Oct 30, 2017
On October 17, U.S.-backed forces declared Raqqa, the last major city in Syria held by Islamic State (ISIS) fighters, to be “liberated.”
During the four-month battle over Raqqa, thousands of civilians were trapped in the besieged city without food, water and other necessities. And most of the city was destroyed by relentless heavy bombardment – by the U.S. military. One report says that this newly “liberated” city is now 80 per cent uninhabitable. In other words, the U.S. military had a policy to “destroy the city to save it,” as a U.S. major called it almost exactly a half century ago, during the Vietnam war.
Out of the 200,000 people who lived in Raqqa when the war in Syria began in 2011, no more than 45,000 people are still there. And for these survivors, the ordeal is not at all over. Many there do not feel liberated at all – they have just replaced one occupying army with another. ISIS, which adheres to the Sunni interpretation of Islam, has attacked, and largely driven away, residents from other religious groups in areas under their control. But other groups fighting ISIS – and sometimes each other as well – also identify themselves based on religion or ethnicity. So the “liberated” people of Raqqa now have good reason to fear being attacked for “supporting ISIS” – whether they did or not – because they don’t match the religion or ethnicity of the new invading army.
A similar scenario is playing out in Kirkuk, an Iraqi city about 300 miles east of Raqqa. Kirkuk, a much larger city located in an oil-rich area, was declared liberated on October 21, around the same time as Raqqa was. Except that there, the roles were somewhat reversed. While ISIS was defeated by mostly Kurdish fighters in Raqqa, in Kirkuk it was Kurdish fighters who were driven out – although the conquerors are, once again, allies of the U.S., in this case Shiite-led Iraqi government forces.
The current rivalries and wars in Syria and Iraq are direct results of the U.S. policy in the Middle East. In 2003, the U.S. military invaded Iraq and overthrew its dictator, Saddam Hussein, on the false claim that he was hiding “weapons of mass destruction.” In place of Hussein’s Sunni-based regime, the U.S. installed a government led by Shiite clerics. As ethnic Kurds set up an autonomous government in northern Iraq, a civil war ensued in the rest of Iraq, with Shiite and Sunni militias attacking civilians belonging to the “rival sect” in a bloody pattern of ethnic cleansing.
While Shiite militias were sponsored by the U.S. and the Shiite regime in neighboring Iran, Sunni militias, often led by remnants of Saddam Hussein’s regime, began to operate with funding from U.S.-ally Saudi Arabia and other Sunni regimes in the region – and the U.S. itself! Some of these Sunni militias later joined ISIS, in both Iraq and across the border in Syria. When protests against the Syrian regime began in 2011, that country was quickly thrown into a bloody war through the intervention of foreign powers – not only regional ones such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, but also big powers such as the U.S., its European allies, and Russia.
More than 12 million Syrians (half the country’s population!) are now refugees, with six million in Syria and another six million in other countries, according to UN statistics. And this on top of the millions of refugees from other war-torn countries in the region, including Iraq and Afghanistan, two countries invaded by the U.S. military. It’s a human catastrophe of enormous proportions – caused by the U.S. ruling class in its bid to control the world.