Double Standards

DAMASCUS/BERLIN (Own report) - The German government is increasing political pressure, in its efforts to have a greater impact in the power struggle over Syria. In view of the civilian population's horrible situation in the fiercely contested region of East Ghouta, east of Damascus - dominated by an al Qaida offshoot and several of its allied militias - Chancellor Merkel is accusing the Syrian government of not waging a war "on terrorists" but on "its own people." Similar accusations have already been raised during the battle to retake Eastern Aleppo, which cost the lives of nearly 3,500 civilians, according to western sources. No such accusations, however, were raised against the anti-IS war coalition - with German Bundeswehr participation - when at least 1,400, and from 9000 - 11,000 civilians were killed in their battles to retake Raqqa and Mosul respectively. Double standards are typical for politicians and media in countries involved in war, particularly when they face defeat.


Battle for East Ghouta

The German government is again attempting to have a greater impact on the power struggle over Syria, in view of the battles to take control of the region of East Ghouta, east and northeast of Damascus - with a current population of 400,000 according to UN estimates. The region is one of the so-called de-escalation zones agreed to by Russia, Iran and Turkey in the Astana talks last year. Attempts to salvage the de-escalation and prevent a new flare-up of the war in East Ghouta had been thwarted by Salafist jihadi militia on November, 14, 2017. Following a series of minor skirmishes, they launched attacks on government troop positions in Harasta, a town near the border of the Salafist-controlled region. The battles have not calmed since. The East Ghouta Salafist jihadi militias have begun to arbitrarily launch rockets into residential areas of Damascus, killing dozens of civilians. These attacks target particularly residential districts with Christian populations, apparently to spread fear and panic among non-Muslims.[1]

A Repressive Regime

In view of the ongoing shelling of residential areas of Damascus, the Syrian government has recently launched a military offensive to retake East Ghouta, once and for all. The four militias in control of the area include Hayat Tahrir al Sham directly allied with al Qaida and Ahrar al Sham, which has been cooperating with al Qaida for several years and has been explicitly classified by the German judiciary as a terrorist organization.[2] A third militia, Failaq al Rahman, has officially disassociated itself from al Qaida but, according to reports, has concluded a de-facto military alliance with al Qaida's offshoots, to have a better standing within the power struggles among East Ghouta's various Salafist jihadi militias. Even experts, who adamantly oppose the government of Bashar al Assad, admit that the militias in East Ghouta have established a repressive regime, enforcing "conservative religious laws" and brutally suppressing any opposition. It has been confirmed repeatedly -also by Amnesty International - that the militias are preventing civilians from fleeing, even arresting people for simply asking permission to leave the war zone.[3]

East Aleppo, Mosul, Raqqa, East Ghouta

From the military point of view, the situation in East Ghouta strongly resembles those in the re-capturing of East Aleppo, (June - December 2016), Mosul (October 2016 - July 2017) and Raqqa (June - October 2017). The combat, including the air raids, are carried out in a densely urbanized area. This is a horrible situation for the civilian population. According to the Atlantic Council - an organization above suspicion of harboring prejudices toward the Assad government or of being pro-Russian - nearly 3,500 civilians were killed during Aleppo's recapture.[4] The battle for Mosul, according to comprehensive research by the Associated Press (AP) news agency - also not under suspicion of being anti-western - at least between 9,000 and 11,000 civilians were killed. AP has proof that at least 3,200 had been killed directly by the US-led anti-IS coalition attacks; another two-thirds were killed by the IS, and one-third had been caught in crossfire, so it is unclear, who had actually fired the fatal shots.[5] It can be assumed that not all of these victims had been killed by IS. Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al Abadi has admitted to only 1,260 civilians killed, whereas the anti-IS coalition admits to a mere 326 victims of their attacks.[6] In the battle over Raqqa, according to the organization Airwars - which relies on multiple documented cases and whose claims are occasionally criticized for being too low - at least 1,400 civilians had been killed by anti-IS coalition bombing, in the period only between June and October 2017. Of the estimated 2,878 civilians killed throughout that year by anti-IS coalition's air raids, more than 80 percent had been killed in Raqqa.[7]

