The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 80/No.48      December 26, 2016

(front page)

Moscow, Assad brutalize Syria rebels, Ankara
targets Kurds

After weeks of a relentless starvation siege and continuous bombardment by Moscow’s warplanes in rebel-held Aleppo, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s military units, joined by troops from Tehran and Shia militias from Lebanese Hezbollah and from Iraq, are crushing opposition forces there, slaughtering hundreds.

Efforts by the Turkish government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan to broker the evacuation of remaining rebel forces from the rubble continue as we go to press. News reports say an agreement reached Dec. 14 has fallen apart and attacks have resumed.

“The Aleppo deal was also notable for the lack of a role for Washington,” reported the Financial Times, “whose influence in the Middle East appears to be waning.”

Washington’s inability to use ground troops in the area, or to find satisfactory “moderate” anti-Assad rebels it can champion, has led the U.S. rulers to seek a deal with Moscow and other Mideast regimes in an effort to defend its imperialist interests there.

Its only bargaining chip is the offer of a grand alliance against Islamic State, the reactionary Sunni terror group that stepped into the vacuum created amid decades of unresolved U.S.-led wars in the region. But Moscow, Damascus, Tehran, Ankara and other capitalist powers in the region are concentrated on their own conflicting interests.

The capture of Aleppo, one of the last urban strongholds of the groups fighting Assad’s rule, marks a crucial juncture. The Syrian civil war began in 2011, after the regime responded with brutal force, including arrests and bombings of civilian neighborhoods, to crush mass protests demanding political rights.

President-elect Donald Trump indicated Dec. 1 he would renounce efforts to overthrow the Assad regime and focus on building the broadest possible coalition against Islamic State. “We will stop looking to topple regimes and overthrow governments,” he said. “We will partner with any nation that is willing to join us in the effort to defeat ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism.”

Islamic State took advantage of the focus on Aleppo to retake the city of Palmyra in a surprise attack Dec. 11, driving Assad’s troops and their Russian military supporters out. One of their goals was to replenish their armaments. They reported seizing 14 tanks, 16 cannons, a rocket launcher and two missile platforms.

Unable to affect developments in Aleppo, Washington is moving to strengthen its influence by stepping up efforts to lead an offensive against IS in its self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced Dec. 10 that 200 more U.S. troops are headed to Syria, joining 300 special operations forces already there. U.S. officials said they will train and assist Kurdish and Arab militias grouped in the Syrian Defense Forces in the offensive to take Raqqa. The Kurds have been Washington’s most reliable ally on the ground in Syria.

Growing rift with Ankara

Washington’s course is widening its rift with the Erdogan regime in Turkey. Ankara has repeatedly condemned U.S. support and collaboration with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Ankara brands the YPG as “terrorist,” calling it the Syrian wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is banned in Turkey. The Kurds are an oppressed people divided between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, with a long history of struggling for national rights.

Ankara is using a pair of terror bombings that killed 44 people in Istanbul Dec. 10 — the day Erdogan proposed a new constitution to strengthen his presidential powers — as a pretext to intensify its war against the Kurdish population in Turkey and Syria. The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), a small splinter from the PKK, reportedly claimed responsibility for the blasts.

The Kurdish-based Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) immediately condemned the attack, but Turkish officials stepped up their propaganda campaign branding party leaders as “terrorists” and arresting dozens of them across the country.

The editors of Daily Sabah, which speaks for the Erdogan government, seized the moment to call for military action against the YPG in the Syrian cities of Afrin, Manbij and Kobani. They accused U.S. officials of being “state sponsors of terrorism” for backing the YPG in the fight against Islamic State.

Turkish troops entered northern Syria in August, along with Free Syrian Army militias that Ankara had organized and trained among Syrian refugees in Turkey. Saying they were joining the shooting war against terrorists, they have focused on blocking advances by the YPG. Their drive toward the IS-held city of al-Bab, north of Aleppo, has stalled in recent days. Taking al-Bab is aimed at blocking the YPG, which is also advancing toward the city, from linking Kurdish areas along the Turkish border.

Ankara’s military operations in Syria, war against the Kurdish people in Turkey, and repression against political opponents come amid a deepening economic and political crisis. Gross domestic product fell 1.8 percent in the third quarter, the first decline since 2009, and inflation is around 7 percent. The Turkish lira has fallen 18 percent against the dollar this year, hitting record lows. Erdogan called on Turkish citizens Dec. 2 to be patriotic by buying lira or gold, instead of holding onto dollars or euros. Following his comments, the lira dropped further.

Since an attempted coup in July, Erdogan has deepened Ankara’s rift with Washington and European imperialist powers and increasingly ruled by decree, jailing and disappearing tens of thousands of Kurds, journalists and government opponents.
Related articles:
Washington’s unending wars, from Iraq to Yugoslavia
NATO expansion, US missiles aimed at Russia
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home