Bombs Over Damascus

Voniel Brown, Reporter

Photographer Goran Tomasevic covers the civil war in SyriaIn 2011, the Arab Spring was seen as a way for democracy to enter the Middle East, after decades of the people being oppressed by dictators.  It all began when a man named Mohamed Bouazizi marched in front of a government building and set himself on fire, to protest of the way that he was treated by government officials. After seeing the desperation and lengths that he had to go to, finally be noticed by the government, many other Tunisians began to empathize with Bouazizi’s struggle. Many these people eventually began to see Bouazizi as a martyr for freedom in their country. Mass protest began to pop up across the country, and the President of Tunisia fled the protesters that were rising up in his country. The protest quickly began spread to other Arabic countries in the Middle East creating the uprisings know as the Arab Spring.

The civil war in Syria started as a part of the Arab Spring protest in Damascus and Deraa to demand the release of various political prisoners that were arrested by the Assad regime. The situation turned into a bloody and deadly conflict as police began to open fire on the protesters. This caused the tensions to escalate. Within the days to followed the incident, violent unrest had steadily spread throughout the nation, prompting many Syrians to lay down their picket signs and grab any weapon they can find to defend themselves. Despite the peaceful inception of the protest, the Arab Spring has left a bitter taste in the Middle East.  The deep hatred for the government and the willingness to fight for their cause, pushed the country into a bloody civil war, that will leave many dead before it all comes to an end.

The Syrian Civil War has been ravaging the entire country for the past two years, killing over 100,000 people and displaced over 10 million refugees, who desperately fled their war torn country. Despite the brutal nature of the war, no one was prepared for the disconcerting images that would eventually flood the web. On August 21, 2013, the entire world awoke to shocking and disturbing images of the aftermath of an onslaught of chemical attacks around the Syrian capital. The first reported case of the chemical weapons came from Ein Tarma early in the morning, which was subsequently followed by reports in Zamalka. In the hours to follow, the reports and videos began to be uploaded to the internet of adults and children that were undoubtedly suffering, however, they did not show any signs of external injuries. In the more horrific footage, dozens of bodies are stack in rows on the floors of the hospitals, which included many small children and babies. At the start of the incident opposition activists stated that the attacked resulted in the death of 300 people. However, as the day went on the death toll quickly rose to over 1,000 people. The images released illustrated, a new height in the ever escalating war, the horrific use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians. Both sides in this conflict have committed their fair share of atrocities against civilians and enemy troops alike. Al-Qaeda linked rebels have allegedly killed 450 Kurds in northern Syria after clashes with the Kurdish Democratic Union Party. There are also videos that show opposition forces executing soldiers and sympathizers of the Assad regime, as well as the much talked about video of an opposition soldier eating the heart of a slain Syrian soldier. Assad’s regime is far from innocent in this conflict; the Syrian air force is responsible for the destruction of many homes, as well as allegedly massacring and raping civilians.

Activist siding with the Opposition forces accused Assad’s forces in carrying out the attack as part of an operation to force the rebels out of the capital. They claimed that army rockets were responsible for dropping the toxic agents onto civilian areas. Immediately after the attack, Syrian army officials denied any involvement in the use of chemical weapons on the civilian population. The Syrian Information Minister, Omran Zoabi, said such an attack would not have been plausible since the government’s own forces in the area were allegedly affected. Syrian officials have in turn begun to point the finger of the attack at the opposition forces, which had a very high incentive of further backing by Western powers. The deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad insisted that the use of chemical weapons by the rebels was a tactic to turn the civil war around which he said “they were losing.” In the days to followed the incident the entire world was reporting on the incident and what it means to the war. Speculating as to what the response would be from President Barack Obama, since Assad had allegedly finally crossed the “red line” established by Obama.

The UN investigators sent in to investigate earlier claims of chemical weapons use, stated that there was, “evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used in Ein Tarma, Moadamiyah and Zalmalka in the Ghouta are of Damascus.” The investigators weren’t able to speculate exactly what the mode of delivery was used for the deadly gas. They concluded that it was a variant of the M14 artillery rocket, which was fired from a region to the north-west of the city. The investigators were unable to verify the exact number of casualties from the attack. It is also very important to note that the investigators weren’t there to cast blame on either side of the conflict, just confirm the reports of chemical weapons use. This has led to many people wanting the UN to take more of definite stance on Syria instead of standing on the sideline, as the conflict could quite possibly escalate out of the country.

