The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 80/No. 6      February 15, 2016

(front page)

Washington-Moscow bloc in Syria
hits hurdles with Assad’s advances

Reuters/Khalil Ashawi
Destruction from Russian airstrikes in Maaret al-Numan, Idlib province, Syria, Jan. 12.
Indirect negotiations on a Syrian cease-fire, with United Nations envoy Staffan de Mistura shuttling between Syrian government representatives and delegates from the Higher Negotiation Committee of opposition forces, began in Geneva Jan. 29 and were abruptly put on a “three-week pause” Feb. 3. Government troops, backed by hundreds of Russian bombing raids, made major advances against opposition forces north of Aleppo, the largest city in the country prior to the outbreak of the five-year civil war there.

De Mistura said he “needed immediate help from international backers led by the United States and Russia,” Reuters reported.

The developments reflect the challenges before Washington, Moscow and Tehran as they work together in an effort to stop the fighting and introduce some stability in the area hoping to defend their national interests. Washington is willing to let the Bashar al-Assad regime stand, including with Assad in place, at least for a while, to accomplish the goal. Then they hope to collaborate on pushing back the Islamic State forces in both Syria and Iraq.

Forging this bloc was the goal of the Barack Obama administration’s drive to implement its nuclear deal with Tehran.

The problem they face is the conflicting interests of capitalist regimes in the region, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other Middle East majority Sunni monarchies, Iraq and the varying forces in Syria itself.

As a price for attending the talks, the Higher Negotiation Committee, representing 17 opposition groups, demanded the regime stop bombarding civilian areas, lift blockades on 22 besieged cities where starvation is rampant and release political prisoners.

The senior opposition negotiator is Riyad Hijab, a longtime member of Assad’s Baathist Party and former prime minister who joined the opposition in 2012.

Meanwhile, Islamic State claimed responsibility for a triple bombing near Syria’s holiest Shia shrine in Damascus Jan. 31 that killed more than 45 people.

Syrian Kurds excluded

The Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) was excluded from negotiations at the insistence of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, although de Mistura reportedly invited some Kurdish allies to advise him in Geneva.

Ankara fears the growing confidence of 30 million Kurds in the region demanding autonomy, and has led a bloody military assault in the country’s majority-Kurdish southeast, a stronghold of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The Turkish government labels both the PKK and the PYD terrorists. The PYD’s military wing, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) has shown themselves a force to reckon with. They’ve driven Islamic State forces out of northern Syria and control two-thirds of the border with Turkey.

When mass, popular demonstrations rocked the country in 2011 calling for the end to Assad’s repressive rule, the Syrian government responded with poison gas, killings and bombed cities into rubble where the opposition had support.

Decades of collaboration with capitalist forces by Stalinist parties in the region have left a situation where no independent revolutionary working-class movement exists capable of leading the toilers to power. In the context of the growing war, Islamic State stepped into the vacuum and seized a wide swath of territory in Syria and Iraq.

In return for Putin’s help in establishing stability in the region and curtailing Islamic State, Washington and its allies are easing punishing sanctions and backing off from criticizing Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine. The goal of Putin and the Russian capitalist class he represents is for a free hand in Moscow’s “near abroad,” a place in Mideast politics, access to a Mediterranean port in Syria and the weakening of Islamist forces that could threaten Moscow’s control over Chechnya.

Refugee crisis in Europe grows

The war makes life for workers and farmers in Syria intolerable, with destruction everywhere, the economy ruined and millions displaced, living in refugee camps in neighboring countries or heading for Europe.

In Germany, where more than a million refugees arrived last year, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government announced it will tighten asylum policies.

The Swedish and Finnish governments said they will gradually deport tens of thousands of asylum seekers there.

European Union officials, assailing the Greek government for not enforcing stringent border controls, threaten to “ringfence” the country to prevent migrants from leaving. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras warned that this would turn near-bankrupt Greece into a “black box” of homeless refugees.

Thirty Syrian refugees have been rejected by Washington recently, Leon Rodriguez, an Obama administration official, told the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee Feb. 3. Hundreds of other applications have been put on hold, as the government tightens scrutiny.

Imperialist rulers from Paris to Washington have used sporadic terror attacks by local supporters of Islamic State to scapegoat Muslims, encouraging threats and attacks against Arabs and mosques.  
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