As the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) makes further advances in its struggle to rid the country of the Daesh and Al Nusra terror gangs, US imperialism is trying every crooked stratagem to defraud the Syrian people of the full fruits of their liberation. But nothing can hide the fact that it is imperialism and all its proxies, acknowledged and unacknowledged, that are facing humiliation and defeat, and the Syrian people who are standing tall.
The first week of June saw a series of rapid advances by the SAA in the campaign to liberate the Daesh stronghold of the city of Raqqa. On 2 June the army advanced through Aleppo province, reaching the Raqqa-Maskanah road. By 4 June Maskanah was freed, whence the military pushed on towards the border of the Raqqa province. On 5 June operations resumed on the Aleppo-Raqqa axis, and on 6 June the SAA crossed into Raqqa province, relieving six villages and heading on to Tabqa, lying south west of Raqqa city.
The same week also saw the US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) draw close to Raqqa city from the west, north and east. On 5 June the SDF announced it had entered the city from the east and declared that it was blockading Raqqa. The US, so tardy on previous occasions when the opportunity presented itself to do some serious damage to Daesh or Al Nusra, has been falling over itself to supply the SDF with machine guns and assault weapons. The US wants a ‘liberation’ that is clearly stamped ‘Made In America’, even if it means yet further alienating fellow NATO member Turkey in the process.
The real nature of the ‘blockade’ was in any case soon enough disclosed when it was observed that Daesh fighters were being allowed to leave Raqqa unhindered. Colonel General Sergey Surovikin spelt it out: “Instead of destroying the terrorists, guilty of the deaths hundreds and thousands of peaceful Syrian citizens, the US-led coalition colluded with Islamic State leaders, who surrender occupied settlements without fighting and are relocating to the provinces where Syrian government forces are active” (‘US-led coalition interferes in Syrian govt’s fight against terrorism’, RT, 9 June 2017).
Happily some at least of these fleeing jihadis did not get the chance to renew their butchery on other battlefields. Instead their flight was rudely interrupted by the timely intervention of the Russian Air Force which identified and destroyed several Daesh convoys. More than 80 terrorists were killed and a great deal of materiel was destroyed, including 36 cars, 17 mortar and machine gun mounted pick-up trucks and 8 fuel lorries.
This will have been a bitter disappointment to their hard-pressed brothers in arms in the area of Palmyra and Deir Ezzor, currently reeling from the blows delivered by the SAA in central Syria. They certainly could have used these would-be reinforcements to help defend their strongholds in that area, a consideration of which the US was no doubt fully aware. The fact is that for Daesh the situation is becoming critical. The SAA has launched a series of ferocious attacks across the eastern parts of the governorates of Homs and Hama, and in the countryside around Palmyra the 5th Corps liberated several points near the Al-Abassiyah Well, inflicting much damage on the enemy.
Dog in the manger
The dog-in-the-manger attitude of the US coalition towards the fight against Daesh and Al-Nusra – neither prepared to wage serious war against islamist terror nor willing to get out of the way and let Syria’s military get the job done themselves – was very clearly visible in the hysterical reaction to the advance of Syrian patriotic forces into the At Tanf area and thence to the Turkish border. Rather than welcome the potential which this opens up of action against Daesh in coordination with Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Units on the Syria/Iraq border, the US-led coalition did everything in its power to block the advance.
Inventing a so-called ‘deconfliction zone’ around At Tanf, the US insisted that only its chosen faction of the SDF, the Jaysh al-Thuwar, and their US and British special forces ‘advisors’ had squatter’s rights on this patch of Syrian soil, and heaven help any patriotic forces that dared encroach. As Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov pointed out, this new ‘deconfliction’ gimmick has nothing in common with the de-escalation zones which Russia, Iran and Turkey are establishing with the full support of the UN Security Council and the Syrian government. Yet on 9 June, on the strength of this unilateral fiction, the US sent a US F/A-18 bomber to attack the patriotic forces, reportedly killing ten men and destroying two artillery pieces and an anti-aircraft weapon and damaging a tank, doubtless to the joy of the Daesh thugs whom these pro-government militia had come to fight. This was the third such attack on the At Tanf area in recent weeks.