"Worse than Auschwitz"

Berlin had strongly criticized the battle for East Aleppo and is now condemning the battle for East Ghouta. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for example, has accused the governments of Russia, Iran and Syria of responsibility for "targeted [!] attacks on civilians and hospitals." "Those crimes must be punished."[8] German media, at the time, were referring to "genocide," a "war of annihilation" - and even trivializing the Shoah - claiming "Aleppo is worse than Auschwitz."[9] Accusations concerning the civilian victims of air raids on Mosul and Raqqa were completely absent in western politics and in a large segment of western media. If punishment would be demanded for these war crimes, the commanders of the Bundeswehr and the German government, itself, would also be charged - after all, the German Air Force's reconnaissance flights were playing a central role in the bombings carried out by the anti-IS coalition. Only now, in reference to the battles for control of East Ghouta, the accusation of a "war of annihilation" is again in use.[10] In the Bundestag last week, Chancellor Merkel literally alleged that in Syria, "it is not a case of a regime combating terrorists, but its own people."[11] Merkel and France's President Emmanuel Macron wrote a letter to Russia's President Vladimir Putin - which included the allegation that in East Ghouta, the civilian population is being submitted "to an unprecedented level of violence." Moscow should therefore "talk sense to the Syrian government."[12]

Facing Defeat

Double standards are typical for politicians and the media in countries involved in wars, particularly when they face, like Germany, political defeat. Since the summer of 2011, Berlin has been banking on the Assad government's overthrow. In 2012, in cooperation with representatives of the Syrian opposition in exile, it established a road map for Syria's post-war reorganization, entitled "The Day After."[13] Within the framework of the international "Friends of Syria" alliance, Germany has been participating in preparations for the aftermath of Assad's overthrow.[14] In August 2012, the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) bragged of having made an "important contribution ... to the overthrow of the Assad regime."[15] The anticipated overthrow, however, did not materialize. German hopes received their first heavy blow with Russia's intervention in the early fall 2015.[16] The run-up to the ultimate defeat came with the battle for Aleppo, when Russia assumed the leadership in ceasefire negotiations and a solution to the war.[17] If the Syrian government can recapture East Ghouta, it would further consolidate its position, whereas the Berlin-supported segment of the (exiled) opposition would possibly face ultimate defeat. Berlin's current political offensive against Syria is an attempt to turn the tide at the last moment.


[1] Gudrun Harrer: Assads Topgeneral vor den Toren der Ost-Ghouta. 21.02.2018. Aron Lund: Understanding Eastern Ghouta in Syria. 23.02.2018.

[2] See also Steinmeier und das Oberlandesgericht and Terrorunterstützer.

[3] Aron Lund: Understanding Eastern Ghouta in Syria. 23.02.2018.

[4] Atlantic Council: Breaking Aleppo. Washington, February 2017.

[5] Susannah George: Mosul is a graveyard: Final IS battle kills 9,000 civilians. 21.12.2017.

[6] AP: Death toll in Mosul 10 times higher than acknowledged. 20.12.2017.

[7] Julian Borger: US air wars under Trump: increasingly indiscriminate, increasingly opaque. 23.01.2018.

[8] Dirk Hoeren: Merkel verurteilt Russland und Iran. 16.12.2016.

[9] See also Die Schlacht um Mossul (IV).

[10] Vernichtungskrieg. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 21.02.2018.

[11] Massaker unverzüglich beenden. 23.02.2018.

[12] Merkel und Macron schreiben an Putin. 25.02.2018.

[13] See also The Day After and The Day After (IV).

[14] See also Im Rebellengebiet.

[15] Christoph Reuter, Raniah Salloum: Das Rätsel des deutschen Spionage-Schiffs. 20.08.2012.

[16] See also Consistencies in Western Hegemonic Policy.

[17] See also Aleppo, Mossul und die Hegemonie and Vom Krisenstaat zum Gestalter.