The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 80/No. 8      February 29, 2016

(front page)

Syrian people face catastrophe
as regime, allies press attacks

Russian bombers and some 20,000 ground troops — led by Iranian special forces, Hezbollah combatants and irregular forces from Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere under Iranian command — continue their murderous assault on opponents of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad around Aleppo, once the country’s largest city. At the same time, Washington continues efforts to firm up a political bloc with Moscow and Tehran to put a cease-fire in place and defend its imperial interests in the region.

There has been no pause in Moscow’s bombing and the Assad regime’s moves against Aleppo since the Feb. 11 United Nations announcement that a Washington-Moscow-led gathering had reached agreement on a cease-fire to take effect in a week. Washington says it has no plans to interfere with the advance of the pro-Assad forces.

With callous indifference to the fate of tens of thousands trapped in Aleppo, U.S. Army spokesman Col. Steve Warren told the press he considered the situation there “dire,” but “our focus really is to defeat ISIL [Islamic State], so that’s where our focus remains.”

At Washington’s initiative, President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin consulted Feb. 14 and agreed they would work in even “closer collaboration” on efforts to achieve a cease-fire. At the same time, both Moscow and Tehran said they had no intention of stopping military operations against “terrorists,” meaning opponents of Assad’s regime.

A Russian military official told the Wall Street Journal that Moscow would step up use of heavy weaponry to take Aleppo. “How do you clear out your enemy” he said. “You level the city mostly with artillery.”

While the Obama administration cries crocodile tears over Aleppo in public, in fact they see Moscow’s moves to reinforce the Assad regime as increasing the chance of stability there. Washington rules out any possibility of its forces conducting a ground war in Syria or Iraq.

The disastrous toll on working people in Syria from bombs, starvation sieges and murderous assaults by the regime and its allies was released Feb. 11 by the Syrian Center for Policy Research. It documents that the death toll in the war is nearly half a million people, not the 250,000 that has been repeated for some time since the United Nations “stopped counting.”

Of the 470,000 Syrians who have died, some 400,000 perished from the violent war itself; the rest as a result of malnutrition and disease in the absence of health care, food and sanitation. Nearly 1.9 million Syrians have been injured, meaning that 10 percent of Syrians have been killed or injured.

Life expectancy dropped from 70.5 years in 2010 to 55.4 in 2015. Nearly 70 percent of Syrians now subsist in extreme poverty.

The war began in 2011 when mass protests by working people against the Assad dictatorship were met with bloody military retaliation. The working class, lacking any leadership capable of organizing an independent fight to take political power, was pushed aside as a range of capitalist opposition groups — from former figures of Assad’s Baathist Party to Islamists of different stripes — formed armed groups to combat Assad and in some cases each other.

The vacuum of working-class leadership is a product of decades of betrayals of workers’ and farmers’ struggles by bourgeois nationalist forces like Assad’s Baathist Party and subservience to it in the interests of Moscow by the Stalinist Communist Party of Syria. This also opened the door for the emergence of Islamic State and its seizure of territory in both Syria and Iraq.

Place of Kurdish fighters

In the midst of Moscow’s bombings, Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) forces, backed by Arab combatants, captured the Mannagh air base near Syria’s Turkish border from Islamist anti-Assad forces Feb. 10 and moved fighters into position to target Islamic State to the east of Azaz.

Ankara, which is determined to keep Kurds in Syria and some 20 million Kurds within its own borders from any moves towards an independent Kurdistan, fired across the border at YPG units. Washington pressed Ankara to stop the shelling and called on the Kurds to halt efforts to expand the area they control.

Ankara, as well as Riyadh, opponents of both Assad and Tehran, have been decades-long allies of Washington. But today Turkish and Saudi rulers feel they are being pushed aside as Washington works more closely with Moscow and Tehran. The Turkish and Saudi rulers seek to reassert their place in swirling developments in the Middle East, defending their own special interests.

Another casualty of the war is the population of Syrian Turkmens, a people with a language and culture related to Turkish, who have lived in the region for centuries. Most oppose Assad, who banned them from writing or publishing in their language, and some are in armed groups. Now thousands are fleeing Aleppo province to Turkey.  
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