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Vol. 81/No. 5      February 6, 2017

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Syrian toilers face disaster as area rulers seek leverage

Two days of talks seeking a political settlement that would defend the sponsoring capitalist regimes’ interests ended Jan. 24 without any agreement between the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and opponents of his dictatorial rule. The sponsoring governments of Russia, Turkey and Iran announced they would set up a joint system for monitoring the shaky cease-fire that has been in effect since Dec. 30, with details to be worked out later.

The talks took place in Astana, Kazakhstan, with United Nations envoy Staffan de Mistura serving as mediator. The Donald Trump administration decided not to send a delegation from Washington; the U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan attended as an observer.

This new cooperation between Moscow and Tehran (both have backed Assad) and Ankara (which has supported opponents of the regime) reflects shifts in the region as governments maneuver to defend their conflicting economic, political and military interests. Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime in Turkey has dropped demands that Assad step down. Moscow in turn has substantially reduced relations with Democratic Union Party (PYD), the dominant Syrian Kurdish party, and its armed Peoples Protection Units (YPG).

After the conference broke up, the two Syrian delegations — one from the regime and the other of opposition fighters — held competing press conferences.

“We don’t accept any role for Iran in the future of Syria,” said Mohammad Alloush, head of the opposition group, demanding that all Iranian-backed foreign militias leave Syria.

Assad’s envoy Bashar Ja’afari said it was “pitiful” that the opposition criticized one of the conference’s three sponsors.

It remains to be seen what course Trump’s stewardship of U.S. imperialism will take in Syria. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Jan. 23 Trump would like to work with Moscow wherever possible, including in combating Islamic State there.

Moscow and Ankara brokered the truce following the defeat of rebels in the city of Aleppo by Iranian soldiers and allied Shiite militias along with troops loyal to Assad, backed by Russian airstrikes. The cease-fire does not include the jihadist Islamic State, nor Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front. And it does not include the Kurds.

As soon as the fighting eased there were renewed street protests against Assad’s rule. Al Jazeera broadcast video of hundreds rallying in Douma, Idlib, Daraa and elsewhere the day after the cease-fire took effect.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Jan. 20 that hundreds of people demonstrated in suburbs east of Damascus to oppose the ongoing government siege of Wadi Barada, a valley northwest of Damascus that is the source of water for the capital. “They also called for a ceasefire in the entire Syrian territory and the release of detainees held by the regime,” the Observatory reported.

In an effort to expand their long-term presence in the Mideast, Russian officials signed an agreement with Damascus Jan. 20 to double the space for Russian warships at the Syrian port of Tartus and extend their access to an air base near Latakia.

The conquest of Aleppo put pro-government forces in control of most of Syria’s western cities and coast. But Assad lacks the ground forces to control this territory without substantial backing from Tehran and Shiite militias such as the Lebanese Hezbollah.

As a result, Iranian capital’s influence in Syria has grown. In mid-January, Iranian officials signed contracts with Damascus, gaining control over Syria’s largest phosphate mine and receiving a license to operate a mobile telecommunications network.

Working people in Syria face continuing catastrophe — with hundreds of thousands killed by the regime and its allies and Islamic State and millions driven from their homes.

Attacks on the Kurds

Both U.S. and Russian warplanes have been bombing near al-Bab, in support of a Turkish-organized offensive against Islamic State. Ankara’s central aim is to block the Syrian Kurds from taking that city and connecting territories they control on Turkey’s border.

The Kurds are the largest oppressed nationality in the world without their own homeland.

Ankara has organized a 450-person “Free Police,” including special forces, to patrol in Jarablus, conquered by Turkish-led Syrian forces in 2016, driving the Kurdish YPG from the area. A video of the cops on the internet shows recruits chanting in Arabic, “Long live Turkey, long live Erdogan.”

Ankara is currently engaged in a bloody campaign to put down opposition by the Stalinist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) inside Turkey. The Erdogan government claims the YPG in Syria is just a different name for the PKK.

At the same time, Washington has been working with forces led by the YPG to attack Islamic State’s capital in Raqqa, Syria, and with the Kurdish peshmerga in Iraq in a drive to retake Mosul from the jihadists — putting the U.S. rulers at odds with Ankara.
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