Damascus facilitates Homs hostage release
As the Syrian army continues to make steady headway in the effort to hem in and eradicate the remaining pockets of terrorist influence, Damascus is seizing the opportunity where possible to facilitate the release of those civilians effectively held hostage by those who falsely pose as their protectors. To this end, the government was able to negotiate a deal at the UN on 6 February to start evacuating civilians from the besieged old city of Homs, with a further view to getting humanitarian aid into what had previously been “no go” areas.
The process kicked off on 7 February, when 83 civilians, comprising women, children and the infirm, were ferried to safety. Then on 9 February a further 611 aged between 16 and 54 were evacuated, on the strength of an agreement struck between the city’s governor, Talal al-Barazi, and the UN representative in Syria. Al-Barazi expressed willingness to deliver humanitarian assistance with the cooperation of the UN and the Syrian Red Crescent, but cautioned that already aid trucks heading into the old city had suffered terrorist attack. Several Red Crescent workers were wounded as terrorists fired mortar shells and detonated an explosive device in a failed attempt to derail the relief efforts. The UN’s local aid representative Yacoub El Hillo described his visit to Homs as like a “day in hell”. Nevertheless, two carloads of relief aid managed to get into the Bustan al-Diwan and al-Hamidieh “no go” areas, and after coming to a standstill relief efforts resumed, expanding in the days that followed.
The governor declared his intention to extend the evacuation process so that all who wanted to leave could do so. Reportedly about a thousand still remained at that time. Such developments are clearly most unwelcome to the gang bosses who rely upon a captive civilian population which can serve as “human shields” for the terrorists whilst simultaneously being falsely portrayed as “Assad’s victims”. As the civilian population melts away, the useful myth of “plucky besieged Homs” melts with it, revealing the sordid reality: a few “no go” areas in the old part of the city run as a crumbling gangland fiefdom by a handful of fanatics.
Following the initial exodus of women, children and the elderly, about 300 younger men also made their way out of the old city, some of whom were taken to a holding facility for debriefing. Al-Barazi stressed that “They are living in a shelter in very good conditions. They have all the services, health, medical services and they are all secure.” Noting that whilst 190 remained in custody, 111 of them had already been released after questioning, he expressed the hope that most of those remaining would be released shortly.
If any doubts remain about the obvious necessity of dividing the civilian sheep from any stray terrorist goats in the general exodus, the briefest glance at some recent Homs history should allay them. The terror gangs have a considerably more ruthless approach to the question of separating sheep and goats. Back in March 2012 it was reported by the Arabic newspaper Al-Haqiqa that“Armed men from the Faruq Brigade have succeeded in expelling most of the Christians of Homs and have seized their homes by force.” The paper had “ learned from church sources in Homs that the city has been emptied of almost 90% of its Christians. It is expected that a complete ‘cleansing’ of buildings owned by Christians will occur within a matter of days or weeks by armed men from the Wahhabi Faruq Brigade… The church sources said that the armed men informed the owners of the homes before they departed that if they did not leave immediately they would be shot and pictures of their corpses would be sent to al-Jazeera with the message that the government had killed them. The source emphasized that all those who were expelled ‘were not allowed to take any of their possessions with them, not even extra clothes’. Immediately after they left their homes, the buildings were occupied by armed men who considered it ‘war-booty from the Christians!'”
Naturally none of that concerns the likes of Britain’s pipsqueak foreign secretary William Hague who now professes such a deep concern over the fate of these more recent refugees from Homs, wheedling in the Independent “Will the evacuees be protected, or will they be persecuted by the regime?” and demanding that the “Security Council should require full and unimpeded humanitarian access, including to those areas being besieged by the regime” . In plain English, the enemies of Syria, having failed to overthrow that country’s government by force of arms, should now be given free run of the country in exchange for a bucketful of crocodile tears!
The enemies of Syria, driven to distraction by seeing their cynical manipulation of the humanitarian issue backfire so badly, tried to push through a resolution at the UN which, behind a smokescreen of humanitarian concern, sought to deliver an ultimatum to the Syrian government to stand down its forces and let the defeated terror gangs escape and regroup. As with the three previous abortive resolutions against Syria, however, Russia is standing firmly in opposition. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov poured scorn on those who cooked up such resolutions, noting that “instead of engaging in everyday, meticulous work to resolve problems that block deliveries of humanitarian aid, they see a new resolution as some kind of simplistic solution.”
Unable to topple Syria’s legitimate government by main force, the West nevertheless refuses to call it a day, continuing to place obstacles in the way of a political solution to the crisis, thereby pointlessly prolonging the suffering. When UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon took the obvious step of inviting Iran to attend the first round of talks in Geneva, he rapidly found himself under intolerable pressure to withdraw the invitation, pressure to which he shamefully succumbed. Bizarrely, the spare seats at Geneva were occupied by the representatives of the Vatican, South Korea and Luxembourg.
