It tells the story of a country mired in a ruthless civil war in which all sides are indiscriminately killing and torturing civilians. It presents a laundry list of human rights violations and war crimes undertaken by both the forces of President Bashar Assad and non-state armed groups, such as the Islamic State, that are fighting to topple the regime.
The Guardian encapsulates the 45-page report like this:
“Syrian government forces have dropped barrel bombs on civilian areas, including some believed to contain the chemical agent chlorine in eight incidents in April, and have committed other war crimes that should be prosecuted, they said in a 45-page report issued in Geneva on Wednesday.
” ‘Violence has bled over the borders of the Syrian Arab republic, with extremism fuelling the conflict’s heightened brutality,’ said the report. …
” ‘Executions in public spaces have become a common spectacle on Fridays in [Isis power-base] Raqqa and in Isis-controlled areas of Aleppo governorate,’ said the commission, which includes former war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte. ‘Bodies of those killed are placed on display for several days, terrorising the local population.’ “
The BBC says that about 200,000 people have been killed since the conflict began in 2011
The airstrikes reportedly being considered by the Obama administration will not be enough to shift the balance of power on the ground, analysts suggest.
“In Iraq we seem to seem to have been able to find some very good targets. In Syria, the question is what exactly we are targeting,” Elliott Abrams, a Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council for Foreign Relations, told FRANCE 24.
Abrams [a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy] points out that successful strikes on the IS in Iraq take place when they are travelling, often in US-supplied armored vehicles stolen from Iraqi state forces.
In Syria, where the militants have been able to flourish without fear of sophisticated air power, larger operations, such as military bases, might also be open to attack.
“IS militants are different from traditional terror groups because they don’t hide out in the desert, they control and seek to govern territory,” explains John McLaughlin, former deputy director of the CIA and senior fellow at the Brookings Institute’s Center for Middle East Policy and US Foreign Policy program.
“By virtue of administering territory, they have to have somewhere to gather fuel; to repair equipment and to train. For now, they can do this in Syria which remains a safe haven. But once the US expands operations across the border, their structure could be their downfall.”
Robust and timely aid for Syrian nationalist rebels fighting both the regime and ISIS is a must, says Frederic C. Hof, a Resident Senior Fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. He worked on Syria-related issues in the State Department from 2009 through 2012.
“Building an all-Syrian national stabilization force in Turkey and Jordan for eventual anti-regime and anti-ISIS peace-enforcement is essential. American leadership in creating mechanisms that can one day bring Bashar Al Assad and his principal enforcers to trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity is vital,” says Hof, who worked on Syria-related issues in the State Department from 2009 through 2012.
The notion of partnering with the Syrian government against the IS is just silly at every level, says Hussein Ibish, a columnist at NOW and The National (UAE), and a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine:
First, his forces show no interest or ability in actually or effectively fighting these lunatics. Indeed, they just lost control of the Tabqa airfield, 25 miles outside the IS’s stronghold and capital of Raqqa. This means that Raqqa Province is the first region of Syria to fall entirely out of the control of the regime, and it should surprise absolutely no one that it has fallen to the IS.
Second, for the Damascus dictatorship, the IS is the perfect enemy. It’s not as if there won’t still be an uprising afterwards, should the IS be defeated or badly degraded. On the contrary, it’s likely that opposition forces would be greatly strengthened and the arguments and appeal of the regime profoundly weakened….
Finally, the IS cannot be successfully countered by sectarian non-Sunni troops, either in Syria or Iraq. Anyone who imagines that an Alawite-dominated Syrian army or extremist Shiite militias in Iraq can be the solution to crushing or profoundly degrading the IS has failed to understand how and why the group has risen to prominence. It feeds off of the deepest Sunni Muslim rage, both locally and internationally.
As the uprising gained steam, the Syrian dictatorship released the most notorious Salafist-jihadists they were holding from prison. They concentrated their fire power on the Free Syrian Army and other nationalist groups that actually threatened to potentially overthrow the regime successfully, while ignoring the steady gains of ISIS. As Hassan Hassan has pointed out, “When [ISIS] Islamic radicals took over Raqqa, … the regime did not follow the same policy it had consistently employed elsewhere, which is to shower liberated territories with bombs, day and night.” Instead, it did nothing. Except purchase large quantities of oil from ISIS, fattening their coffers even further.
“Air strikes against Isis targets without any coherent plan to boost mainstream rebel forces means we’re, in effect, acting as Assad’s air force,” said Shadi Hamid, a fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
The battle for Aleppo is an “existential moment” for the rebels. “If they lose Aleppo, it is going to be one of the worst events in recent months,” he tells the Financial Times.