed that more than 1,600 civilians were killed as a direct result of thousands of US, UK and French airstrikes and tens of thousands of US artillery strikes during the US-led coalition’s military assault on the Syrian city Raqqa in 2017”.

“The much higher than previously reported civilian death toll reflects the coalition’s relentless barrage of munitions that were inaccurate to the point of being indiscriminate when used near civilians.” This constitutes a war crime and crime against humanity under the Geneva Convention, as attacking forces are prohibited from striking “civilian objects”, even if near legitimate enemy targets.

Amnesty said that a US official “boasted of firing 30,000 artillery shells — the equivalent of a strike every six minutes, for four months straight — surpassing the amount of artillery used in any conflict since the Vietnam war”. Eighty per cent of Raqqa was destroyed. ”Raqqa is widely considered the most-destroyed city of modern times.”

Amnesty’s Donatella Rovera summed up the situation perfectly: “Coalition forces razed Raqqa, but they cannot erase the truth.”

Allen wrote that the battle for Raqqa “followed the modern US military playbook. A massive aerial assault conducted with willing military powers... zero use of [Western] ground troops; and a reliance on proxy fighters at street level.” This has certainly been the US modus operandi in the battles against Daesh in both Iraq and Syria.

In the case of Raqqa, chosen proxy fighters were the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which have taken heavy casualties while serving as US foot soldiers. The US is keen to sustain the SDF in order to use it as leverage against the Syrian government and its partners, Russia and Iran.

In Iraq, where coalition aircraft also bombed from high in the sky, boots on the ground were provided by the Iraqi army and the Popular Mobilisation, which consists largely of pro-Iranian or Iranian-founded Shiite militias. The alliance between the Western powers and these militias is an embarrassment to Washington, London and Paris. Cooperation with Iran is, like civilian deaths from “precision” strikes, not mentioned.

No one mentions this curious connection. Instead, the Trump administration and its allies demand that these militias must be disarmed and disbanded. If this were to happen, Daesh would make a rapid return. The militias along with Iraq’s regular forces just about manage to keep Daesh at bay. Iran keeps a low profile in this charade because its clerical and military hardliners do not wish to be openly partnering the US, which, under Donald Trump, has reneged on the 2015 deal, requiring Iran to dismantle its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief. Trump has not only pulled out of the deal but has been tightening the sanctions regime in order to punish Iran for its independent stance and refusal to knuckle under to US demands. This is Iran’s reward for, as it were, fielding its proxies in the fight against Daesh, for which the US claims victory.

Recognition of the role of Iran and its proxies in the battle against Daesh in Iraq and Syria might, just might, encourage the authorities in Iran to pick up the phone and “call” Trump, as he has suggested repeatedly, and could, maybe, lead to some sort of cold coexistence.

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