With Islamic State (IS), the Nusra Front and the other terrorist gangs facing defeat in the region thanks to the heroic efforts of the Syrian Arab Army backed by Russian airpower, imperialism and its allies are now hastening to be ‘in at the kill’ so they can (a) claim all the credit for destroying IS and (b) sneak in a balkanising postwar settlement aimed at weakening Syria’s unity. But these plans are already going badly wrong, as Washington’s manipulation of Kurdish ambitions falls foul of Erdogan’s own balkanising plans.
The advance on Raqqa
When the Syrian Arab Army in March liberated the ancient heritage site of Palmyra from IS, the West was less than enthusiastic, fearing that this would be followed by a government advance towards the city of Raqqa, long seen as a key jihadist stronghold. Now the Syrian Arab Army is doing exactly that, reportedly approaching to within 65km to the south west of the city by the first weekend of June. This development, surely a source of joy for anyone who is really serious about destroying IS, is greeted with suspicion and resentment in some quarters. The Financial Times reports that ” Some Western officials have warned that a successful push by the regime and the Russians on Raqqa could have a significant impact on the broader war in Syria, allowing President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to argue that its forces are the only ones capable of defeating Isis. It could also damage the struggling peace process, these officials say, and place heavy pressure on Western countries to accept the authority of the Damascus government. ‘The regime and the Russians want to insert themselves into the conversation [about Raqqa’s future]. They want to draw the US into some form of co-ordination with their forces,’ said Chris Kozak, researcher at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington ” (Geoff Dyer and Rebecca Collard, ‘Syrian advance raises fear of race for Raqqa’, Financial Times, 7 June 2016).
So as the life and death battle to liberate Raqqa from IS rages, with success or failure hanging in the balance, the biggest concern for imperialism is that there should be no coordination with the very government forces whose efforts have laid the foundations for the present advances! It is no accident that some of the acknowledged 300 US special operations soldiers should have chosen this moment to get themselves photographed, showing them tooled up with Kurdish and ‘moderate’ forces to the north of Raqqa, ready to stake the Pentagon’s claim to a victory to which the US has to date contributed little (and which has yet to be won)’ (Eric Schmitt, US Commandos work with Syrian fighters in push toward ISIS stronghold, New York Times, 26 May 2016).
Collusion with the jihadi gangs
The real threat to the peace process lies in the effective collusion between imperialism and those terror gangs excluded from the ceasefire agreed in February. By constantly juggling definitions of ‘moderate’ versus ‘extreme’ opposition forces, the ‘extremists’ become the ‘unintended’ beneficiaries of largesse dished out to the ‘moderates’. It has become a commonplace for US arms supplied to ‘moderate’ forces to fall into the hands of ‘extremists’, whether by accident or design. For example, one wonders who now holds the weapons and ammunition dropped by the US-led coalition on 2 June on the town of Marea (‘US-led coalition airdrops arms for anti-Syria militants’, Press TV, 2 June 2016).
In Aleppo, where the Nusra Front holds sway overall, there coexist numerous pockets of officially designated ‘moderates’ who are nevertheless often in league with, or cowed by, their ‘hardline’ neighbours. Washington has used this circumstance as a pretext to slow down attacks against the Nusra Front itself. At the beginning of June the Russian foreign minster Sergei Lavrov, noting that Washington had asked Moscow not to target the Nusra Front ” because there is ‘normal’ opposition next to it“, called upon the ‘moderates’ to leave the areas held by Nusra. Meanwhile, whilst Russia exercised restraint, over 2,000 jihadis, including some Turkish soldiers, massed in the north of Aleppo and began an offensive against government positions on the southwest. On 4 June over 40 people were killed as Nusra terrorists bombarded government forces, Kurdish forces and civilians using rocket launchers, cannon artillery, mortars and anti-aircraft installations (‘Turkish troops, militants mass in Aleppo: Russian Monitor’, Press TV, 5 June 2016).
In response to these atrocities, and whilst remaining cautious, Lavrov has now promised to provide the Syrian Arab Army with ‘the most active’ air support around Aleppo. Lavrov called time on those who professed ‘moderation’ but remained in cahoots with ‘extremists,’ declaring: ” We believe there was plenty of time for the ‘normal’ opposition to leave Nusra Front territories since February. Those who didn’t part ways with the terrorists have only themselves to blame. What is happening in Aleppo and around it now, we warned the Americans about this in advance, and they know that we will be actively supporting the Syrian army from the air to prevent terrorists from seizing territory .” (‘Russia vows air support for Syrian troops in Aleppo’, Press TV, 6 June 2016).
