Civilians still living in Raqqa have endured appalling barbarism under renegade control by the Islamic State caliphate for years, only to be duly punished by the U.S.-led coalition’s bombing campaign against the militants — the latter apparently so indiscriminate, U.N. war crimes investigators now say it has caused “staggering loss of life.”
Coalition bombing of the Islamic State (Daesh) has support of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — an alliance of Kurdish, Arab, and other fighters aligning with the secondary U.S. mission of ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — which has seized territorial control around the embattled city from every direction but the south.
According to the BBC, “Up to 4,000 militants are believed to be holed up inside Raqqa, including foreign fighters and various senior figures.
“It is unclear how many civilians are trapped there with them, but UN officials estimated that there are between 50,000 and 100,000.”
Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Chairman of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry for Syria since 2011, told the United Nations Human Rights Council on Wednesday the joint SDF and coalition offensive “could liberate the city’s civilian population from [Daesh’] oppressive clutches, including Yazidi women and girls, whom the group has kept sexually enslaved for almost three years as part of an ongoing and unaddressed genocide.”
Bolstering and support of that offensive, Pinheiro also noted, must not be “undertaken at the expense of civilians who unwillingly find themselves living in areas where [Daesh] is present.
“We note in particular that the intensification of air strikes, 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.”
Illuminating the arduous morass gripping Syria, it must be noted the SDF has come under intense criticism for actions as abhorrent as those carried out by Daesh.
Damning though the U.N. report might be, it fails to fully elucidate the complexity of the situation in Raqqa — civilians trapped there have been alternately victimized by Daesh, the U.S. coalition, and a mesh of subgroups fighting for various parties, including so-called ‘moderate rebels’ affiliated with iterations of al Qaeda incidentally also bolstered by the West.
Bombs, skirmishes on the ground, and continual shelling have killed and injured scores of civilians and demolished critical infrastructure in Raqqa, effectively cutting supply lines of food, medicine, and fuel.
Investigators for the U.N. also asserted, as the BBC explains, “some of the evacuations might amount to war crimes because they appeared ‘primarily motivated by the strategic considerations of the warring parties that negotiate them’ and generally did not take the wishes of civilians into account.”
Those evacuations notably comprise a far more sinister element, as the U.S. coalition admitted Wednesday to the weaponized use of the incendiary agent, white phosphorus, at least in the Iraqi city of Mosul — an allegation previously denied, but which has also been levied against the alliance in Raqqa.
— Andrew Stroehlein (@astroehlein) June 14, 2017
“White phosphorus burns when it comes into contact with oxygen, producing high-temperature heat and characteristic white smoke. Munitions with the chemical can be used as incendiary weapons, to lay down smoke screens or as signals […]
“Submunitions can ignite days after deployment and remain a hazard for a city. Injuries caused by the chemical can burn to the bone and are prone to reigniting, if a piece of the phosphorus remaining in the wound is exposed to air when a dressing is changed.”
Deployment of white phosphorus over densely-populated areas, for any reason, amounts to a particularly egregious, callous war crime — one likelier to pad recruitment figures for Daesh, rather than provide safe passage for besieged civilians.
“No matter how white phosphorus is used, it poses a high risk of horrific and long-lasting harm in crowded cities like Raqqa and Mosul and any other areas with concentrations of civilians,” asserted Steve Goose, Human Rights Watch arms director. “US-led forces should take all feasible precautions to minimize civilian harm when using white phosphorus in Iraq and Syria.
“Horrific civilian harm from previous use of white phosphorus has generated public outrage and this latest use of white phosphorus underscores the urgent need for states to strengthen international law relating to incendiary weapons.”
Image: U.S.A.F. Central Command.
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