The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 81/No. 46      December 11, 2017

(front page)

Seeds of more conflict built into new stage of Syria, Iraq wars

The six-year civil war in Syria that grew out of the Bashar al-Assad regime’s brutal crackdown on mass mobilizations calling for his downfall in 2011 is winding down. At the same time, the reactionary Islamic State outfit is being pushed out of their remaining territory in Syria and Iraq, reduced to a terrorist band.

Washington — with military bases and tens of thousands of troops and substantial air power in the region — is seeking to continue to defend its imperialist interests in these changing circumstances. Millions of Syrian toilers have borne the brunt of the conflict, with over half the population driven from their homes, some 400,000 killed and some still under siege by Assad’s forces.

Moscow’s intervention and relentless air war against rebel forces, along with substantial forces on the ground from Tehran and its allied Hezbollah militias, has consolidated Assad’s rule over a half of Syria. One-third of the country was wrested from Islamic State and is now in the hands of Kurdish forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces, a mix of Arab and Kurdish fighters led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), with the backing of Washington. Anti-Assad rebels still control areas in Idlib and Aleppo provinces and in neighborhoods under siege around Damascus.

Moscow, with the collaboration of Ankara and Tehran, and tacit backing from Washington, has taken steps to stabilize this “soft partition” of Syria for now. Several “de-escalation zones” have been set up by Ankara, Moscow and Tehran.

Tehran — the biggest victor in the Syria, Iraq wars so far — has moved to consolidate a land route across Syria and Iraq that connects Iran and Hezbollah-controlled areas in Lebanon. They face growing challenges from Saudi Arabia’s rulers and their backers in Washington and Tel Aviv.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking to stabilize this reality, for now. Assad flew to Moscow to meet with Putin Nov. 21, telling Putin that Russian military intervention was “saving Syria.”

The following day Putin hosted a meeting with the Iranian and Turkish presidents, Hassan Rouhani and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who announced their backing for the Russian president’s proposed “Syrian People’s Congress,” to be held in Sochi. No firm date has been set for the gathering.

However, conflicting interests between Washington, Moscow, Tehran, Saudi Arabia’s rulers and other capitalist regimes in the region continue to threaten more conflict. Damascus has said its next target is the Kurds, who have carved out an autonomous region in northeastern Syria, and with their allies in the SDF, control a swath of territory from Raqqa east toward Iraq that contains some of Syria’s largest oil fields.

Tehran and Ankara both back Assad’s threats. Turkish media report that President Donald Trump told Erdogan that he plans to stop sending weapons to the Syrian Kurds, and may ask them to return heavy artillery “loaned” to them earlier.

Assad regime bombs Damascus suburb

The crisis that led to the civil war in Syria remains unsolved. Assad’s regime has been bombarding towns and villages in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta — one of the de-escalation zones. Some 400,000 people live there. Syrian forces have held these towns under siege since 2013, resulting in famine and devastation. Children’s malnutrition levels there, the U.N. reported Nov. 29, are “the highest ever recorded in Syria” and one-third are “stunted.”

Weeklong airstrikes and mortar attacks against Eastern Ghouta killed more than 118 civilians as of Nov. 21, Dr. Faiz Orabi, a spokesman for the area’s health directorate, told the Wall Street Journal. Three hospitals were also struck.

Most residents see no alternative to staying put, regardless how bad things are. “Where are all the people going to go? To homes that aren’t theirs? To tent camps?” Anas Al-Khole, a journalist and government opponent in Eastern Ghouta, told the Journal. “Most of the people say that death is more merciful than leaving my home.”

Since 2011, some 75,000 people arrested by the government have been “disappeared” and at least 26,446 children are recorded as killed, a vast majority by government forces, reported the Syrian Network for Human Rights.

Assad regime targets Syrian Kurds

The Assad regime is taking aim at the Syrian Kurds, who are seeking to establish an autonomous region in northern Syria. Assad regime officials say they plan to oust the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces “occupiers” from territory in Raqqa and parts of Deir el-Zour province.

“I believe what happened in Iraq must become a lesson to the SDF,” Syrian presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban said Nov. 7, referring to the attacks by Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi militia on Kurdistan Regional Government territory following the referendum there for independence.

Turkish President Erdogan, who once railed against Assad’s rule, now says he’s for cooperating with Assad in rolling back gains won by the Kurdish YPG in Syria. The Turkish rulers fear the impact that an autonomous Kurdish region along Syria’s northern border with Turkey will have on inspiring the fight by some 15 million Kurds in Turkey against national oppression and for their own homeland.

“There is a concept of a new war against the Kurds in all four parts of Kurdistan that aims to annihilate all the gains Kurdish people have made in recent years,” said Feleknas Uca of the Kurdish-based People’s Democratic Party (HDP) at a rally in Van, Turkey, Nov. 25.

More than 30 million Kurdish people — the world’s largest nationality without their own state — live in Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. The rulers in all these countries oppose any moves toward Kurdish independence or autonomy.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon “is likely to announce” that Washington has about 2,000 troops in Syria, two U.S. officials told Reuters Nov. 24. Before this, Washington had only admitted to having 503 U.S. troops there, as well as 5,262 in Iraq. And they aren’t going anywhere soon.  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home