In the event, all these efforts to sabotage the campaign against Daesh were frustrated, as patriotic forces outflanked the so-called ‘deconfliction zone’ on the east and headed for the border, effectively cutting off the US and their protegés in At Tanf.
Such developments give weight to President Assad’s recent assessment that “Things now are moving in the right direction which is a better direction, because we are defeating the terrorists… Unless the West and other countries and their allies, their puppets, supported those extremists in a very, how to say, massive way, I’m sure the worst is behind us” (‘”Worst is behind us” as terrorists are on retreat – Assad on Syrian conflict’, RT, 4 June 2017).
As imperialist fortunes decay in Syria, rival bands of jihadis turn on each other like rats in a sack – and the same goes for their Gulf state sponsors. In particular, enmity between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, long part of the background noise of Gulf politics, has taken on an acute and dramatic form with the shock decision of Riyadh to blockade Qatar. At a stroke, this rash action, effectively egged on by the US president, breaks up the fragile unity of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and throws into doubt the ability of these corrupt feudal sheikhdoms to go on subsidising jihadi terror in Syria. As all the dreams of Syrian ‘regime change’ turn to dust, the sponsors of terror fall to bickering and fighting amongst themselves.
Christopher Dickey, writing in the Daily Beast, explains the roots of the animosity between Doha and Riyadh. “Riyadh wanted Bashar Assad’s regime removed, because Assad is an ally and a client of the hated Iranian mullahs. But it did not want the [Muslim] Brotherhood, backed by Qatar, to come to power. The internecine intrigues that resulted were part of the reason the Syrian opposition found it virtually impossible to organize a political front, while on the battlefield Saudi Arabia and Qatar funded competing groups whose factions became hard to distinguish from al Qaeda and the competing Islamic State if, indeed, they could be distinguished at all” (Christopher Dickey, ‘Where does the Saudi-Qatar death match leave Trump’s troops?’, Daily Beast, 5 June 2017).
Such squabbles, when the war of subversion appeared to offer some prospects of success, could be swept under the carpet. But now, with the SAA and its auxiliaries advancing on all fronts, all the bile and mutual resentment comes bursting to the surface. Not only is this dividing and weakening the imperialist proxy forces, it is also bringing into plain sight exactly how imperialism cultivated, protected, bankrolled and armed the mercenary jihadi gangs from the word go. All this comes spilling out as the rival militias and their rival sponsors go very publicly through each other’s dirty laundry, which of course is also pre-eminently Washington’s dirty laundry.
So what started as petty rivalries amongst pampered feudal sheikhs abruptly transformed into a crisis of global dimensions with the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar, announced on 5 June. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain stopped all flights to or from Qatar. Riyadh imposed a land blockade and banned ships flying the Qatari flag or owned by Qatari companies. It became a crime for Saudi subjects to watch Qatar’s Al Jazeera network, with fines for individuals as high as $2,700 and tourist hotels threatened with fines as high as $26,000.
Trump and Riyadh sing from same song sheet
All these draconian measures are supposedly intended to punish Qatar for its terror-funding activities. And though this is so clearly a case of the pot calling the kettle black, with the most egregious source of funds for terror being Saudi Arabia itself, it suits the US to run with Riyadh’s story, for two reasons. First, it provides a convenient whipping boy to distract attention from Uncle Sam’s primary responsibility as terror paymaster-general. Second, it needs a smokescreen behind which to undermine any Qatari plans to develop regional relationships not vetted by Washington, especially with Iran, Turkey and Russia.
Trump has been eager to claim the ‘credit’ for helping to stir up the current crisis, telling a press conference: “I decided, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, our great generals and military people, the time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding ‒ they have to end that funding ‒ and its extremist ideology” (‘Qatari FM on crisis’, RT, 10 June 2017). Tillerson appears to have distanced himself belatedly as the seriously destabilising consequences of the blockade unfolded, threatening to disrupt the conduct of the regime-change war against Syria. But Tillerson’s more emollient approach may have come too late.
