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Vol. 81/No. 14      April 10, 2017

(front page)

US wars in Syria, Iraq take deadly toll on working people

Washington’s airpower, artillery and troops, working with the Syrian Democratic Forces, made up of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and their Syrian Arab allies, are closing in on Raqqa, which has served as the capital for the reactionary Islamic State since 2013. YPG leaders say this coalition of forces will lay siege to the city in early April.

At the same time, U.S. military forces alongside Iraqi army troops have pushed deeply into Mosul, the last major city occupied by IS in Iraq.

Washington is promoting these offensives to increase its military and political weight in the region against the competing capitalist powers of Moscow, Tehran, Damascus and Ankara. Their war moves have had a deadly toll on the civilian population, with hundreds killed and many more injured over the past weeks.

Over 150 men, women and children were burned to death in Mosul when several buildings in the Jadida district collapsed after being hit by U.S. airstrikes March 17. At least 33 people died March 20 when coalition bombs struck a school sheltering homeless Syrians near Raqqa. It was a “new massacre committed by the U.S.-led coalition,” said the United Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

According to Airwars, an organization that monitors claims of civilian casualties, over 1,000 civilians were killed in U.S.-led airstrikes in the two countries over the past month.

“We used to be afraid of the Syrian regime strikes or the Russian strikes, but not the Americans,” a Raqqa resident who lost 11 family members told the New York Times. “Now we fear the US coalition more than anything else — their weapons are so advanced. For us, they are the most deadly of all.”

The Pentagon’s rules of engagement governing airstrikes allow for the “proportional” possibility of some civilian casualties, depending on the grade of target, a standard set by the Barack Obama administration. The Donald Trump administration is discussing relaxing these rules further.

The civil war in Syria began after the regime of Bashar al-Assad unleashed brutal repression against a wave of mass protests in 2011 for political rights and the end of his dictatorial rule, killing and imprisoning tens of thousands. Since then, sieges and carpet bombing by his regime — and now increasingly bombings from Washington and Moscow, as well as ground assaults by Tehran, its allied Shiite militias and Ankara — have killed over 400,000 people and driven more than 10 million from their homes.

U.S. coalition set to assault Raqqa
The new escalation in the Washington-led military campaign in Syria began March 21 when coalition helicopters brought Kurdish-led Syrian Defense Force fighters and U.S. special forces behind Islamic State lines near the town of Tabqa, 25 miles west of Raqqa on the Euphrates River.

“It takes a special breed of warrior to pull off an airborne or air assault behind enemy lines,” U.S. Col. Joe Scrocca boasted afterwards, praising his Kurdish-led partners. “There is nothing easy about this — it takes audacity and courage. And the SDF has that in spades.”

Washington’s alliance with the SDF is bitterly opposed by the regime of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who, along with Washington and all the other capitalist powers with large Kurdish populations — Iran, Iraq and Syria — have historically stood against the decadeslong struggle of the oppressed Kurdish people for a homeland and national sovereignty. Ankara has proposed that Turkish-led troops team up with Washington to take Raqqa instead.

The YPG currently controls 20,000 square miles of Syrian territory with a population of 2 million Kurds on the Syrian-Turkish border. Ankara charges the YPG is allied with the “terrorist” Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey, against whom they have waged a bloody war for over three decades.

Last year Ankara invaded Syria to prevent the YPG from linking up with Kurds west of the Euphrates River, fearing an autonomous Kurdish region along its entire Syrian border will strengthen the struggle for autonomy of the 15 million Kurds inside Turkey.

Since their offensive began, the U.S.-backed forces have taken the air base and the southern end of the Tabqa dam. In the course of the bombing and fighting, the dam was damaged. The water level is rising and water and electricity from it to Raqqa are both shut down.

Islamic State forces in the city began broadcasting warnings March 26 that U.S. airstrikes were going to cause the dam to collapse and lead to widespread flooding. In the ensuing panic, many of the IS leaders and combatants are believed to have fled.

Workers still inside the city face dire conditions. In addition to the lack of water and electricity, the hospitals are shuttered and prices for limited available food have spiked.
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