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Vol. 80/No. 34      September 12, 2016

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Washington, Ankara push attack against Kurds in Syria

The Turkish government is expanding its military intervention in Syria, with the open aim of smashing Kurdish fighters who, for the first time, have begun carving out an autonomous territory of their own in Syria, along Turkey’s southern border. Washington is backing the Turkish incursion, while still calling the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) an ally in the fight to defeat Islamic State.

This latest seemingly contradictory position reflects the problems the U.S. rulers face as they seek a realignment of relations with Moscow, and with the largest governments in the Middle East — that of Iran especially, as well as Turkey — that Washington hopes can help achieve stability and defend its imperialist interests in the region. It’s working people there, including the Kurds fighting for their sovereignty, who pay the price in blood.

At least 380 Turkish troops and 40 tanks are in Syria, fighting alongside roughly 1,000 combatants from the Free Syrian Army. The FSA is a loose coalition of groups that oppose the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, most of whom have received aid from Washington. Backed by Turkish and U.S. airstrikes, they took the border town of Jarabulus, which had been occupied by Islamic State, on Aug. 24 with little or no resistance from the jihadist group.

Directed by Turkey, these forces immediately pushed south and west, into areas where the Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of Kurdish and Arab forces led by the YPG, have been winning ground from Islamic State.

All the powers intervening in Syria are “pursuing their own interests, not Syria’s,” Saadeddine Somaa, an FSA combatant and former major in Assad’s army who entered the country with the Turkish forces, told the New York Times from Jarabulus Aug. 29. “The problem is the same everywhere in Syria.”

“But within days of crossing into Syria, backed by Turkish planes, tanks and special forces troops,” the Times said, “Somaa found himself fighting Kurdish militias that, like him, counted the Islamic State and the government of Bashar al-Assad among their foes.”

Ankara’s aim is to control a 55-mile stretch of Syrian territory along the Turkish border from Jarabulus, on the west bank of the Euphrates River, to Marea. This would block the Kurds from connecting the autonomous region they have won in northeastern Syria with a Kurdish-controlled enclave around Afrin, north of Aleppo.

Vice President Joe Biden, meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara Aug. 24, demanded that the Kurdish forces pull back to positions east of the Euphrates. Since then, some U.S. officials have complained that Ankara is not paying enough attention to fighting Islamic State, while Washington continues to support the Turkish incursion.

The YPG says its combatants have withdrawn. Forces allied with the Syrian Democratic Forces remain in the area and have clashed with the Turkish-led operation. One of their spokesmen is Shervan Derwish, who earlier served with the Kurdish forces who fought off Islamic State in Kobani last year. “We will defend ourselves,” he told the Washington Post Aug. 27 as the Turkish and Free Syrian Army forces pushed toward Manbij, 20 miles south of Jarabulus.

In Geneva Aug. 26, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov both stressed their opposition to an autonomous Kurdistan in Syria. They spoke at a news conference following talks seeking to put together military coordination in Syria.

Washington wants “a united Syria,” Kerry said. “We do not support an independent Kurd initiative.”

Kurds “should remain an integral part of the Syrian state,” said Lavrov, warning that any division of Syria “will trigger a chain reaction throughout the region.”

There are millions of Kurds in Turkey, Iraq and Iran as well as Syria.

U.S. rulers seek ‘global realignment’

Reaching a deal on Syria with Moscow has been a central focus of the Obama administration’s Mideast policy for some time. A recent article by Zbigniew Brzezinski in the American Interest magazine, titled “Toward a Global Realignment,” points to some of the reasons why.

Brzezinski, national security adviser to President James Carter from 1977-81, had been a major proponent of the view that after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 Washington was firmly established as the one global superpower and should act aggressively to reshape the world in its interests. The attempt to do so, however, has led to the accelerated unraveling of the imperialist order, including the devastating wars that have torn up the Middle East, extending to North Africa and Central Asia.

He argues that the U.S. government “must take the lead in realigning the global power architecture in such a way that the violence erupting within and occasionally projected beyond the Muslim world … can be contained without destroying the global order.” This, Brzezinski says, can only be done by forging “a coalition that involves, to varying degrees, Russia and China.” Such a coalition would in turn encourage “responsible use of force by the region’s more established states (namely, Iran, Turkey, Israel and Egypt.)”

A variant of this policy is what Obama is pursuing, and will be the course of the next administration, whoever occupies the White House. But the reality of conflicting interests of different ruling classes, amid a deepening worldwide crisis of capitalist production and trade, makes the prospect of a U.S.-dominated coalition stabilizing the world a pipe dream.

The civil war in Syria is a case in point. Washington intervened shortly after the Assad regime brutally crushed protests demanding democratic rights in 2011 and then bombed and unleashed chemical weapons against its opponents. The capitalist rulers in Moscow and Tehran back Assad, but also seek stability. The rulers of Turkey and Saudi Arabia — Sunni-dominated governments that see Shiite Iran as their major rival in the region — have in turn backed various factions fighting against Assad.

Washington’s moves, and others’ countermoves, have created space for the emergence of the reactionary Islamic State, many of whose commanders are former officers from Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. All this contributes to a war that no side can win and has left hundreds of thousands dead and driven millions from their homes, with no end in sight.

Meanwhile, the Erdogan government continues its attacks on the Kurdish population in southeastern Turkey. “Military curfews are continuing in many towns and villages,” Ertugrul Kurkcu, a member of parliament for the Kurdish-based Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), told the Militant by phone Aug. 29. “As many as 1 million people are affected, including 300,000 who’ve had to leave their homes.”

Kurkcu condemned Ankara’s actions in Syria, saying, “The Kurdish inhabitants have been there for centuries, why shouldn’t they decide their future?”
Related articles:
New Zealand Forum: ‘Support Kurdish struggle!’
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