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Vol. 81/No. 3      January 16, 2017

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Capitalist rulers in Mideast shift allies while toilers face catastrophe

The Syrian cease-fire brokered by the Russian and Turkish governments marks a new stage in the shifting search by the capitalist rulers in Moscow, Ankara, Tehran, Tel Aviv and other regimes in the region for alliances that will allow them to defend their competing national interests. Washington, responsible for decades of war and devastation in the region, increasingly finds itself on the sidelines.

More broadly, these alliances tend to pit Tehran and allied Shiite-led forces in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen against Sunni-led regimes in Saudi Arabia, the other Gulf monarchies, Jordan and Turkey. Tel Aviv finds itself pushed toward the Sunni-led regimes. And everyone seeks backing from either Moscow or Washington, or both.

Workers and farmers in the region continue to face catastrophe.

The Syria truce, reached in the wake of the crushing of opposition forces in the city of Aleppo, began Dec. 30. It is projected to lead to political negotiations sponsored by the Russian, Turkish and Iranian governments in Kazakhstan in January. Several of the main armed groups that have been fighting the Syrian regime, especially those aligned with the Turkish government, signed on. However, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s army, Iranian-led forces and Russian warplanes have renewed attacks near Damascus, in Idlib province and elsewhere. A number of the opposition groups now say they will not participate in talks.

Other groups are excluded from the cease-fire, including Islamic State and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front. So is the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Washington is not a party to the agreement, registering the relative weakening of U.S. imperialism in the region. The Barack Obama administration had engaged in round after round of futile talks with Moscow attempting to reach a deal to rein in Assad in exchange for military cooperation against Islamic State and the Nusra Front. But Washington could neither decide to intervene directly, nor find substantial opposition groups it was willing to back in order to have leverage in the Syrian civil war.

Instead, the Russian and Iranian governments acted decisively to prop up the Assad government, which initiated the civil war when it brutally crushed mass protests for democratic rights in 2011.

The estimated death toll from nearly six years of fighting is approaching half a million. At least 11 million people — half of Syria’s prewar population — have been forced from their homes. Major sections of Aleppo and other cities have been leveled. The regime has made indiscriminate bombing and starvation sieges against civilian populations one of its trademarks.

Turkish rulers focus on war on Kurds

Over the last six months, the Turkish government shifted its priorities from seeking Assad’s overthrow to blocking efforts by Kurdish nationalist forces to establish an autonomous region in Syria. Ankara’s rapprochement with Moscow aims to advance that goal.

Turkish officials say Russian warplanes carried out airstrikes around the city of al-Bab for the first time Dec. 28, backing the Turkish-led drive to take that northern Syrian city from Islamic State. At the same time, Ankara complained that Washington has refused to give air support to its operation.

Turkish troops and the Ankara-backed Free Syrian Army are trying to take al-Bab, northeast of Aleppo, before the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces can do so. From there they plan to head east to Manbij, and drive Kurdish forces across the Euphrates River.

The direct Turkish military intervention in northern Syria began in August, coinciding with an escalation of Ankara’s war against the Kurds in southeastern Turkey. It has recently been bolstered by 500 Turkish commandoes and some 1,400 Turkish-backed Syrian rebels who pulled out of Aleppo when it fell.

The Kurdish people number some 30 million, divided between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. They have fought for decades for a homeland and against national oppression by all of the capitalist regimes in the region.

Over the last two years the YPG and other Kurdish-led militias have been the most effective force in pushing back the reactionary Islamic State, while strengthening the consolidation of a Kurdish region and inspiring support among Kurds in Turkey in the process. They are the leading force on the ground in the current U.S.-backed campaign to drive Islamic State out of Raqqa, Syria.

The Democratic Union Party (PYD) — the party associated with the YPG militia — and other Kurdish and non-Kurdish parties announced Dec. 28 they had drafted a blueprint for a “Democratic Federal System of Northern Syria.”

The Syrian, Turkish and U.S. governments all oppose a separate Kurdish region in Syria.

Tehran extends its influence

The battle in Aleppo underscored how the capitalist rulers in Iran are consolidating their dominant role and military presence across a wide swath of the Middle East, from the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan in the east through Iraq and Syria to large sections of Lebanon and in Yemen.

The decisive ground force in the battle for Aleppo was not Assad’s army, but rather Iranian troops and Tehran-backed Shiite militias, especially Hezbollah from Lebanon as well as fighters from Iraq and Afghanistan. Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, was recently photographed giving orders to combatants in Aleppo.

Iranian-trained Shiite militias are also playing a major role in the campaign to retake Mosul, Iraq, from Islamic State, alongside the Iraqi army and forces of the Kurdish regional government there.

These developments reflect sharpening divisions between Shiite-dominated forces and Sunni-led regimes in the region. In a press conference in Tehran Jan. 4, former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pointed to these divisions, attacking Iraqi Kurds, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

He described the Saudi regime as the main source of terrorism in the Middle East, saying they will live to regret it, and thanked Tehran for all its help.

“I tell you of the threat that surpasses terrorism which is the Zionist enemy,” al-Maliki said. “And we should all stand on one front against this threat.”
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