Today’s papers are filled with Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League peace envoy, comments to the UN Security Council that Syria has reached “unprecedented levels of horror”.
His comments come in the aftermath of the UN estimate that 60,000 have now died in the conflict. Although the actual death toll is likely to much higher as the UN excluded any partial or unverifiable reports of killings.
Last summer Amnesty International reported of a “tide of increasingly widespread attacks on civilians by government forces and militias which act with utter impunity”. Significantly, Amnesty International highlighted evidence that war crimes had been committed by both the opposition and government forces.
In November the human rights organisation made a direct plea to William Hague to try and curb the pattern of abuse against civilians being perpetrated by the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
It is hard to imagine the situation getting worse.
Worryingly, some of Mr Brahimi’s comments that went less reported suggest just that. He commented, “The region is being pushed into a situation that is extremely bad”.
This is an understatement.
Firstly there is Iran. A key player in the conflict that is desperate to keep a Shi’a regional ally – not least as a potential arms link export market for terror organisations working in and around Palestine and Lebanon. Many, including the West’s regional partners such as Saudi Arabia, see a functional transition of power from Assad as a way of reducing Iran’s regional influence.
With neither side strong enough to win the war outright, the regional external players are only likely to increase the bloodshed. There is a growing possibility that the fighting will cross borders to draw in more concrete action from regional players.
Secondly, where there is war, there is a killing to be made through arms exports. This opportunity hasn’t passed the UK and US. Currently using routes through Jordan, the UK and the US is ensuring that arms reach their favoured groups – ignoring the above mentioned war crimes. Of course the UK would argue they are acting to ‘protect civilians’ and the arms trade is an inconsequential side note. Whether or not we believe them is a different question.
Either way, the arms industry (which we know to have a small influence on our government) is more than happy to see this war drag out.
Finally, the West’s aim, the overthrow of Assad, also has the chance to further increase the bloodshed. Haytham Manna writing in the Guardian highlights the thorny side of the armed opposition including al-Nusra who Obama has labelled a “foreign terrorist organisation” and who Manna said “indiscriminately targeted non-Sunni people”. Will they and other Islamist groups form part of the new government when they are playing such a pivotal role in the armed resistance?
Even after the overthrow of Assad, will this end the civil war?
Bahimi’s warnings are clear and should act as a warning, not just to the Russians and Chinese who continue to block calls for sanctions against Assad, but also to the West who seem all too eager to jump into bed with those who fulfil their short term goals.