By Marcus Halaby
A COMMON view in the anti-war movement is that the current war in Syria is effectively a repeat of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, with Syria’s as-yet undefeated revolution against the Assad dictatorship simply the product of a US-led attempt at “regime change”.
But in some ways it more closely resembles the situation after the 9/11 atrocities and the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, when every major power took advantage of Bush and Blair’s “War On Terror” to attack weaker enemies at home and abroad.
The rise of ISIS, its capture of Iraq’s third-largest city Mosul in July 2014 and its siege of the autonomous Kurdish Rojava region in Syria saw interventions against ISIS involving the USA, Britain, Russia, Iran, Turkey and the Arab Gulf states.
More recently the blowing up of a Russian civilian jet in Egypt on 31 October, followed two weeks later by coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, appears to have created a convergence between Russia and the Western powers in favour of containing ISIS and ending the war in Syria, by imposing a “political settlement” to be negotiated through talks hosted in Vienna.
But while the threat of ISIS has been the pretext for intervention by all the major powers, it is not the primary concern of any of them. And even within the boundaries of their limited “cooperation”, they are pursuing competing objectives that could cause direct clashes between them, despite their efforts so far to avoid one.
Russia, Assad’s main ally, which claims to be leading the international coalition against ISIS, is in fact bombing the anti-ISIS and anti-Assad Syrian opposition. ISIS has actually made gains since Russia’s airstrikes in Syria, taking advantage of them to seize territory from the Syrian rebels while Assad continues to bomb civilians in the rebel-held towns.
Britain and the USA, which pose as “allies” of the Syrian rebels, are far more interested in containing Russia’s influence by stabilising Syria and especially Iraq, where the pro-Iranian regime that they brought to power during their 2003-11 occupation of that country has invited in US troops to help recapture the Sunni-populated regions held by ISIS.
But this has effectively put US forces into an alliance in Iraq with Assad’s other major ally Iran, whose support for the Lebanese Shi’ite movement Hizbollah (currently fighting alongside Assad’s forces in Syria) has made it a long-term adversary for Israel. And alongside the (pro-Assad) Egyptian military dictatorship and (anti-Assad) Saudi Arabia, Israel is one of the West’s main allies in the region.
Turkey, which alongside Qatar supports the more intransigent elements of the anti-Assad rebels, is primarily concerned with containing the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Rojava, whose alliance with the Western powers since they intervened to lift the ISIS siege of Kobane has encouraged Kurdish national aspirations in Turkey, and threatens to create another semi-permanent Kurdish statelet on Turkey’s borders, alongside the existing one in Iraq.
Even so, the hostility of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to both Assad and the YPG, alongside its competition with Baghdad to be the force that retakes Mosul from ISIS, has seen the KRG invite Turkish troops into Iraq, where Obama is backing Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi’s calls on Turkey to withdraw.
And the Western powers are compensating Turkey’s Erdogan for this headache by turning a blind eye to his army’s siege of Silvan, Cizre, Van and other Kurdish towns in Turkey’s south-east. Turkish police have arrested 18 academics out of about 1,000 who signed a petition condemning this siege, in which about 200 have been killed since August.
So what does this all mean? The claim of the Great Powers – Russia, France, the USA and Britain – to be intervening to bring about peace is a lie. They are in fact fighting to impose reactionary settlements on the Syrian, Iraqi and Kurdish people, as part of their new Cold War, which sees Western and Eastern imperialist powers jockeying for position in a new division of the globe.
Their regional clients – Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey – may, here and there, support progressive struggles, but only in order to strangle others elsewhere. All of them hope to use the rivalry between the imperialist states to promote themselves as indispensable allies and to weaken each other.
Finally there are forces that socialists can and should support in their legitimate aims of national liberation (like the Kurds) or democratic revolution (most of the Syrian rebels). And while these may often not have completely “clean hands”, their aims will, if successful, weaken the forces of reaction in the region and encourage others to fight for democracy and socialism.