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Vol. 81/No. 13      April 3, 2017

(front page)

Washington sends troops to Syria, moves to
outflank rivals

Raqqa, Syria, is increasingly the focus of competing capitalist powers seeking to defend their economic and political interests in the Middle East today. The military forces of Washington, allied with the Syrian Democratic Forces — Arab fighters opposed to the dictatorial Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and their Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) allies; Damascus, Moscow, and Tehran, with its allied Hezbollah and Shiite militias; and Ankara are all jockeying for position to take the city.

Washington and its allies are the closest. The 50,000-strong Kurdish-led SDF, backed by U.S. troops and air power, is now within six miles of Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of the Islamic State. Washington’s goal in reaching Raqqa first — at the same time as U.S. forces and their Iraqi army allies are moving to retake Mosul — is to push out Islamic State and establish a strong military and political base of operations across the two countries.

The propertied rulers in the U.S. are escalating their military firepower. The Pentagon is sending substantial reinforcements of U.S. troops to Syria, drawn from the nearly 5,000 Marines and paratroopers now being deployed to Kuwait. These troops would join Washington’s warplanes, attack helicopters, artillery and some 1,000 Marines, Rangers and special operations forces already operating alongside the SDF.

Though President Donald Trump won election by promising to keep the U.S. out of foreign wars, as well as campaigning in the name of jobs and economic gains for working people, his administration has put forward a new draft budget that would sharply increase military spending by $52 billion this year alone.

Iranian-backed forces and troops from the Assad regime are also converging on Raqqa. And Ankara and their Free Syrian Army forces are trying to find a way to elbow in on the fight.

In an interview posted on Syria’s state news agency SANA March 11, Assad described Washington’s troops in Syria as “invaders.”

On March 17, Israeli warplanes crossed Syrian airspace to bomb a weapons convoy for Hezbollah forces. The Assad regime fired anti-aircraft missiles at Israel’s jets. The Israeli military shot down one of the Syrian missiles and denied Syrian army claims that it had shot down an Israeli jet. Debris was reported in Jordan, 12 miles from the Israeli and Syrian borders.

Ankara seeks to bolster influence
Ankara, which has dropped its demand that Assad step down, views the Kurds as its biggest problem. There are some 30 million Kurds divided between Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran — the largest nationality without its own homeland in the world.

Ankara’s goal is to prevent the YPG from linking the 20,000 square miles of Syrian territory it controls along the Syrian-Turkish border with the fight by Kurds in Turkey for autonomy.

Ankara invaded Syria last year, seeking to prevent Kurds in cantons they control in the northeastern and northwestern parts of the country from uniting. Working with Free Syrian Army troops, Turkish forces were seeking to take Manbij, some 70 miles from Raqqa.

Moscow brokered a deal between the YPG and their Syrian allies in Manbij for Assad regime troops to occupy nearby towns. And Washington sent troops to Manbij as a signal to Ankara to keep out.

Turkey is the third largest country in NATO, with a population of 79 million and close to half a million military personnel. It shares Incirlik Air Base with U.S. military forces, who control “a significant number of nuclear weapons” there.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for a referendum April 16 to concentrate more power in his hands. It would make permanent many of the regime’s emergency powers since an attempted military coup last year. Since then some 110,000 civil servants have been fired and over 37,000 people arrested.

Erdogan sent government ministers to Europe to try and rally a big vote from the millions of Turks living there, where support for his regime is greater than inside Turkey. This is especially true in Turkey’s Kurdish regions, where opposition to Erdogan is widespread.

The Dutch government took the unprecedented step of blocking two Turkish ministers from entering the country. Similar meetings were prevented in Austria, Belgium, Germany and Sweden. Erdogan then called the governments of Germany and the Netherlands fascist and Nazi-like.

This unprecedented breakdown of normal capitalist diplomatic relations can actually work in Erdogan’s favor, stoking a higher turnout from nationalist forces angered by the European regimes’ treatment of Turkish government representatives.

Workers across Turkey are being battered by the consequences of the world capitalist economic crisis. Youth unemployment is running at 21 percent. And in a December report that many agree understates the real extent of the carnage, the Confederation of Merchants and Craftsmen said over 6,000 workers have been killed on the job in the last five years.

Whatever the outcome of the referendum, the underlying issues of Kurdish oppression and working-class politics will not go away in a region wracked with war.  
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