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Vol. 80/No. 14      April 11, 2016

(front page)

Washington backs deal to keep Assad in power in Syria

Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow March 24 and agreed to promote a political deal that maintains Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in power, at least for now. Washington’s aim is to establish stable conditions to defend the U.S. imperialist interests in the region. The deal is combined with a stepped-up U.S. military offensive against areas in Syria and Iraq controlled by Islamic State.

The five-year civil war that began with the Syrian government’s crushing of protests against Assad’s tyranny has been devastating for working people throughout the country. Nearly half a million people have been killed and millions displaced.

The plan promoted by Washington and Moscow involves Assad being part of a “transitional governance structure” that’s under discussion at U.N.-sponsored negotiations involving the governments of the U.S., Russia, imperialist powers in Europe, capitalist rulers in the region, the Assad regime, and some opposition Syrian forces. The Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is leading the effort to establish an autonomous federation in the Kurdish-controlled region in northern Syria, is not invited. The next round of talks is set for April 9.

Over the last six months, Russian airstrikes and troops from Iran and its allied Lebanese-based Hezbollah militia have helped Assad’s forces regain territory in western Syria from opposition groups, some backed by Washington.

As the White House has accepted the Russian government’s role in consolidating Assad’s control over these territories, it has backed away from demanding an end to Moscow’s threats against Ukraine. “The atmosphere during Mr. Kerry’s three-day visit [to Russia] appeared better than at any time since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in early 2014,” the Financial Times noted.

“Obama’s theory here is simple,” writes Jeffrey Goldberg in the April Atlantic magazine. “Ukraine is a core Russian interest but not an American one.” The president told Goldberg, “The fact is that Ukraine, which is a non-NATO country, is going to be vulnerable to military dominance by Russia no matter what we do.”

Weakening of Islamic State

The reactionary Islamic State is being weakened in both Syria and Iraq. Its expansion in Libya and its terror attacks against civilians in Brussels are signs of that weakness. While Kerry was conducting talks in Moscow, the Syrian army, backed by Russian airstrikes, took control of Palmyra in central Syria from Islamic State March 25. Many of the city’s ancient ruins have been destroyed since the jihadist group seized the city in last May.

Russian strikes have also aided the Syrian regime in making gains against Islamic State in the city of Bab, near Aleppo in northern Syria, and parts of Raqqa province, where the group’s de facto capital is located.

Washington is continuing its operations throughout the region as well. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said March 25 that U.S. special forces had killed a top Islamic State commander, Haji Imam, in a raid that week. And a U.S. airstrike killed at least 40 people in Yemen March 22 at what Washington said was an al-Qaeda training camp.

Backed by forces from the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, Iraqi government troops recently retook four villages in Nineveh province. The area is about 40 miles from Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, which Islamic State seized in June 2014. Washington is trying to build up a local ground force to recapture it. It’s unclear whether Iranian-backed Shiite militias will play a role in such an operation; the Kurdish forces oppose their involvement.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said March 25 he is recommending an unspecified number of additional U.S. troops be sent to Iraq as part of the effort to retake Mosul. Officially, the number of U.S. troops in Iraq is capped at 3,870, but there are already nearly 5,000 on the ground, according to the Military Times.

Syrian Kurds set autonomous region

In mid-March the PYD, together with representatives from Arab, Assyrian, Turkmen and other groups, voted to establish an autonomous federation known as Rojava in the Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Syria. Kurds — an oppressed nationality living in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey — have been fighting for a homeland against imperialist powers and local capitalist rulers for a century.

The move was opposed by both the Assad regime and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Washington also expressed concern about Kurds in the northwestern area of Afrin, Syria, taking action against Islamic State that would expand their control of areas further east along Turkey’s border.

The Kurds now control some two-thirds of Syria’s 560-mile border with Turkey. The Turkish rulers fear the gains won by Kurds in Syria, along with an autonomous regional government in northern Iraq since the early 1990s, will inspire some 15 million Kurds living in Turkey in their fight for self-rule.

“Round-the-clock ‘curfews’ in Kurdish cities of Turkey since August 2015 continue with full force,” said a statement issued by the Kurdish-based People’s Democratic Party (HDP) in Turkey March 23. “Entire towns have been razed to the ground by heavy military offensives, while hundreds of thousands of Kurds have been forced to evacuate their homes.”
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