Mutlaq al-Qahtani, advisor to Qatar’s foreign minister, is not alone when he says, “I think this is not about counterterrorism, it’s not about terror financing. I think it is about an orchestrated campaign against my country to pressure my country to change its active, independent foreign policy.” (‘Qatar hosted Taliban on US request’, PressTV, 12 June 2017). Whilst this might sound like hubris from this tiny oil well with a flag, its strategic importance should not be underestimated. Apart from its enormous natural gas wealth (it shares a gas field with Iran), Qatar is also home to the gigantic Al-Udeid air base, hosting over 10,000 US and coalition personnel and acting as headquarters for the US Central Command (CENTCOM). CENTCOM’s chief, General Vogel, recently described Qatar as “a key and critical partner in the region” that is “well-positioned to play an influential role in facilitating a political resolution to the [Syrian] conflict” (Christopher Dickey, ‘Where does the Saudi-Qatar death match leave Trump’s troops?’, Daily Beast, 5 June 2017). Seeing that partner casually tossed aside in a fit of pique after having been groomed for so long by imperialism will not go down well with Trump’s deep state masters.
Qatar is not friendless
There are already signs that the blockade, so far from isolating Qatar, is having the reverse effect, pushing it to engage with other neighbours internationally. Iran, which has called for dialogue among the disputing Arab countries, has been responding to the humanitarian crisis triggered by the blockade, sending five 90-ton planeloads of fruit and vegetables, with more to follow. Russia has also offered to export agricultural produce to Qatar. The Qatari foreign minister recently met with Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, agreed that the spat should be sorted out amongst Arab neighbours and criticised outside interference. Noting that the talks with Lavrov were constructive, the Qatari foreign minister affirmed that “Qatar and Russia – which is the main player on the international arena – have friendly relations”, an aside which will occasion much grinding of teeth in Washington (‘Qatari FM on crisis’, RT, 10 June 2017). Nor has Ankara been backward in offering assistance, and not just with food. Two days after Riyadh suspended diplomatic relations with Doha, the Turkish parliament ratified a bill to allow the deployment of troops to a Turkish base in Qatar, a bill to which President Erdogan later added his seal.
The rest of world imperialism looked on aghast as Trump, rightfully dubbed the “loose cannon on the imperialist deck”, spurred Riyadh on in its reckless adventure. A spokesman for the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the UN was not bound by the ‘terror list’ furnished by Riyadh, pointing out that the UN itself had worked with some of the ‘terror’ organisations listed. And a nervous German foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, warned that the isolation of Doha by such key players as Saudi Arabia and its allies presents “a danger that this conflict could become a war” (‘”There is danger this conflict could become war”: German FM on Gulf crisis’, RT, 10 June 2017). The danger is real.
If, however, dialogue should prevail, the blockade melt and war recede, it is not to be imagined that all that has been said can be unsaid and all the players can return to their original positions. By making such a song and dance about Qatar’s terror-funding, the rest of the corrupt feudal sheikhdoms have only succeeded in drawing attention to their own extensive activities in that field, and to the leading role of imperialism itself in the whole dirty business. And by trying to make Qatar the whipping boy for the failure of the war against Syria, all that will have been achieved will be to further destabilise the Middle East, loosen the hold of Riyadh and Washington upon Qatar, prise Turkey further from NATO, and confirm the emergence of a multi-polar geopolitical landscape in which Russia is indeed a “main player on the international arena”.
The announced US deployment of two High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems to At Tanf, followed on 18 June by the criminal shooting down of a Syrian government plane 40 km from Raqqa whilst engaged in operations against Daesh, shows to what an impotent frenzy imperialism is being driven by the giant steps the SAA is now taking towards the liberation of Syria. Syria is the rock on which Anglo-American imperialism is breaking its back.
Victory to the Syrian president, government, army and people!