Washington plays the Kurdish card…
For five years Syria has fought back heroically against the proxy war waged at one remove by the US, demonstrating that military might alone does not determine the outcome of a conflict. For a previous generation this lesson was taught by the defeat inflicted by first the Korean people and then the Vietnamese people against the vastly superior firepower of imperialism. Now, as this lesson is learned afresh, imperialism is casting about for a way to escape complete humiliation. If it is not possible to effect ‘regime change’ by parachuting into power a government of expat nobodies willing to do Washington’s bidding, then plan B appears to be the attempted balkanisation of the country. It is in this light that we should understand the favourable press granted in the West to the YPG Kurdish fighters, whose aspirations for autonomy are vulnerable to manipulation by imperialism for its own balkanising ends. Publicity has been given to the close working relationship between US Special Forces and their Kurdish allies: ” Several of the American troops were seen wearing patches with the United States flag, while others also wore the patches of the Syrian Kurdish and Arab units, a common practice among commandos as a sign of solidarity and partnership ,” noted one typical report. Contrast this with the earlier cited reluctance to coordinate with the Syrian Arab Army.
…and stumbles over Turkey’s ambitions in Syria and Iraq
But here imperialism hits new obstacles. Having for so long indulged Ankara’s Ottoman fantasies, happy to see President Erdogan transform Turkey into a headquarters for Muslim Brotherhood reaction, Washington is dismayed now to see how Erdogan’s antics, sending the army into Syria and Iraq to chastise the Kurds, are in danger of fouling up its best laid plans. As noted earlier, the 2,000+ jihadis who massed in the north of Aleppo included an unspecified number of Turkish soldiers. As for the struggle to liberate Raqqa from the IS, one report suggests that ” Fears in Ankara of a credible Kurdish proto-government are superseding fears surrounding the continued existence of the Islamic State. As a result Turkish objections have seriously delayed the campaign to retake Raqqa ” (‘Putting a spoke in the wheel: Turkey “seriously” delays battle for Raqqa’, Sputnik, 31 May 2016).
Meanwhile across the border in Iraq, as the battle for Fallujah rages on, both Baghdad and Moscow are demanding that the Turkish army must get out of the country. Back in December, on the pretext of defending ‘military instructors’ from IS, Turkey sent about 150 troops and 25 tanks to a base in Nineveh province, without the permission, and against the wishes, of Baghdad. Baghdad protested this violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and demanded the army’s immediate withdrawal. In words likely to put a chill in imperialist hearts, Iraq’s ambassador to the US also noted that ” We have sought support from others, including Russia, and mainly in the provisions and purchase of arms and we’ll continue doing that as well.” Putting another fly in Washington’s ointment, it seems that Ankara’s rash actions are helping to drive the Baghdad government ever further from its puppet origins and ever closer into the embrace of the axis of resistance.
At the beginning of June Lavrov reiterated Moscow’s own disapproval of Turkey’s lawless incursion into Iraq, declaring : ” We demand that Turkey withdraw its troops from Iraqi territory, where they are deployed, as former Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu put it, to ‘strengthen’ Iraq’s sovereignty. This position is absolutely unacceptable ” (‘Baghdad’s envoy demands Turkish troops out as Iraqi forces vow to free Fallujah “in a week”‘, Russia Today, 3 June 2016). Lavrov has spoken plainly about Ankara’s transparent annexationist motives: they “reckon on getting a foothold there somehow and waiting for a battle for Mosul to lay claim to the [oil]fields and wait for a reaction from the international community” (‘Lavrov: Russia demands that Turkey withdraw its troops from Iraqi territory’, Russia Today, 31 May 2016).
In short, Turkey’s key role in prosecuting the United States’ failed proxy war of subversion against Syria has destabilised it so badly that is now seriously getting under Uncle Sam’s feet as the latter tries to salvage something from the wreckage of US imperialist policy in the middle east.
Victory to the Syrian President, government, army and people!
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