The Syrian Civil War has caused foreign powers to choose a side in the conflict. The rebel forces receive non-military aid from countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. There are reports that suggest that the CIA was training the rebels before the use of chemical weapons on the civilian population. Now they are arming the “good” rebels with light weapons and sophisticated communication devices. There are countries such as the U.S. and Spain that recognizes the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the sole legitimate body of government of Syria, effectively casting out Assad’s government in any foreign policy. The Syrian government finds its support in the form of Iran, Russia and Hezbollah. The Russians provide military equipment and training to the Syrian army, as well as providing substantial economic support to the government. While both Iran and Hezbollah have provided fighters to bolster the number of Assad’s forces. These different countries all have vested interest in the Syrian war. The Iranians want to keep hold of an ally in the region that would assist it in times of need, as well as keep the U.S. out of another country in the Middle East. Russia supports Assad by citing the historical economic relationship that existed between the two countries. The Russians are also concerned about losing their naval base at Tartus, which is Russia’s only naval access to the Mediterranean.  While The U.S. most likely is motivated by fear of the conflict spilling over into the borders of its allies in the region, namely Israel and Jordan, as well as takeingattention away from the NSA scandal. The war is slowly becoming sectarian, since Assad belongs to the minority Alawite group that is an offshoot of Shia Islam, against the mostly Sunni fighters. The violence against Kurds, Christians, and Druze are a perfect example of the increasing divide.  The Israelis most likely want to depose Assad by supporting the rebels, in order to influence the opposition to be more favorable to Israel in the future.  Obama has also states that the world has to take a firm stance against the use of chemical weapons, so that an incident like this never happens again.

Western intervention seemed to be eminent, with both Prime Minister David Cameron and President Barack Obama at the fore front for intervention, citing the chemical weapons attack on civilians as the reasoning for a strike on Damascus. US Navy destroyers located in the Mediterranean are reported to be “fully ready” to launch cruise missiles into Syria. The US also has an aircraft carrier with accompanying warships in the Red Sea, which are be able to launch fighter jets along with more cruise missiles upon the order to strike. The intelligence committee of many different western nations all claim to have concrete proof that Assad was behind the chemical attacks on civilians, but there are still many who are still skeptical about the entire situation. Many Americans still remember the allegations of weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein had in his arsenal, which was the justification for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, resulting in the loss of many American lives over the 8 year war. The fact that these countries are so eager to intervene in Syria militarily is very disconcerting, no one likes the prospect of bombing another country. Secretary of State John Kerry has been on a long campaign petitioning Congress and allies to take a firm action against Assad. The proof that was gathered seemed rushed and too scant for a definite action. It was this skepticism that lead to the defeat of David Cameron in the House of Commons in a British parliamentary vote, on what the course of action would be. When they British pulled out of the warmongering campaign, Kerry turned to Americas “oldest ally” the French, who seem very happy to take the place of the British in Americas’ favor. Russia soon became to be seen as the voice of “reason” with its call for a more diplomatic approach to Syria, instead of a military one.

Despite Kerry’s campaign an overwhelming majority of Americans continue to stand against military intervention, which shows a growing trend of Americans moving away from the idea of the U.S. as the world’s police. Kerry went as far as to state that, “Assad has now joined Hitler and Hussein.” People are worried about giving full blown military aid to the rebel forces, which are splintered into different factions working for the same cause. His hinting of possible U.S. intervention without the consent of the U.N Security Council did not help his case in convincing people to his cause, using the bombing of Kosovo as a precedent for action. Kerry also insist that the U.S. has the support of the Arab League in the decision to bomb Syria, which then gives rise to the question- why can’t the Arab League take care of one it former members by itself?  This scenario would make the United Nations almost redundant, due to the fact that it can’t rein in a rogue nation. This entire situation is almost reminiscent of the use of chemical weapons by the Iraqis in 1988 on Kurdish citizens. Only that time it was the U.S. and the British who were on the defensive about the use of chemical weapons. Regan’s administration even falsely claimed that the Iranians were responsible for the attack, trying desperately to hide the fact that his administration along with the Brits supplied Hussein with key components for the creation of the chemical weapons

People are skeptical about the exact fighting strength and influence of the extremist and Al Qaeda linked groups, mingling with the opposition. Confusing the ultimate objective of the global war of terror, this was initiated to disrupt terror cells all over the world. People are doubtful that any aid given to the rebel forces would not end up the hands of the marginal terrorist groups. There is also fear that theses hardline groups would hijack the rebel forces and creating another global Jihadi movement, especially since foreign western fighters are already flocking to the country ready to fight. This then presents the chance of westerners returning home radicalized and well trained to fight.

In the days to follow the incident the war increasingly appeared to be proxy war between Iran, Russia, and the United States and its allies. When the U.S. moves naval ships to the Mediterranean capable of striking Syria, the Russians send ships capable of detect long range missile fire that would warn the Syrians of possible attack. It appeared as if both presidents want to add a cold war flare to their presidency. A military strike was getting close to fruition as a Senate vote was to be held on the issue, which was postponed due to a new Russian proposition for the how to handle the chemical weapons in Syria. The Russians proposed that Syria surrendered its chemical weapons stockpile over to international forces for disposal.   President Obama, who is going up against an unsparing opposition in Congress, as well as throughout the country, had no choice but to consider the plan put forward by Russia. Obama has banged the drums of war too loudly and now, is trying to save face after spending so much time campaigning for a military strike that would result in civilian casualties.  In a sign his of country’s cooperation in the deal, the Syrian foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, stated that Assad would turn over his chemical weapons to Russia, the United Nations and “other countries.”  We will see how long this attempt at peace will last…..