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Vol. 80/No. 47      December 19, 2016

 
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Moscow, Assad deepen brutal assault against Syrian people

 
BY NAOMI CRAINE
Following months of starvation siege, the dictatorial Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, with backing from Moscow, Tehran and Shiite militias from Lebanon and Iraq, is driving to crush opposition forces in Aleppo.

Observers report 643 deaths in Aleppo in the last three weeks, including 74 children. Tens of thousands of civilians have fled their homes as pro-government forces have captured roughly half of the rebel-held districts in eastern Aleppo since late November. Many more remain trapped, under heavy bombardment, as conditions go from terrible to even worse.

“Those who refuse to leave of their own accord will be wiped out,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Dec. 6.

U.S. imperialism has been pushed to the sideline in the continuing civil war, forced to look to Moscow. Washington offers a deal to collaborate against Islamic State, in hopes such an arrangement would allow U.S. propertied rulers to protect their interests in the region.

The Turkish government has been brokering talks between some of the anti-Assad forces and Moscow. “The Russians and Turks are talking without the US now,” the Dec. 1 Financial Times quoted an unnamed Syrian opposition figure as saying.

Capitalist governments in the region, including those in Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have provided arms and funds to various Syrian opposition groups. They are now adjusting their positions, as it becomes clear the Russian-backed Assad regime will not be displaced anytime soon.

In particular, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sought to improve relations with Moscow and deepen Ankara’s direct intervention in Syria. On Dec. 1, at Moscow’s urging, Erdogan publicly reversed his call for Assad’s overthrow.

Turkish troops and allied Syrian opposition militias moved into northern Syria in August, in an offensive against both Islamic State and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Ankara says the YPG is a front for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) inside Turkey, labeling both as “terrorists.” Ankara’s goal is to take control of a 1,900-square-mile area of Syrian territory and block Syrian Kurdish fighters from linking up the areas they control along the border.

The incursion in Syria is part of Ankara’s broader attacks on the Kurdish national struggle, and on democratic rights inside Turkey. The government continues to carry out mass arrests and firings of people it accuses of supporting the PKK or the movement led by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally who Erdogan accuses of orchestrating a failed coup in July.

Another 15,000 public employees, from soldiers and police to doctors, were fired Nov. 22, bringing the purge to 125,000. Some 36,000 people have been arrested, including a growing portion of the leadership of the Kurdish-based Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

Unraveling imperialist order in Mideast

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in 1991, the U.S. rulers misread the world situation, thinking they had gained a free hand to ride roughshod over the world. Events in Syria underscore how the last 25 years of Washington’s wars in the Mideast, from Iraq to Afghanistan, have led to the unraveling of the imperialist order there, with workers and farmers of the region paying a tremendous price.

“That era is over,” conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer lamented Dec. 1. “Look no further than Aleppo. … Russia drops bombs; America issues statements.”

The civil war in Syria began in 2011 after the Assad regime responded with bloody repression to mass protests demanding political rights. While bemoaning Assad’s brutality, the Barack Obama administration backed off threats to intervene against his regime in 2013 after Moscow brokered a deal to stop the Syrian regime from continuing to use chemical weapons.

Washington found itself incapable of launching another Mideast ground war. It opted instead for a largely ineffective effort to fund “moderate” Syrian forces and use air power to attack Islamic State, a reactionary force that grew out of elements from al-Qaeda and former officers of the Saddam Hussein regime toppled by Washington’s 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Under these conditions, shifting coalitions of Islamist as well as secular opposition groups have been competing for territory and fighting government forces since then, as well as fighting Islamic State.

President-elect Donald Trump has said Washington should end all backing for opponents of Assad, and work with Moscow to defeat Islamic State. A growing number of U.S. political figures, like former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, agree that Washington should accept the reality that Assad will remain in power.

The largest area still held by opposition forces, aside from the Kurdish-controlled regions, is the province of Idlib, west of Aleppo. Both rebel fighters and civilians forced out of other areas by the government offensive are increasingly concentrated there.

Amid the battle for Aleppo, Moscow has escalated airstrikes in Idlib, one of which killed more than 60 people at a market in the town of Kafranbel Dec. 4.  
 
 
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