The Geneva II talks were in turn scuttled by the persistent refusal of the “opposition” to commit genuinely to negotiation. Talks ended on 15 February with nothing agreed bar the intention to hold a third round. US Secretary of State John Kerry vented his frustration on the allied forces resisting the subversion of Syria, hitting out at Syria’s “increased support from Iran, from Hezbollah and from Russia”.
Whilst throughout the talks Damascus has quite reasonably insisted that the top priority must be to halt the terror, the “opposition” not only clamour to shunt the question of a transitional authority up to the head of the queue, but declare that said putative authority must exclude the country’s legitimate president – a tendentious and provocative “interpretation” which has been agreed to by neither Syria nor Russia.
In making such futile demands, the “opposition” have but one goal: to achieve by negotiation what could not be won by terror. And this overweening ambition is nursed by the joke Syrian National Coalition, a hollow shell representing nobody and which could only be prevailed upon to attend the talks by maximum arm-twisting in the first place! It is doubtful even whether the puppets’ imperialist paymasters genuinely share the “post Assad” pipedream, increasingly preoccupied as the White House is getting to be about the unpredictable consequences of the anarchic terrorist forces its own proxy war policy has unleashed. Nor is British imperialism overjoyed to see how its own policy of supporting terrorism in Syria is now returning a crop of home-grown al-Qaeda terrorists to its native land. After three years spent blackguarding President Assad as a bloodthirsty tyrant deserving of violent overthrow, the British ruling class now has to explain to its successfully brainwashed victims why jihad has to stop at the white cliffs of Dover.
A similar diplomatic game is being played by imperialism over the agreed destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile – a magnanimous gesture on the part of Damascus as part of a diplomatic deal brokered last year with the help of Russia, a deal which wrong footed US plans to raise the imperialist threat against Damascus from a proxy war to a direct attack. The US defence secretary Chuck Hagel knows full well the logistical problems attending the safe decommissioning of a reported 1,300 tonnes of chemical weaponry, problems arising not least from the hostile activity of the terror gangs so lovingly cultivated by imperialism. Yet this consideration does not prevent Hagel from wagging his finger at Damascus, saying how “concerned” he is about slippage in the timetable and lecturing the government on how it must “take responsibility for fulfilling its commitment”.
Syria’s foreign minister Faisal al-Mekdad pointed out that for example chemical weapons being transported to the port of Latakia for onward shipment had been attacked twice, and that the whole exercise was being conducted under war conditions. And the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), overseeing the operation, has itself admitted that it is security concerns that have slowed down the process.
It is not Syria that drags her feet on delivering on the commitments she makes, but imperialism which can never win but cannot bring itself to admit defeat, preferring to drag out the suffering of the Syrian people sooner than see its hegemonic ambitions suffer public humiliation in the Middle East.
Iran stands firm
Similar delaying tactics characterise Washington’s tentative climb down over Iran’s right to enrich uranium. With its international prestige battered over its failure to get its way with Syria, and lacking the confidence at this stage to ramp up the economic aggression against Iran, the US is reduced to carping from the sidelines of the low-key diplomatic process set in motion by the November agreement. In a joint statement issued on 9 February by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Teheran, Iran agreed to take a number of “practical steps”. These included Teheran letting the IAEA take a look at a uranium mine and yellow cake complex in Yazd and telling the Agency more about the heavy-water reactor in Arak, the Laser Centre in Lashkarabad and the work being conducted on detonators. The joint statement judged these to have been “constructive technical talks”.
A member of Iran’s negotiating team noted that “In the two-day talks, nothing was discussed about the possible military dimension of Iran’s nuclear program. About missile and deterrence programs of Iran, nothing was discussed and the IAEA negotiating delegation did not have any demand from Iran in this regard.” And a spokesman for Iran’s atomic energy organisation, whilst characterising the talks with the IAEA as “good, constructive and progressive”, also took pains to stress that whilst Teheran engaged with such talks “out of good faith” to help remove “artificial ambiguities” over Tehran’s nuclear program, Iran in fact has no legal obligation whatever to respond to such queries and ambiguities.
For imperialism, such “artificial ambiguities” consist of recycled old chestnuts like Teheran’s work on the exploding bridge wire detonator, a device which can be used to trigger a nuclear bomb. As Teheran already pointed out in 2008, however, this kind of detonator also has both civil and conventional military applications. In other words, the West wants to go on milking the same “artificial ambiguities” by which cruel sophistry Iranian hospitals have been starved of medical equipment on the grounds that there might be a dual military use.
