The Syrian Arab Army and its allies, assisted by Russian air power, have turned the tide in the war against terror, thereby driving imperialism to the negotiating table in Geneva. With every day that the ceasefire has held, more and more local ceasefire agreements have been registered with the national reconciliation centre in Russia’s Khmeymim airbase, creating facts on the ground which are sealing the fate of all those who have conspired to subvert and divide Syria. Russian chief of staff Sergei Rudskoy recently reported that 61 settlements have signed up to the ceasefire and 47 military brigades have stopped fighting.
When Palmyra was liberated by the Syrian Arab Army, this historic achievement was greeted with no great enthusiasm in the dog-in-a-manger West but much rejoicing for all friends of progress. It was left to Damascus and Moscow to break the curmudgeonly silence and register the international significance of this decisive victory in the global struggle against terrorism. Damascus urged international cooperation in ridding the ancient world heritage site of mines and rebuilding what the terrorists had destroyed. Almost before the smoke of battle had cleared, the head of antiquities in Syria, Mr Abdulkarim, said he would consult with UNESCO on rebuilding the destroyed Temple of Bel, the shrine of Baal Shamin and the Lion of Al-Lat, which he estimated could be done in five years. Meanwhile Russian sappers have been hard at work finding and destroying the many booby-trap bombs which the terrorists left behind them. Russia’s deputy defence minister Anatoly Antonov commented that “the mine clearance issue is so big and vital in Syria that it would be right for the international community to offer its contribution and join the Russian military’s effort,” a proposal which Moscow has put to the UN (‘Time to build new Syria’: Russian deputy defense minister speaks of op & peace, RT, 11 April 2016).
But for Islamic State, Al Nusra and their de facto collaborators, egged on by their diehard supporters in Ankara and Riyadh, these moves towards ending the terror and taking the road of reconciliation and reconstruction are like holy water to the devil. Seeing all their cherished dreams of conquest and expansion going up in smoke, both the jihadis and their regional backers are doing their damnedest to sabotage the Geneva talks, and are prepared to commit any act of criminal barbarism to achieve this end. Dropping all pretence of being the ‘people’s friend’ against ‘Assad tyranny’, the terror gangs are now, in a state of complete panic and desperation, openly turning on the communities whose enforced hospitality they have so rankly abused, driving thousands from their homes at gunpoint.
The head of Ikdah camp on the Turkish border reported that IS “had taken over the camp, which sheltered just under 10,000 people, early on April 14. The militants fired shots in the air and told the residents to leave.” One Ikdah camp resident reported: ” At dawn we heard gunshots near the camp. A short while later ISIS arrived and used a loudspeaker to tell us we all had to leave. They said we had nothing to fear and that we should all go east, into ISIS territory. We left the camp but headed north through olive groves toward the Turkish border. We were about 2,000 people. As we approached the border wall we saw Turkish soldiers on a hill behind the wall and they just started shooting at us. They shot at our feet and everyone just turned round and ran in all directions. I took my family and we walked to another camp nearby, called al-Rayan. We’re afraid now because ISIS is close to this camp too. But where can we go?'” (‘ 10,000 Al-Nusra militants surrounding Aleppo, plan to blockade the city – Russian military’, RT, 11 April 2016).
Sergei Lavrov has responded by calling on the US to pressurise its client Turkey to accept international observers along the border, saying: ” It’s clear that international observers could be deployed there only at Turkey’s request and we give special attention to the matter, in the UN as well, hoping that our Western partners will manage to compel Ankara to do so.” (‘Moscow calls on West to force Turkey allow international observers at its ‘porous’ border with Syria’, Sputnik, 15 April 2016).
As Islamic State recedes, Ankara stands exposed
Now Ankara barely bothers even to hide its active collaboration with Islamic State. Gerry Simpson of Human Rights Watch summed up the brutal reality: ” As civilians flee ISIS fighters, Turkey is responding with live ammunition instead of compassion.” Such brazen and nihilistic crimes against humanity will not long go unpunished. In the case of Erdogan, the punishment may soon come at the hands of the Turkish masses, no matter how draconian the political repression he seeks to impose.
As more terrorist strongholds are liberated, more and more evidence is surfacing of the role played by Ankara in keeping IS bankrolled, in particular through the illegal trade in oil and antiquities. These revelations of the ugly truth about Ankara’s collaboration with IS are a nightmare for a US imperialism that is anxious to deter scrutiny of its own parental relationship with IS. When Kurdish forces liberated the town of Shaddadi in the province of Hasakah, they stumbled on a treasure trove of documents which included detailed invoices used by IS to calculate the daily income from the Syrian oilfields and refineries they had hijacked, each sheet proudly bearing the IS symbol at the top. One invoice, relating to January this year, reported that IS had extracted 1,925 barrels of oil from Kabibah oil field and sold it for $38,342. Locals who had been press-ganged into working in the oil industry explained that the stolen oil was trucked off to a refinery, whence the refined products were picked up by middle-men from Raqqa and Aleppo en route to Turkey. The link with Turkey was reinforced by the number of passports retrieved from slain fighters that bore Turkish stamps, suggesting that the border, so unyielding when approached by refugees fleeing IS guns, is remarkably porous when it comes to letting through foreign fighters.
