Centre for International and Defence Policy

Centre for International and Defence Policy
Centre for International and Defence Policy

Assad's grip on power hampers Canadian humanitarian assistance to Syria

Chris Kilford, Fellow
The Hill Times, 11 September 2019 (link to the complete article)

      “Our strategy now is to pick up the pieces and make lives as good as we can, recognizing the entire agenda in Syria is led by Russia,”

As the Syrian Civil War nears its end, with the Syrian government controlling the vast majority of the war-torn country, Syrian experts say Canadian assistance is doing as well as can be expected.

Currently, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government holds control of the great majority of Syria, which has been engulfed in civil war since 2011. One of the few areas that is not held by the government is in the northwest province of Idlib.

The province is “largely controlled” by jihadist rebels, according to an Aug. 20 New York Times report. There are also about three million other civilians from various regions in Syria that were bused to Idlib when they refused to reconcile with the Assad government. For now, they are trapped between the Assad government and Turkey, which is denying admittance to displaced persons. There are already more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, which has said it wants to send one million refugees back to a “safe zone” that is controlled by the U.S. and the Kurds, the Times reported on Sept. 10.

The Assad government’s offensive in Idlib started in April. In the last four months, there have been 1,089 verified civilian deaths in Syria’s northwestern provinces (Idlib and Hama), with 1,031 deaths coming at the hands of the Assad government and its allies, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet told reporters in Geneva on Sept. 4.

“In a bid to take control of territories, there appears to be little concern about taking civilian lives,” Ms. Bachelet said.

“I appeal to all parties to the conflict and to those many, powerful states with influence to put aside political differences and halt the carnage,” she said.

Chris Kilford, a former defence attaché at Canada’s embassy in Ankara, Turkey, from 2011 to 2014 and a fellow at the Queen’s University Centre for International and Defence Policy, said Canada’s strategy is now devoted to helping Syrian people in whatever ways it can, knowing that Mr. Assad will retain power and knowing the influence the Russia government can wield.

“Our strategy now is to pick up the pieces and make lives as good as we can, recognizing the entire agenda in Syria is led by Russia,” he said.

Mr. Kilford said the overall strategy of the U.S. and Canada to prevent Assad from retaining power “obviously failed.”

In 2014, then-prime minister Stephen Harper said the Syrian government believed it could win the civil war through the use of chemical weapons.

“They have been step-by-step ratcheting up that usage to see if anyone is going to challenge it. And I fear that if no one does challenge it, they will use chemical weapons way beyond a scale that we have seen today to win that war. And if that ever happens … that is a precedent that humanity will regret for generations to come,” he said at the time.

Mr. Kilford said previous interventions to address human security issues in the region have “backfired” on a “massive scale,” and have contributed to the current situation in Syria, including the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the 2011 NATO military intervention in Libya, in which Canada took part.

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