United Nations aid is making the Syrian civil war a very profitable enterprise for cronies of President Bashar al-Assad, according to a Guardian investigation. The aid—tens of millions of dollars of it, in some cases—has been awarded to hundreds of businesses closely linked to the regime, some of which are under US or European Union sanctions. Government departments, including the military-controlled national blood bank, have also received aid, as has a charity controlled by Assad's wife, Asma al-Assad. The UN says it has saved many lives and often has little choice but to cooperate with the regime. It points to the $9 million it has spent at the Four Seasons in Damascus, which is one-third owned by a government ministry—and is the safest place in the city for its workers to stay.
Critics, however, say the UN has become far too close to the regime and its support of the Assad-controlled relief effort may be actually prolonging the war, notes a separate piece in the Guardian. "In the name of delivering aid to some needy people in opposition-held areas, the UN is subsidizing the Syrian government’s war-crimes strategy of targeting those same people," says Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "That's hardly the tough-minded pragmatism that the UN claims is informing its aid efforts." Roth is among those calling for an independent review of the UN's Syria aid program, which has so far spent around $4 billion in the country; many want Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to intervene personally. (The 10,000th Syrian refugee arrives in the US this week.)