Endless civilian tragedies in Syria and Iraq

The blood-soaked story of civilian death and destruction is hardly limited to Syria.

2017/04/09 Issue: 101 Page: 6

The Arab Weekly

The United States has launched military action against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad but, for too many, the realities on the ground will not change for the better.

The number of Syria’s innocent dead continues to grow as the war achieves a dismal milestone. Last month, it entered its seventh year; close to half a million lives have been lost.

In Khan Sheikhoun, northern Syria, on April 4th, at least 87 people, including young children, are suspected of having been poisoned to death with the nerve agent sarin.

The picture of 29-year-old Abdul-Hamid Alyousef on a grim minibus ride while holding his two dead babies in his arms puts another harrowing face on Syria’s tragedy. It is much like that still-sad picture of little Aylan Kurdi lying dead on the beach in southern Turkey in September 2015. The 3-year-old, who drowned along with his mother and brother, illustrated the tragedy of thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing the war that was tearing their country apart.

Alas, Khan Sheikhoun is hardly the only episode of civilian woes in the region. Air strikes by the US-led coalition left up to 30 non-combatants dead in rural Raqqa. Another 42 died in another US bombing in Al Jinah in western Aleppo. All of this in a scant few weeks. The Al Jinah incident happened on March 16th and Raqqa on March 21st.

Acting on the assumption that the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack was perpetrated by Assad’s forces, the United States launched a missile attack at Al Shayrat airfield. The escalation raises the prospect of an already devastating conflict taking on broader, deeper, wider ramifications. From civil strife, the conflict has morphed into a regional and international confrontation. The United States and Russia are already flexing military muscle in the Syrian theatre.

What might this mean for ordinary people, unarmed civilians, seemingly caught up in a war without end? The only certainty is that civilians will continue to pay the price.

Unfortunately, the blood-soaked story of civilian death and destruction is hardly limited to Syria. It has become a tragic tem­plate across much of the Middle East and North Africa region, which is subsumed by multiple wars and civil conflict waged by and against jihadist militias, disparate governments and foreign actors. Iraq, Libya, Yemen, the Palestinian territories — they are all part of the region’s killing fields.

Consider this: In Mosul, in mid-March, 200 civilians were reported killed — collateral damage in the matter-of-fact terminol­ogy that has become the norm for such tragedies.

Since mid-February, at least 300 unarmed Iraqis have died violently, tragically and before their time, according to the UN human rights office. Those unfortunate residents of Mosul were presumably peaceably going about their daily business when death came announced in the form of a US coalition strike targeting jihadist fighters.

This is a horrific portrait of a region that has so much more to offer than doomsday scenarios. As another cycle of violence begins in Syria, it is worth remembering that violence will not resolve the region’s conflicts. It will just make them worse.

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