ANALYSIS: Tehran Summit and the imminent destruction of Idlib

Tony Duheaume
Tony Duheaume - Special to Al Arabiya English
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As the Tehran summit was taking place on September 7, with Iran, Russia and Turkey set to decide the fate of Syria, they were discussing the possible repercussions of a final offensive in the Syrian campaign.

This final attack would come in a massive assault on Idlib, the last rebel stronghold, the aim of which would be to annihilate both Syrian rebel forces, and their rivals in the form of al-Qaeda aligned groups.

But even as the summit was taking place, Russian bombers were already at work in Idlib, having spent days pounding away at targets in the southwest region of the province, with no thought for civilian casualties.

With government forces having been massing around Idlib for weeks, an offensive against the province is imminent, and with opposition forces completely surrounded, digging in for a final battle, vowing to fight to the last man, it is the innocent civilians that will suffer the most.

With all of those contained within having been displaced from assaults on places like Eastern Ghouta, Daraa or Eastern Aleppo, and with over three million Syrians trapped within the confines of Idlib Province, this coming assault is estimated to become a bloodbath that equals nothing yet seen in this deadly conflict or before in recent warfare.

Already, after the first wave of Russian bombers had moved in, pounding various targets in the region, many of them heavily populated with civilians, wave after wave of attacks fast followed.

With Syrian helicopters also having joined the operation, dropping barrel bombs on civilian homes in the suburbs of cities like Khan Sheikhoun, such was the onslaught in all areas under attack, rescuers themselves, including the volunteer group the White Helmets – officially known as the Syria Civil Defence – were struggling under fire to drag residents from the rubble of their demolished homes.

But this is just the beginning of days of slaughter to come, as with observers claiming that phosphorous bombs are already being used, with the use of barrel bombs actually witnessed in this latest action, and with Assad believed to be planning future chemical attacks, Idlib looks to become one of the most brutal campaigns yet to be witnessed in this long drawn out war of attrition.

To assess the coming fate of the people of Idlib, we need to look back on how the Syrian conflict has been conducted thus far. We are talking about a conflict which will most certainly go down as one of the most brutal since the First World War, one that has mirrored Hitler’s “scorched earth” policy in Russia during World War II, when Hitler’s forces had pummelled Stalingrad to rubble, in the same way that Assad and his cronies have carried out similar assaults across most of Syria.

The First World War was a time when man was practicing the full use of newly-developed mechanized weapons in the form of tanks, and were engaged in a new concept of pounding enemy positions with a vast amount of heavy artillery, sending waves of troops streaming towards enemy positions, and using chemical warfare to disable vast numbers, causing untold fear within the ranks of the enemy.

Such was the sickening sight of a destructed Europe at the end of the First World War, where both troops and civilians were left with horrifying injuries, and whole areas of Europe were laid waste, world leaders called this a “war to end all wars.”

But fast-forwarding to the Syrian conflict, with the appliance of much more sophisticated weapons of war, where just like the First World War, flattening cities to rubble has become the norm, with military leaders not blinking an eyelid at the amount of destruction and mass civilian casualties they are causing, what hope is there for Idlib.

With already hundreds of thousands of innocent people having met their deaths during the Syrian Uprising, whilst the administration of Barack Obama did its utmost not to intervene, wanting to appease the Iranian regime, rather than come to the aid of the Syrian people, millions of civilians have become displaced, and this fast became a war that Western leaders chose to ignore, through a policy of non-intervention and inaction.

With vast mistakes having been made, with Western nations not intervening on behalf of the Syrian people at the start of the conflict, those having become displaced are now scattered across the world, with many countries reluctant to take them in, leaving masses of people in limbo in refugee camps the size of large cities, with the whole episode having already become a humanitarian catastrophe, and the millions from Idlib soon to add to it.

The Syrian conflict has turned into one of the most brutal wars of modern times, with every form of military tactic known to man being used against Syria’s innocent population. Whilst waging a so-called war against terrorist groups, when in fact, the whole concept of Assad’s game is to wipe out any opposition to his regime, whether armed rebels or unarmed civilians, Assad and his allies have been on a crusade to ethnically cleanse Syria of most of its Sunni population.

A displaced Syrian girl outside her camp in Kafr Lusin near the border with Turkey in the northern part of Idlib on September 9, 2018. (AFP)
A displaced Syrian girl outside her camp in Kafr Lusin near the border with Turkey in the northern part of Idlib on September 9, 2018. (AFP)

By using all forms of modern warfare against them, much of the Sunni population not allied to the Assad administration has been forced into exile, ensuring that through the result of their cities, towns and districts having been carpet bombed, flattening all of their homes, there is scant hope of these people ever returning.

