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Vol. 80/No. 42      November 7, 2016

(front page)

Toilers in Mideast pay price for war moves by Washington and Moscow

Iraqi government troops and Kurdish peshmerga forces advanced towards the eastern outskirts of the city of Mosul, capturing towns and villages, in the first week of a U.S.-backed offensive to wrest control of the city from Islamic State. The battle, which began Oct. 17, is sharpening conflicts between capitalist rivals in the region.

Some 30,000 Iraqi and Kurdish forces, backed by U.S. airstrikes and special operations troops, are battling some 5,000 Islamic State fighters. Up to 1.5 million civilians are estimated to be in Mosul.

At the same time, a Russian aircraft carrier headed to the Syrian coast, increasing Moscow’s airstrike capacity in support of the regime of Bashar al-Assad as it battles anti-Assad forces in eastern Aleppo.

As these military moves unfold, workers and farmers in the region pay the price. In Syria alone half the prewar population has been killed or driven from their homes. Almost 5 million have left the country.

While the regimes and other bourgeois forces in the region jockey for position, seeking to gain backing from either Washington or Moscow, Washington continues to pursue a new cease-fire agreement with Moscow. This course reflects recognition that U.S. imperialism is weaker today, with greater limits on its ability to use raw military might to assert its interests in the region.

The Turkish government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, posing as the defender of Mosul’s Sunni population, continued to demand a role for its troops and planes in the assault in Iraq, an intervention opposed by Baghdad. U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter visited Ankara and Baghdad Oct. 21-22 in an attempt to broker a support role for Turkey, a NATO ally. The Iraqi government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, already alarmed at Ankara’s territorial incursions, rejected the proposal.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu threatened Oct. 25 to send ground troops into the battleground “if there is a threat posed to Turkey.” The next day he warned of action against Iraqi Shiite militias poised to join Iraqi troops in a battle to drive Islamic state from Tal Afar, a city west of Mosul with a predominantly ethnic Turkmen population.

Tehran backed Baghdad’s opposition, warning Ankara not “to violate the sovereignty” of Iraq.

Over the opposition of Abadi, up to 800 Turkish troops, along with tanks and artillery, are already in Iraq at a base close to the Iraqi town of Bashiqa near Mosul. They have been training peshmerga forces and some Sunni Arab fighters. Peshmerga forces captured the town and surrounding territory from Islamic State Oct. 23 as they advanced toward Mosul. Ankara reported its forces had given artillery support to the peshmerga in the battle.

To allay fears of reprisals by Shiite militias or Kurdish forces against the mainly Sunni Arab population in Mosul, Baghdad has said that only its army units will enter the city. But the government is dominated by Shiite factions, and many of its troops converging on Mosul are flying Shiite flags.

Up to a million people could be displaced by the fighting in Mosul, which would bring the total driven from their homes in Iraq since 2014 to over 4 million.

Some 327,000 refugees displaced by wars in the region have fled across the Mediterranean to Europe from North Africa so far this year. At least 3,800 have died trying, making 2016 the deadliest year yet.

French authorities began demolishing the makeshift camp in Calais known as the Jungle Oct. 24, seeking to relocate some 8,000 migrants to smaller settlements in towns across France, away from the coast where they have been trying to get to the UK. The French government and bourgeois opposition parties have whipped up anti-Muslim sentiment in the wake of Islamic State-backed terror attacks in Europe, and the attempt to move the migrants inland has sparked debate and protest in areas designated for resettlement.  
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