A rare on-the-scene BBC report from Raqqa reveals a grim picture of the ISIS “capital” under months of relentless US bombardment and siege by US-backed ground forces. Reporter Quentin Sommerville depicts a “city fit for no-one,” neighborhoods desolate and “ruined.” Once you are inside the city, “[a]head lies nothing but destruction and grey dust and rubble. This is a place drained of colour, of life, and of people. In six days inside Raqqa, I didn’t see a single civilian… It seems that not a single building has escaped the onslaught. Many have been crushed, flattened, or knocked to one side by the Western coalition’s air strikes and artillery. It is a barrage that never ceases. More than two dozen air strikes a day, and hundreds of shells fall on the city.” All this to defeat an ISIS force that by now is thought to number only some 400 fighters.
Human Rights Watch said last week it has just confirmed that two aerial attacks near Raqqa in March killed at least 84 civilians, including 30 children. We can only guess how many such deaths will be confirmed in the months to come.
Civilians in villages of rebel-held Idlib governorate meanwhile say they are being indiscriminately targeted by Syrian regime and Russian air-strikes, with children and even babies among the casualties. Monitors on the ground counted at least 150 civilians killed and dozens more wounded last week. “I witnessed such unbelievable chaos, ordinary people trapped underneath rubble, and the civil defense desperately trying to pull them out and searching for pieces of people’s bodies everywhere,” Anas Alabdulla, a local journalist from Mohambel in Idlib, told Middle East Eye after rushing to the scene of an air-strike Sept. 29.
And of course this assault on Idlib comes just as Trump has cut off aid to the Free Syrian Army. US collaboration with Assad under a cynical deal with Putin could not be more obvious. This could fall apart, and the proximity of US and Russian forces of course holds risk of escalation. But, for now, the long-anticipated imperial carve-up of Syria is underway. And from the perspective of the Syrians, this is hardly better.