In dust and blood- Syria’s civil war shuffles past its third anniversary

Aftermath of a barrel bomb attack, Aleppo, Syria. Credit: Firas Badawi//Reuters
Aftermath of a barrel bomb attack, Aleppo, Syria.
Credit: Firas Badawi//Reuters

Last week the UN human rights head released a report indicating widespread use of torture by the Assad regime and many parts of the armed opposition- in particular religious hardliners.

An activist group estimated the total death toll in the Syrian civil war to be 150,000 a month ago. Hard numbers are difficult to come by, given that outside journalists are often targets.

After an initial nonviolent period, the Assad regime began using lethal force on protestors in April 2011. Thus it could be said that the Syria we see today was birthed three years ago.

Gnawed by enormous rats: three years of desperate conflict in Homs

Homs destruction: Damaged buildings in the Khalidiyah area of Homs
Central Homs in July 2013.
Credit Sam Skaine (AFP/Getty)

Patrick Cockburn for The Independent has been the only Western journalist in Homs during a bout of new violence. Homs was a key city in the initial rebellion and has seen constant shelling- hundreds of thousands are displaced and trying to avoid the fighting. Swaths of the city are a ruin (I posted a picture of the destroyed streets in the December snow).

Cockburn gives a vision of what Homs is currently like that I found haunting, speaking of

marks of total destruction are everywhere since this is one of Homs’s “ghost districts” where the buildings have been torn apart by shell fire and their walls are pock-marked with bullets so they look as if they had been gnawed by enormous rats. Where buildings survive, their doorways and windows are boarded up and they look abandoned.

The Syrian Army looks like they are close to defeating the last rebel pockets in Homs- ~400,000 civilians are in the rebel districts, causing aid disruptions. The Army obviously doesn’t want to feed armed rebels, and it’s difficult to feed just noncombatants.

Here is the January 2014 situation in Homs. Red is the Syrian government, Green is the opposition.

Credit: MrPenguin20/Wikimedia Commons
License: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Conflict between the government and rebels exists all over the country. A talented young American has produced some maps of Aleppo that show how entrenched and divided the city is- the most important in Syria outside of Damascus.

Time flies- and sometimes we can forget how long this conflict has been going on. These rebel pockets in Homs have existed for almost three years- the American involvement in World War II was less than four. It is carnage, and a civil war that each day has more and more sides fighting amongst each other. It is tough to speak of an “opposition” since some groups oppose the government and the rebels equally- the Kurds control a large amount of territory and mostly fight al-Qaeda-aligned groups, who in turn fight other rebel groups as well as the government.

Over three million refugees– more than 1/8th the pre-war population. Don’t forget about the toll- more than those dead and wounded. It is immense.