At the start of Assad’s assault on his people, as demonstrations began to get out of hand, and a fight back began with the intervention of the Free Syrian Army, Assad began to range a campaign of asymmetric warfare against the populace of Syria. In the early days of the conflict, before Russia had entered the campaign, Hezbollah and Assad’s infamous Shabiha militias had been brought in by Assad.

These militias entered areas that had suffered airstrikes, raping, cutting the throats of women and children, and pillaging homes, their mission being to terrorize all those who opposed the Assad regime, especially those living in Sunni areas where most opposition supporters resided.

The origin of the name Shabiha is believed to stem from the Arabic word “Shabah”, which roughly translates into English as “ghost”, “spirit” or “apparition”. The history of the Shabiha militias as a fighting force dates back to the time in power of Bashar al-Assad’s father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad, who also ruled the country with an iron fist.

The Shabiha started out as a mafia-style crime family, smuggling all forms of commodities and illegal goods into Syria, including; food, cigarettes, electronics, diesel, luxury cars, drugs and weapons. Apart from smuggling, they were hooked up to all forms of organised crime, as well as being involved in theft, blackmail, and armed robbery.

Having always used ultra-violent methods to protect their own crime empire against rivals, the Shabiha had fast become a useful tool to the Syrian regime, and since the founding of the Assad dynasty by Hafez al-Assad in the 1970s, the Baath regime itself has been connected to all forms of organized crime, and the Shabiha served them well.

Since those early days, the Shabiha has merged with the military, and they have been supplied with arms through military units. Being fanatically loyal to the regime, the Shabiha would blindly carry out any dirty deed handed out to them, and due to this, have become an integral part of Bashar Assad’s war machine. Since the Syrian Uprising, these muscle-bound tattooed brutes have been paid well over $120 a day for slaughtering on behalf of the regime, a wage which put them into the high earner bracket in Syria.

Primitive devices

Throughout this sick and depraved conflict, Assad’s forces have made full use of primitive explosive devices known as a barrel bomb, with their helicopters dropping masses of them on family homes, destroying vast areas of towns and cities inhabited by Sunnis, slaughtering a vast number of innocent civilians.

This insidious weapon, often described as a flying IED (improvised explosive device), often takes the form of an oil drum or similar heavy metal container, which is filled with high explosives, laced with shrapnel of various types, as well as oil and chemicals, to cause maximum injury to its victims.

Then after Russia had entered the campaign on behalf of Assad, white phosphorus has been deployed as a weapon of war. When a phosphorous device explodes, victims are turned into human torches, by this gruesome incendiary device, and the sickening thing about white phosphorous is that it continues to burn until it completely disappears, not even jumping into water will put it out.

So, with their flesh burning through to the bone, the victims of phosphorus scream in agony, convulsing in a macabre dance of death, as the deadly chemicals eat away at their flesh, and the toxic smoke burns deep into the lining of their lungs, choking them on their own mucous.

But not satisfied with the death-dealing effects of these obnoxious weapons of war, Assad’s forces have also used chemical weapons against innocent civilians. Chemical weapons entered the battlefield in 2013, known to have been used against Ghouta, and since that time they have been used with impunity in several other areas.

When chemical weapons such as Sarin are used, victims begin to violently cough, emitting awful choking sounds from their throat, and croaking and gasping for air, their eyes become raw and burned. With tears streaming down their cheeks, the victims begin to foam at the mouth, until they collapse to the ground and die.

So far Western leaders have stood by and watched all of this madness and slaughter unravel in front of their eyes. There was a brief moment when Bashar al-Assad was “criticized” by the US for his use of chemical weapons, when Obama’s Red Line was drawn, where he threatened military action if the dictator didn’t cease using these weapons. But this came to nothing, as Assad went on to commit ever more atrocities, with just muted condemnation coming from the West, as such weapons were used again and again.

From the way this war has been conducted, it seems man has lost all sense of humanity, as appeasement comes before mass body counts, which are ignored when lucrative deals are placed on the table by Iran. But as the world holds its breath, waiting for a mass assault on Idlib, we know what is to come from what came before.

If the world stands back and allows this to happen, not only will it be witnessing the most horrific humanitarian catastrophe of this century, it will also be as guilty as Assad, having allowed it to happen through appeasement and non-intervention.

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