Teheran gives short shrift to this continued mischief-making, putting down a clear marker before the resumption of talks with the big powers in Vienna on 18 February. Asghar Zare’an, a spokesman for Iran’s atomic energy organisation, confirmed that “None of the nuclear sites will be shut down or dismantled, and one should not be influenced by the foreign media hype. We need to bear in mind that the hostility of the enemies toward the Islamic Republic of Iran is endless. Therefore, we should wisely and prudently turn the enemies’ hope into despair.”
Why Hillary Clinton changed her mind
Significantly, Washington’s retreat from the openly bellicose stance which previously characterised its Iran policy is not limited to Obama’s “liberal” White House but is endorsed by Lady Macbeth herself. Hillary Clinton, clearly proud of her hawkish record over Iran, wrote recently that she comes “to the current debate as a long-time advocate for crippling sanctions against Iran. In my eight years in the Senate, I supported every Iran sanctions bill that came up for a vote and I spoke out frequently about the need to confront the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, its support for terrorism, and its hostility toward Israel. As Secretary of State, I spent four years sharpening a choice for Iran’s leaders: address the international community’s legitimate concerns about their nuclear program or face ever-escalating pressure and isolation.” Yet now, she explains, she is against imposing new sanctions whilst talks are in progress, piously echoing Obama’s plea that “we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed”, because new sanctions “would undermine the prospects for a successful comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran” and “rob us of the diplomatic high ground we worked so hard to reach, break the united international front we constructed, and in the long run, weaken pressure on Iran by opening the door for other countries to chart a different course.”
What has brought about Clinton’s change of heart? Behind all the vainglorious guff about the supposed triumph of the US policy of bullying and intimidation, about sanctions having finally worn down Iranian resistance and brought Teheran to heel, there lies a different reality. It is the steadfastness of Iran, Syria and the other components of the axis of resistance in the face of endless imperialist aggression, combined with the ever deeper overproduction crisis hollowing out the ground under the US economy, that has worn down Washington’s resolve and created the opportunity for diplomatic progress. And it is the decay of Washington’s dreams of world hegemony which now terrifies the White House with the prospect of a precipitate loss of global influence, as it is “robbed of the diplomatic high ground” (with the diplomatic initiative increasingly seized by Moscow), faces the breakdown of the “united international front we constructed”(as the old imperialist powers fall to squabbling and the BRICS countries shift the global centre of gravity) and “opens the door for other countries to chart a different course.”
Among the many countries who might be considering “charting a different course” stands Pakistan, whose longstanding fidelity to the interests of US imperialism has been rewarded by seeing its territory become a free-fire zone for drone strikes whilst its 180 million strong population struggle to generate enough energy just to keep the lights on and the wheels of industry turning. In response to the endless power cuts, the government in Islamabad has agreed to the joint construction of a pipeline to convey natural gas from Iran to Pakistan, directly flouting the sanctions regime imposed by Washington. Ignoring Washington’s threats to turn the sanctions weapon onto Pakistan herself if the pipeline project went ahead, the country’s ambassador to Iran has reaffirmed the government’s commitment to completion of the multi-billion project. Iran has already built 900 km of the pipeline on her territory and is now waiting for Islamabad to pluck up the courage to build the other 700 km, in the teeth of US displeasure. This development is happening in the broader context of intensifying cooperation between the two countries.
Some like to pretend that the relative thaw in relations between the US and Iran springs from a sudden and unexpected shift in Iran’s leadership, a “charm offensive” which betokens a radical change of Iranian policy. And of course presenting the succession from Ahmadinejad to Rouhani as indicating a decline in Iran’s spirit of anti-imperialist resistance of course fits very snugly with the narrative of a stubborn third world country taken down a peg or two by a judicious mix of carrot and stick by clever Uncle Sam. However, whilst this narrative neatly avoids close scrutiny of Washington’s humiliating climb down, it fools only the most gullible. Least of all does it fool US imperialism’s own disgruntled lackeys in the Middle East, greatly aggrieved as they are at their paymaster’s “desertion from the field of battle” over Syria.
So it is that the reactionary Zionist website “Commentary” spills the beans in a most instructive way. In a post on 9 December (“Obama’s Rouhani Smokescreen”), Evelyn Gordon points out that“Obama didn’t start negotiating with Tehran because Rouhani’s election signalled an Iranian change of direction; his secret talks with Tehran started in March, three months before Rouhani’s election.” She proceeds to give Obama a bitter tongue-lashing: “One can understand why Obama seeks to portray the nuclear deal as a response to growing anti-regime sentiment among the Iranian public; that’s something most Americans (and Israelis) would obviously like to encourage. But nobody should be fooled by this transparent lie. The deal Obama made is one that the worst elements of the Iranian regime consider to be in their own interests, and they deliberately engineered Rouhani’s election to secure it. All the administration’s talk of how the Iranian people brought Rouhani to power is nothing but a smokescreen thrown up in a desperate effort to obscure just how bad the deal really is.” One can only conclude from this incontinent tirade that Teheran must be doing something right.