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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Syria ceasefire: a plan for more war

From A World to Win News Service:
If ever a country needed an end to a war, it is Syria, so ravaged that its domestic population has dropped from 22 to 17 million in a few years, with more than a quarter of a million dead, the rest forced abroad. But whether the cease-fire in Syria that began 12 September holds or not, it is unlikely to bring peace. In fact, that is not the purpose. 

The most basic facts should make that plain. The cease-fire was arranged by the U.S. and Russia, with the backing of the UK, France, Turkey (which recently sent in a tank task force to carve out its own piece of Syria) and apparently Iran. These are precisely the powers whose intervention fuelled the Syrian civil war to the murderous level it has reached today. 

The conflict over Syria, especially in terms of the U.S. and Russia, but also Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar – and France and the UK, never entirely in synch with their U.S. rival/partners – has never been simply over Syria itself but is part of much wider regional rivalries. None of these powers has given up the reactionary strategic goals and rivalry that have driven their criminal conduct so far. While they seem to have reached an agreement, for now, maybe, each of them is seeking to further those goals through this agreement and beyond – through diplomacy and war, one after the other or simultaneously, as developments require.

Whether or not the agreement works, the measures it explicitly spells out would actually facilitate even more foreign military intervention. The plan calls for a week-long ceasefire, to be followed by a phase in which the U.S. and Russia would set up a joint military command to coordinate and step up an air war against the specific Islamist groups said to be this agreement's target, Daesh (also called the Islamic State or ISIS) and Jabhat Fatah al-Shams, formerly known as al-Nusra. Just look at the photos of dead and wounded children we've had to look at for the last few weeks. The last thing the Syrian people need is more bombing. Although both the U.S. and Russia claim that their air attacks kill few or no civilians, each has exposed the other as a liar.

It's extremely telling that the Syrian army would be largely sidelined by this agreement, since toppling or defending Assad was the pretext for the U.S. and Russia's role in the carnage. While the Assad regime is a vicious enemy of the Syrian people, U.S. and Russian intervention has never been most basically for or against Assad, but part of a many-sided and inhuman brawl over who is going to dominate Syria and, just as importantly, deny that domination to its rivals. 

A 5 July statement by Amnesty International explains the course of this civil war, speaking specifically of Aleppo (Syria's largest city) and Idleb (in the northwest), but taking these two cities as "an informative case study": "After pro-reform protests that started in Syria in early 2011 grew in scale and frequency there, Syrian government forces responded by attacking protesters, as they did elsewhere, with live ammunition. As a result, in 2012 armed opposition groups were formed in both governates with the purpose of expelling government forces. Some of these groups, composed predominantly of Syrian nationals, gained increasing control of large area of Allepo city, Idleb city and surrounding areas between 2012 and 2015, and have remained in power there today with the support of governments such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the USA. In doing so, they set up administrative and quasi-judicial institutions. Residents in Aleppo and Idleb governates at first celebrated the effective end of Syrian government rule, hoping that the armed opposition groups would implement the rule of law. However, the hopes of many have faded away as armed opposition groups have resorted to the rule of the gun to impose their own version of order."

In truth, as AI goes on to explain, these groups have implemented a "rule of law": Sharia, strict Islamic law. Al Nusra, affiliated with the jihadi Al-Qaeda, steadily bulldozed its way to dominance over other Islamist and pro-U.S. (and pro-French) groups, with the backing of the U.S., Turkey and the Gulf states (even as each of these countries also tried to organize armed forces under their more direct command). Then they found themselves confronted by the explosive growth of Daesh, in which Islamic fundamentalism combined with military expertise of forces from the old Saddam Hussein regime, trained in fighting conventional warfare with modern weapons. The men who founded Daesh came together in U.S. prison camps. Whatever other factors are involved, without the U.S.'s efforts to bring Iraq under its control, first by toppling Saddam (using lies about "weapons of mass destruction"), and then by backing Shia reactionaries (linked to Iran – which shows how tightly rivalry and complicity are intertwined here) who responded to religious war against Shias with more religious war against Sunnis and the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad and other cities.

The rise of Daesh has been a problem for the U.S., even though there has been conflict within U.S. ruling class policy circles over whether to focus on fighting Assad or Daesh. But no one in Washington seems to be saying, "Well, we tore apart Iraq and that was a disaster, even from our point of view, and now we're tearing apart Syria, and that's not working out for us – all this is turbocharging Islamic fundamentalism, so maybe we should just go home." They can't "go home", because the rivalry between the imperialist powers and other reactionaries is so intense and the strategic stakes are so high. The more their intervention has created problems for them (the indescribable suffering of the masses of people doesn't enter into their calculations), the more they step up their intervention. As Patrick Cockburn wrote in The Independent (12 September 2016), "A feature of the war in Syria and Iraq is that the anti-ISIS and anti-Nusra armies – the YPG [Syrian Kurdish forces], Syrian Army, Iraqi Army and Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga – all rely on foreign air forces. This makes it difficult for them to go against whatever their foreign allies want them to do politically." 

We could speculate about exactly how this current cease-fire fits into the interests and plans of these monsters. For Russia, if this manoeuvre works, it could be a big step forward because it would mean the U.S. and other countries have to recognize Moscow as an essential player in the Middle East, one that the West cannot afford to keep out, which has been their policy so far. That's probably why the U.S. was so reluctant to accept this deal, and one reason it may fail (certainly there will be fighting within Washington circles about whether this is a good or bad idea). But the U.S. might see this agreement as offering a possibility of relief from what has become an intractable contradiction: the more it does every dirty thing in its power to topple Assad (and keep Russia, as well as Iran, at bay in the region), the more it fuels Daesh, which has made itself a bigger problem than Assad. 

The last five years of atrocities in Syria have been driven by both the general clash between the Western imperialists and their political systems and ideology and Islamic fundamentalism, and the particular and often competing interests of imperialist powers and reactionary foreign states in Syria. This dynamic and the constantly shifting alliances that emerge from it are a main factor in the lack of clear sides in this civil war. It seems most likely that war will continue until one of them is able to impose its will by force, defeating some rivals on the battlefield and obliging other rivals to accept its dominance. Worst of all, no force has emerged that could fight for and unite a growing number of people around a way forward other than Islamism or naked subjugation to imperialism. 

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