More than 306,000 civilian were killed in Syria between March 2011 and March 2021, according to new estimates released June 28 by the United Nations Human Rights Council. According to the latest findings, civilians represent an overwhelming majority of the estimated 350,209 total deaths identified since the start of the civil conflict.
With absurd hubris, Biden in his speech on Aug. 31—the day the last US troops left Kabul under the deadline agreed to with the Taliban—declared that "the United States ended 20 years of war in Afghanistan." It's perverse enough that he called the US evacuation of some 120,000 Afghans and Americans an "extraordinary success"—despite the fact that more than 100 US nationals and many thousands of desperate Afghans were left behind. But this reality-denying "ended the war" rhetoric is being uncritically echoed by media accounts.
Children in Raqqa, northeast Syria, are still living among ruins, with limited water, electricity, and access to education, four years after the city was taken from ISIS, according to a new report by Save the Children. Thousands of people have returned to Raqqa since the battle for the city ended in 2017, and the report estimates that up tp 330,000 people are currently living there. But levels of rebuilding and rehabilitation of housing remain low, with children living in constant fear of their homes collapsing on top of them. Research estimates that 36% of the city's buildings remain entirely destroyed.
A suicide bomb killed at least 30 in Baghdad on July 19, exploding in a busy market as people prepared for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. The so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for the blast. Nearly four years after the liberation of Mosul, remnants of the militant organization are regrouping to stage scattered attacks across the country. Violence is not the only legacy that IS, and the fight against it, left behind. In a new report from the Norwegian Refugee Council, Mosul residents offer sobering testimony on the challenge of trying to restart their lives despite a failure to rebuild much of the city's devastated homes, infrastructure, and economy. There are still around 1.2 million Iraqis displaced across the country, including 257,000 in Nineveh province, where Mosul sits. Aid groups warn that these people are being exposed to new risks, including from COVID-19, as Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government move to close camps, leaving some with nowhere to go.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) warned on July 13 of an "imminent humanitarian crisis" in Afghanistan as mounting conflict gives rise to suffering and displacement. Speaking at a press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch raised concerns over the fast deteriorating conditions in the country, with families being forced to flee their homes due to the worsening security situation. An estimated 270,000 people have been newly displaced within Afghanistan since January, bringing the total uprooted population to over 3.5 million.
In Episode 76 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg discusses and critiques The Duty to Stand Aside: Nineteen Eighty-Four and the Wartime Quarrel of George Orwell and Alex Comfort by Eric Laursen. Orwell and Comfort were divided on the question of Allied bombardment of Germany in World War II—although they both united to support the free-speech rights of anarchist anti-war dissidents. With fascism and genocide again emerging on the world stage, their quarrell sheds light on the contemporary wars in Syria, Libya and elsewhere—and how progressives and especially anarchists in the West should respond. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
Doctors and healthcare workers held a demonstration outside a hospital in the Syrian city of Idlib June 1, to protest the election of the Bashar Assad regime to the executive board of the World Health Organization (WHO). Syria was elected to the board for a three-year term by the 22 countries of WHO's Eastern Mediterranean region—the latest coup for normalization of the Assad regime. "How can we trust WHO [when] one of its executive board members is the murderer who is killing my colleagues, my friends?" said Dr. Salem Abdan, head of health services for opposition-administered Idlib, in a WhatsApp message. Read a banner at the protest: "We reject the idea that our killer and he who destroyed our hospitals be represented on the executive board." Idlib province is part of a remaining rebel-held pocket in the northwest of the country, where Assad regime warplanes have for years been bombing hospitals and clinics.
Afghanistan now has a clearer timeline for when US and international troops will leave, but the questions surrounding what this means for civilians and aid operations in the country remain the same. US President Joe Biden on April 14 confirmed plans to withdraw American forces before Sept. 11—the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that led to the Afghanistan invasion. NATO also said 9,500 international soldiers—including 2,500 US troops—would leave, beginning May 1. But the implications of the pullout are as volatile as they were when Biden's predecessor first inked a peace deal with the Taliban last year. Will the Taliban pursue a decisive military victory or continue with sporadic peace negotiations with the government? How will women and minorities fare? How will this affect local and international aid operations, and the roughly 16 million Afghans—more than 40% of the population—who rely on humanitarian relief? Will there be a future for reconciliation after decades of war? And what about the militias still active in many areas? More than 1,700 civilians were killed or injured in conflict in the first three months of 2021, the UN said the same day as Biden's announcement.