The Syrian peace process – which took a positive turn after Russian and regime forces claimed victory over ISIS recently – is still facing lapses and hurdles in wake of USA’s continuous support for ‘rebel’ groups. It seems that the US and its allies are sceptical of the Russian efforts in Syria, and are therefore backing such groups in order to undermine Moscow’s growing influence in the region.
The US secretary of state Rex Tillerson recently held a closed-door meeting with Syrian rebel groups in Jordan in wake of the Sochi Peace Summit held in Russia in January. Tillerson also called for the Iranian forces to withdraw from Syria claiming that they were ‘destabilising the region’. However, such statements expose USA’s duplicity as Tillerson made no mention of Israeli forces inside Syria that have also contributed towards conflict and instability. The Syrian war has so far killed more than 340,000 people and displaced millions since it began in early 2011.
James Mattis, the US secretary of defense, also in a shocking statement recently admitted that his country had no evidence that Assad used the banned Sarin gas on his people in Syria. Previously, both the United States and its NATO allies had blamed Assad and the Syrian army – and on some occasions Russia as well – for using Sarin gas in Ghouta and Khan Shaikhoun tragedies in 2013 and 2017 respectively. Rex Tillerson, in January this year, also suggested that ‘Russia bore all responsibility of chemical attacks in Syria’. Mattis has now said on record that no such evidence of such accusations exists.
The US had also previously rejected observations by chemical weapons experts who opined that the Sarin munitions used in Syria were not consistent with state-level quality Sarin gas. Ironically, the US has historically relied on ‘evidence’ and ‘testimonies’ of White Helmets, a first responder group that is now considered a controversial party in the Syrian conflict. It is also observed that in dire attempts to overthrow Assad, the US has not only spent billions of dollars but may have also tried to influence United Nations inquiries into use of chemical weapons in Syria. This was witnessed when Carla Del Ponte, a member of the joint investigative team, had to withdraw from a UN joint investigation in Syria in 2017 as a protest, accusing the investigative body of not investigating into US-allied ‘rebels’.
Ian Wilkie – a lawyer and a former veteran – while writing for Newsweek also strongly criticised the US and its desperation to overthrow Assad. “America’s credibility was damaged by Colin Powell at the United Nations in 2003 falsely accusing Saddam Hussein of having mobile anthrax laboratories. Fast forward to 2017 and we encounter Nikki Haley in an uncomfortably similar situation at the U.N. Security Council calling for action against yet another non-Western head-of-state based on weak, unsubstantiated evidence. Now Secretary Mattis has added fuel to the WMD propaganda doubters’ fire by retroactively calling into question the rationale for an American cruise missile strike”, writes Wilkie.
As Wilkie suggests, the US is trying to repeat a similar mistake – albeit an intentional one – that it committed in Iraq in 2003. What makes this episode further shocking is the fact that the US has still not learnt from its mistakes; with glaring failures in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. The Syrian case also reiterates the fact that the US has never been serious in establishing peace in the country. Where it openly support militant groups, designating them as mere ‘rebels’, Washington has also put a blind eye to Israeli aggression and airstrikes in the country. If peace in Syria is to be achieved, it can only be done through treating all regional stakeholder on an equal basis, without demonising one state or the other.