Human Rights Watch condemned Russia and the Syrian government in a report Oct. 15 for launching at least 46 documented deadly attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure in Syria's northern Idlib province. The report reveals that the Russian-backed offensive targeted hospitals, schools, markets, and other essential facilities for over 11 months from April 2019. HRW contends that these attacks violated international humanitarian law and may constitute crimes against humanity. The HRW claims are supported by a similar report from Amnesty International in May 2020, which detailed 18 unlawful air and ground attacks on schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure in northwest Syria.
Over the past months, dozens of Syrian refugees have been deported by the Jordanian government to Rukban, a desolate camp across the Syria-Jordan border. Authorities say those targeted for deportation have "security" issues, but returnees to the camp deny having had any problems with law enforcement in Jordan. Amnesty International said Sept. 16 that at least 16 refugees had been "forcibly transferred" to Rukban over the past month alone. Watchdog groups say the deportations are a violation of asylum-seekers' rights, and that sending a refugee back to likely harm—known as refoulement—is prohibited under international law. While Jordan has been quietly deporting asylum-seekers for several years, this is the first time it has been accused of forcible transfers to the desert no-man's-land, which experiences scalding temperatures and is largely cut off from food and medicine supplies. "[I]t's still a human rights violation regardless of what [the refugees] are accused of," said Sara Kayyali, a Syria researcher at Human Rights Watch. "These deportations have happened with no fair trial or due process."
In a meeting hosted by the Yazidi autonomous territory of Ezidikhan in northern Iraq last month, representatives of tribal peoples and ethnic minorities from across the Middle East and North Africa agreed on a framework for a region-wide alliance of stateless nations struggling for self-determination and autonomy. The meeting at the Ezidikhan seat of Shingal (also rendered Sinjar) was attended by representatives of the Mandaeans and Zoroastrians as well as Yazidis. Messages of support were also sent by the Shabaks of Iraq, Ahwazi Arabs of Iran, Berbers of Libya, and Palestinian Bedouins residing in the state of Israel. Delegates announced formation of a Confederation of Indigenous Nations of the Middle East open to all stateless peoples of the region. "We are are expecting even more indigenous nations to sign on," said Ezidikhan Minister of Justice Nallein Sowilo. She noted that the Kawliya and Yarsanis, whose territory is divided between Iraq and Iran, have also expressed interest in joining. "We are all natural allies. That is why we call this an alliance of First Peoples. We represent the Middle East's ancient heritage of ethnic and religious diversity."
Bashar Assad's Russian-backed reconquest of most of Syria over the past two years is beginning to look like a Pyrrhic victory, as protest and even armed resistance re-emerge in regime-controlled territory. Insurgency is especially mounting in southern Daraa province—where the revolution first began back in 2011. Brig. Gen. Talal Qassem of the army's 5th Division was shot dead Sept. 9 by gunmen on a motorcycle near Busra Harir in the northeast of Daraa. He was the second regime general slain in the province since Assadist forces retook southern Syria in July 2018. They were among more than 200 regime soldiers and officials slain in attacks over this period, and the pace of attacks is escalating. Among regime figures slain in the past month are the mayor of the town of Lajat, a military intelligence officer, and a member of the "reconciliation committees" attempting to rebuild regime support.
On a visit to Baghdad this week, Gen. Frank McKenzie, chief of the Pentagon's Central Command, announced that US forces in Iraq will be reduced in the coming weeks from some 5,200 troops to about 3,000. McKenzie later told reporters that troop levels in Afghanistan will drop from the current 8,600 to 4,500. All of this is to happen by "late October," he said. How convenient. (AP, Politico) This all smells more of politics that strategy. There are still more than 10,000 ISIS fighters remaining across Iraq and Syria, according to a UN estimate from August. So, as Defense One comments, "any 'mission accomplished' moment remains elusive to clear-eyed observers of ISIS and the Middle East."
On Aug. 21, seventh anniversary of the chemical weapon attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, which left 1,400 civilians dead, the Syrian opposition issued a statement protesting that the responsible parties are still yet to be held accountable—while gas attacks have continued in Syria. The National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary & Opposition Forces (SMDK) demanded that the perpetrators of the attack be tried by the International Criminal Court. "The collapsed international system is the one that allowed this massacre to happen and left those responsible unjudged," the statement said. The regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad has carried out hundreds of chemical attacks since 2013.
US troops clashed this week with an Assad regime unit in northeast Syria, an incident that illustrates the uneasy patchwork of power in the region. One regime soldier was reportedly killed and two wounded. No US personnel were injured, according to a Pentagon Central Command spokesman. Central Command said a joint convoy of US personnel and Kurdish forces were fired upon near the city of Qamishli in Hasakah province Aug. 18: "Coalition and Syrian Democratic Forces, conducting a routine anti-ISIS security patrol near Tal Al-Zahab, Syria, encountered a checkpoint occupied by pro-Syrian regime forces. After receiving safe passage from the pro-regime forces, the patrol came under small arms fire from individuals in the vicinity of the checkpoint. Coalition troops returned fire in self-defense."
In the imperial carve-up of northern Syria, US troops have since late last year been controlling the oil-fields of Deir ez-Zor province, in collaboration with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Now reports are emerging that the Kurdish autonomous administration in the region has signed a 25-year contract with a little-known US company for exploitation of oil in SDF-held territory. The company, Delta Crescent Energy, incorporated in Delaware in February 2019, still apparently lacks a website. But its partners are said to include former US ambassador to Denmark James Cain; James Reese, a former officer in the US Army's elite Delta Force; and John P. Dorrier Jr., a former executive at UK-based GulfSands Petroleum. The GulfSands website indicates the British company has oil contracts in Syria that are "currently under Force Majeure as a result of EU sanctions."