At a time when Erdogan is busy closing down newspapers and criminalising dissent, it is notable that another document that turned up in an abandoned IS field hospital in Shaddadi was an islamist propaganda pamphlet with the self-explanatory title “How to wage a perfect battle against the criminal Assad’s regime”. This pamphlet was not only printed in Turkey, but had splashed on its front cover the address and phone number of the Istanbul printer, plus handy facebook contact details (‘ISIS, oil & Turkey: What RT found in Syrian town liberated from jihadists by Kurds’, RT, 24 March 2016).
Whilst the ceasefire has broadly held across Syria through March and early April, with military successes meanwhile notched up against IS and Al Nusra (by consensus excluded from the ceasefire), fighting continues to be fierce around the city of Aleppo, where the situation on the ground is complex. Some areas under the control of so-called ‘moderate’ opposition groups are offering safe passage to Al Nusra fighters funnelled across the Turkish border, numbering as many as 8,000 on the south-western outskirts of Aleppo and 1,500 to the north.
A middle eastern newspaper that interviewed a political officer for Fartaqim Kama Umrit, a coalition of rebel groups in the city of Aleppo, heard this simple explanation of how the relationship with Al Nusra works: “We absolutely do not agree with Jabhat Al Nusra. We do not want Jabhat Al Nusra’s ideology to be in Syria now or in the future. But we need fighters who will fight with us against the regime.” The reporter draws the conclusion that ” Al Nusra’s continued influence over rebel factions and its ability to act as a spoiler in any negotiations was shown in recent days when the group spearheaded a rebel assault on government positions south of Aleppo, severely threatening a ceasefire that has mostly been observed for more than a month.” (Josh Wood, ‘Syrian opposition groups divided over Jabhat Al Nusra’, The National, 4 April 2016).
Whilst denouncing these gross violations of the ceasefire, Syria and Russia have both made it plain that such provocations will not be allowed to stampede the patriotic forces into storming the city of Aleppo prematurely, avoiding unnecessary civilian casualties and declining to hand imperialism any pretext for pulling back from its ceasefire obligations. Sergei Rudskoy explained that the immediate focus is to defend the main highway from Aleppo to Damascus against terrorist attacks, explaining that “If these attacks are successful, the northern parts of Syria could fall under blockade again. That’s why all actions by the Syrian army and the Russian aviation are aimed now at thwarting al-Nusra Front’s plans. No storming of the city of Aleppo is being planned.” (‘Focal point of war: fate of Syrian conflict will be determined in Aleppo’, Sputnik,13 April 2016).
Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, whilst pointing out to UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura that terrorist groups are breaking the ceasefire on orders from Riyadh and Ankara, made it plain that for its part Syria remained committed to dialogue without preconditions and would continue its efforts to reach a political solution at the UN talks in Geneva.
Geneva: Moscow sets the pace
As Washington’s strategy of subversion unravels and its satellites in Ankara and Riyadh grow dangerously erratic, Moscow neglects no opportunity to remind Washington of its responsibility to get its attack dogs back on the leash – though in the language of diplomacy this is expressed a little differently. Hence, for example, the measured statement from the Russian foreign ministry reporting that, “in examining the situation in Syria, the Russian Foreign Minister and the US Secretary of State stressed the need for further intensification of Russian-US cooperation to bolster ceasefire there.” As the two statesmen went on to emphasise the commitment to increase efforts to combat terrorism in Syria, and agreed to do the utmost to prevent terrorists’ overseas supply channels, it is clear which statesman is setting the pace and which is reluctantly obliged to pay lip service.
It is no accident that this year’s conference on international security, held in Moscow on 27 and 28 July, should have attracted delegates from 80 or more countries, including 20 defence ministers, 15 chiefs of staff and 10 international organisations. Whilst including plenty of delegates from the charmed circle of wealthy nations known as ‘the international community’, the guest list also included countries that are more often ostracised from such gatherings, like the DPRK, Laos, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Vietnam and Belarus, as well as China and Russia herself. On the agenda for discussion was ‘fighting terrorism’, examining among other things ” contradictions in the Middle East region, traditional and new challenges and threats of the international security, role of the Armed Forces in countering ‘colour’ revolutions as providing security in the Central Asia.”
The prestige which Russia currently commands on the world stage has in no small measure been earned by her consistent and principled defence of the sovereignty and independence of Syria, a defence rooted in the very international law of which the West declares itself the undisputed arbiter but against whose tenets imperialism has demonstrated itself again and again to be the greatest offender.
Victory to the Syrian Arab Army!
Since 1 April, Nusra Front rebels, with the support of various jihadi groups which are theoretically signed up to the 27 March truce (that did not extend to ISIS or Nusra), have been hitting back near Aleppo and the Turkish border, seizing the town of Telat al-Eis south of Aleppo and villages in the Jabal Akrad mountains of Latakia region. They have been facilitated in doing this by the supply by sponsors of the opposition -Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the US, of new weaponry to ‘moderate’ jihadis linked to al-Qaeda . In their desperation at jihadi defeats, these sponsors ” also broke a long-standing taboo and introduced portable anti-air missiles (MANPADs) onto the battle field. Several fighters of the US and Turkey-supported Al Hamza brigade posted pictures showing off their new toys. The US claims that these fighters are supposed to only fight the Islamic State. But the Islamic State has no aircraft and these weapons are clearly to be used against the Syrian government and its supporters ” (see Moon of Alabama website). Ahrar al-Sham, a Salafist group close to al-Qaeda, promptly downed a Syrian Su-22 ground-attack plane with a MANPAD near the city of Tal Eis, which the jihadis have now seized. It can only be a matter of time before these jihadi lunatics use these weapons to bring down civilian airliners.