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Vol. 81/No. 17      May 1, 2017

(front page)

US rulers press military escalation in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen

Following its deadly April 6 Tomahawk missile attack against the Bashar al-Assad dictatorship’s Al Shayrat air force base in Syria, Washington has continued its diplomatic and media campaign targeting the regime’s disregard for human life and brutalities against working people there. The U.S. rulers’ goal is to give cover to Washington’s escalation of its military forces in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen, seeking to defend their economic and political interests in the region.

At an April 12 joint press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, President Donald Trump called Assad a “butcher,” saying he bombed Syria because he was so moved by “the vicious slaughter of innocent civilians with chemical weapons, including the barbaric killing of small and helpless children and babies.” He was referring to Assad’s April 4 nerve gas attack in opposition-held Idlib province. Trump’s war moves have won bipartisan support from Democrats and Republicans alike.

Trump conveniently ignores the 4,000 civilians killed and the many thousands injured in Iraq over the past months by U.S.-led airstrikes, part of Washington’s joint campaign with the Iraqi army to retake the city of Mosul from Islamic State.

In 2014, Islamic State captured large areas of Iraq and Syria in a power vacuum created by repeated bloody U.S. military interventions in Iraq and other countries in the Middle East over the past 30 years. The reactionary outfit was formed by an alliance of former officers in the deposed Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army and a wing of al-Qaeda.

Washington’s armed interventions in Iraq date back to 1991, and there is no end in sight.

Syrian toilers in the city of Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of Islamic State, face similar death from the skies as the U.S.-led coalition, in alliance with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), prepares for a military drive to oust IS from the city.

Washington’s bombs, special forces and drones are responsible for many more civilian deaths in Afghanistan and Yemen, where they are part of ongoing bloody wars.

In response to Washington’s assault on the Syrian government air base, Moscow, a firm supporter of Damascus, has now sent more warships to its naval base in Tartus, Syria. They join six Russian warships and four support vessels already stationed in the eastern Mediterranean, where the U.S. warships that launched the Tomahawk missile attack are stationed.

The Syria civil war
In 2011 mass popular mobilizations broke out in Syria, calling for political rights and the downfall of the Assad regime. The government responded with brutal repression, killing, arresting and “disappearing” tens of thousands of protesters.

Their assault led to civil war, with opposition forces pushing the unpopular regime back, despite the fact they were shackled with internal divisions and lacked heavy weapons.

The tide in the war changed in September 2015, when Moscow intervened in force, bringing in a hunk of their air power, and Tehran stepped up use of its troops and Lebanon-based Hezbollah militias on the ground to aid Assad’s faltering forces.

Since then Assad and his allies have used murderous bombing campaigns combined with siege and starvation tactics against opposition forces, including civilian populations. Assad has regained lost territory — most importantly Syria’s largest city Aleppo, captured last December.

Damascus and Moscow are implementing a cynically named “reconciliation” program in which rebel-held towns are bombed and besieged for months, and then offered a “choice” of surrendering or watching the civilian population starve. The “reconciliation agreements” include transporting opposition populations to rebel-controlled Idlib, where they face intensifying attacks by the regime. Khan Sheikhoun, hit by the Assad regime’s nerve gas, is in Idlib.

“The open battlefield in the future will be Idlib and the Syrian state will not forgo any patch of Syria in fighting terrorism,” said Ali Haidar, Syria’s Minister of National Reconciliation Affairs, using their code word for all opponents of the regime.

Washington, Ankara frictions
One of Washington’s problems in advancing its imperialist interests in Syria is sharp disagreement with the Turkish regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which puts its own interests in maintaining the national oppression of its 15 million Kurdish residents first. The 30 million Kurds are divided between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, the largest national minority worldwide without their own state.

The YPG has proven the most reliable and effective fighting force against Islamic State in Syria, and Washington has made the Kurdish group the central ground force in the effort to take Raqqa. Erdogan bitterly opposes the decision, fearing the emergence of an autonomous Kurdish region in Syria that will inspire national resistance to his rule in Turkey. Ankara invaded and occupies part of northwestern Syria, seeking to prevent the YPG from extending the Kurdish enclave it administers the full length of the Syrian-Turkey border.

Having power to deal with the Kurdish question was one factor behind Erdogan’s decision to hold a constitutional referendum April 16 seeking to transform the Turkish government into a strong executive state, concentrating power in his hands. He has already formed a more centralized regime, declaring a state of emergency after a failed coup last July, and has arrested and fired well over 100,000 people. The regime claims Erdogan won a narrow and disputed 51 percent victory, adding new instability in the region.

Ankara’s direction is important for Washington. Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base has been key for Washington’s military operations in Syria and Iraq.

Erdogan admits he lost the vote in Turkey’s largest cities — Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir — as well as across the Kurdish region. The Republican People’s Party, and the Kurd-supported People’s Democratic Party (HDP) are challenging the referendum results. International election monitors claimed “the legal framework remained inadequate for the holding of a genuinely democratic referendum.”
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