Syria: Chemical weapons, barrel bombs, starvation and now air strikes

More than 300,000 Syrians have died since the war began in 2011

Nations of the world idly watched while innocent men, women and children were butchered in Syria for the past four years. Now, their plight will worsen as a result of the US-led air strikes, writes Bilal Abdul Kareem.

For nearly four years rebels have fought a bloody war to throw off the yoke of oppression against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Official estimates put the death toll somewhere around 200,000 – I put it somewhere around 275,000-300,000.

In the time I spent in Syria, I filmed outside of hospitals where bodies were piled up outside as there was no room to store them inside. This doesn’t account for those who died from the barrel bombs in their homes, and then went straight to the cemetery – no issuing of official death certificates.

Images of inhumane cruelty wasn’t enough

Last year, the world watched horrific scenes of men, women, and children dying in a makeshift hospital in Ghouta as a result of a chemical attack by the Syrian regime. Their dying bodies were convulsing in a way that resembles an animal that has had a vat of poison poured on it.

The chemical attack in Ghouta killed more than a thousand people, nearly all civilians - women and children.
The chemical attack in Ghouta killed more than a thousand people, nearly all civilians – women and children.

Everyone watched as barrel bombs were pushed out of helicopters onto crowded streets and residential areas. Everyone watched the horrific images of 11,000 prisoners that died from starvation in Assad’s prison. It takes a lot of evil to starve a man to death as you have to watch him die over a course of time, and your merciless stare can never waver.

The world witnessed countless Syrians beg and plead for help against the Assad’s tyranny. Yes, there were a few “Friends of Syria” conferences, some tough condemnations by Big Shot world leaders here and there, but in the end – nothing. No state support came to help the Syrian people – none.


It is like watching a cold and hungry family freezing in the snow in front of your very doorstep as the children huddle with their parents trying to keep warm while you have heat, food, and a big screen TV to pass the time. Yet, the idea of actually opening the door to them never came to light.

Fast forward to what has been happening over the past few months. Ugly scenes of Yazidis threatened to be killed by ISIS fighters, awful videos of beheaded journalists, and endless free advertising by major news corporations of the statements of unknown people from Facebook and Twitter posting pro ISIS rhetoric.

New players

Now that we have a picture in place, let’s look at the growing “anti-ISIS” coalition that picked up more steam last week when Denmark, Belgium, Holland and the UK joined the fray. All of this is in addition to the existing US efforts of course.

There is no question that this is indeed a huge effort they have put together. Lots meetings, sleepless nights on airplanes while diplomats travelled all over the world, all in an effort to gather the “good guys” against the “bad guys”. Which makes one wonder, if they could whip up this much support against ISIS, then where in world were all of these countries who “stand for justice, freedom, and democracy” while 250,000 innocent men, women, and children were being slaughtered?

2013-08-26 - USA-attack-SyriaIraq’s prime minister told reporters that he conveyed to Syria a message from Washington that US air strikes would target ISIS militants rather than Assad’s government. “What they emphasized is that their aim in Syria is not to destabilize Syria, is not a threat to Syrian sovereignty, is not to attack the regime, but rather to diminish the capabilities of Daesh (and other) terrorist organizations,” Abadi said, referring to ISIS.

An interesting statement. Assad kills 250,000 on the evening news for everyone to see and there was no political will to organize a coalition against him. But when there is a coalition in place, he receives assurances that he is not the target.

Coalition bombs are not exclusively targeting ISIS – they are landing on all Islamic rebel groups in Syria because most of the resistance groups are “Islamists”. Virtually every battle that takes place in Syria comprises of at least one of the Islamic groups participating.

I am no fan of ISIS. In fact, I feel that they have destroyed the Syrian revolution and continued the oppression that Assad started in areas under their control. However, you’d have to be blind and ignorant not to see that the aim of the coalition is certainly not limited to “degrading and destroying ISIS”.

Syrians left to die

Syrians were and still are left to continue in their anguish under barrel bombs in the killing zones. Notice that none of the “good will” member states of the coalition is talking about stopping Assad anymore. The “moderate” voices are now silenced. After all, what credibility do they really have now? Who would listen to them? Especially now that the gains the Syrians made in a hard fought war against Assad are now being rolled back by the US-led coalition.

There is a huge humanitarian crisis in Syria
There is a huge humanitarian crisis in Syria

If some misguided Muslim attacks innocent civilians in a city in the West, what do you imagine the politicians will say? “Terrorist”! Then what will their citizens say? “Terrorist”. What will the memory challenged media say? “Terrorist”! Normal citizens rely on their leaders and the news for authentic information but they will not receive any. They will get a very generic answer like: “Terrorism struck today” or “Those who hate our democracy and our freedom have attacked today”. Never going into the “why” and “what was the real motivation” so as to understand if there is a way out of this circle of war for everyone.

Thus, the vicious cycle of blood has been established, and it may be too late to stop it.

Bilal Abdul Kareem is an American journalist and filmmaker who spent two years in Syria documenting the rebels.


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