War on ‘IS’ targets Syria

Pin It

The US and British imperialists have launched their third war on Iraq in 24 years. Along with other NATO powers and their regional clients, they again expect to remain openly engaged in the Middle East for years. Imperialist bombs are once again destroying countless lives for the bank accounts of the ruling classes. In whipping up an international military campaign against the jihadist Islamic State (IS) the imperialists have provided a cover for escalating their campaign to destroy the Syrian government. A bombing campaign against Syria was thwarted in September 2013. However, as the crisis of capitalism deepens, and rivals emerge, the need for strategic domination increases. This new war will only create more contradictions, more chaos and more resistance. Toby Harbertson reports.

Imperialist war on IS

The US military began bombing IS in Iraq on 8 August 2014. The US now openly has 2,000 troops on the ground, euphemistically called ‘military advisers’ by the US government. The Australian government has also deployed 600 troops. Aircraft from the US, French, British, Danish and Dutch air forces have carried out airstrikes on IS positions throughout Iraq. US President, Barack Obama, announced the expansion of the campaign to Syria on 11 September. Airstrikes in Syria began on 23 September, involving the US, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE and Jordan. The New York Times described: ‘a torrent of cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs from the air and sea’. Airstrikes have struck deep inside Syria on the outskirts of Aleppo. Obama acknowledged that US special forces are in Syria, threatened to destroy Syria’s air defences, and ruled out all military co-operation with Syria. On its first day, the campaign in Syria

expanded beyond its stated intention of ‘destroying and degrading’ IS, with strikes on other jihadist groups, including Jabhat Al Nusra (JN) and Khorasan.

British combat missions began on 27 September. British Tornadoes which had been flying surveillance missions over Syria and Iraq for weeks, struck just hours after Parliament’s authorisation. The three major Parliamentary parties united in support of intervention. The SNP, Plaid Cymru and Green Party voted against. Labour leader Ed Miliband argued that ‘we should pride ourselves on our traditions of internationalism’, stating his reasons for supporting air-strikes in Iraq as: ‘protecting our national interest, security and the values for which we stand’. The vast majority of the Labour Party agreed, with only 24 rebels.

The proposal to Parliament was limited to action in Iraq, but much of the debate was focused on when this would be extended to Syria. Prime Minister David Cameron stressed that strikes in Syria would not be illegal, and that he reserved the right to act without Parliament’s prior authorisation in a situation of ‘urgent humanitarian need’. Labour International Development spokesperson, Jim Murphy, also said that strikes in Syria would not be illegal. ‘Scores’ of British special forces are in Iraq and Syria (The Guardian, 23 September). It is only a matter of time before the government pushes for further intervention.

On 23 September Israel took the opportunity of air-strikes in Syria to shoot down a Syrian Air Force jet close to the occupied Golan Heights. The area is a stronghold of JN, the official Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, and the plane was conducting air-strikes against JN positions. A spokesperson for the Israeli army made it clear that it was not considered a threat to Israel, despite their claims that it was flying in Israeli airspace: ‘We believe [the pilot’s] mission was to attack enemy forces – not ours’ (AFP, 23 September). Israel’s actions have supported JN against the Syrian government.

The initial pretext for intervention in Iraq was ‘humanitarian’, with firstly the fate of Yazidi, and later Turkmen, ethnic minorities apparently occupying the minds of the imperialist warmongers. However, it was clear that the decision to intervene came when the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq – a loyal imperialist client – was threatened. The KRG has been part of imperialist regional strategy since it was used in the first Gulf War in 1992. Erbil, the KRG capital, is home to thousands of US and British citizens running the region’s booming oil industry. Tony Hayward, former BP Chief Executive, is one prominent resident. According to Reuters, if the KRG were a country, it would rank in the world’s top ten for oil reserves. The KRG sells oil to Israel, and spends $100m a year lobbying the US government. Once engaged to protect the KRG, however, it was easy for the imperialists to expand their campaign to pursue wider regional objectives.

War on Syria

In September 2013, Obama and Cameron attempted to build support for open imperialist intervention against the government of Bashar Assad in Syria. Cameron was blocked by splits in the British ruling class and Obama was left with a lack of military partners. A year later, the desired air-strikes in Syria have begun. The destruction of the Syrian government has long been an objective of the major imperialist powers. Syria occupies a strategic position at the heart of the Middle East, which is crucial to the balance of regional power and the transit of essential resources such as water and natural gas. The Ba’athist government in Syria has long proved unreliable for imperialism, putting barriers in the way of imperialist capital, supporting regional resistance movements such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and remaining an opponent and rival of Israel. The rise of IS in the region will not change the imperialists vision for Syria’s future.

A key motivation for the current war in Syria is the route of natural gas pipelines through the country. Two alternative proposals have drawn the battle lines: the ‘Islamic pipeline’, from Asaluyeh – the world’s largest gas field – in Iran, through Iraq and Syria, to Syria’s Mediterranean coast and then Europe; or from Qatar, through Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria, on to Turkey, and Europe. An initial memorandum for the construction of the Islamic pipeline was signed at Bushehr in 2011, and Iraq declared its willingness to sign a framework agreement in February 2013 (Dmitry Minin, Strategic Culture Foundation, 31 May 2013). Qatar, a huge supplier of natural gas, would be a major loser if the Islamic pipeline went ahead, as would Israel. Iran would be a major winner. The imperialists cannot allow this to happen.

Supporting the ‘moderate’ rebels

The US has announced increased support for supposedly ‘moderate’ rebels in Syria, whom they hope will fight IS. On 19 September a Bill was passed by the US Congress to spend $500m on support for selected rebel groups. This strategy aims to train 5,000 militants under the direct control of the CIA. Saudi Arabia has agreed to host training camps for rebel fighters. These are measures which expand the strategy which has been in place for several years to destroy Assad’s government. The US and its allies say that the objective has changed but this method has not. Forces nominally loyal to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have made it clear that the Assad regime will remain their primary target. One major FSA-aligned group – the Saudi-linked Syrian Revolutionaries Front – announced a ceasefire with IS in Damascus in mid-September. FSA groups have widely collaborated with IS, and have regularly supplied them with weapons provided by international donors. The absurdity of the imperialist strategy was heightened by the revelation that an FSA group sold information about the location of US-Israeli journalist Stephen Sotloff to IS who captured and later beheaded him – which was then used as a justification for expanding the imperialist offensive. Former FSA military commander, Colonel Riad Assad explained: ‘If they want to see the Free Syrian Army on their side, they should give assurances on toppling the Assad regime’ (20 September). This assurance was given by US Secretary of State John Kerry. Referring to the training of FSA-linked forces, he explained: ‘And if ISIL [IS] is defeated, they’re going to be taking that experience in the same direction that they originally set out, which is to deal with Assad’ (17 September). Obama echoed this, calling FSA forces, ‘the best counterweight to ISIL [IS] and the Assad regime’ (23 September).

There is widespread scepticism among the ruling classes that this plan will provide the necessary proxy ground forces to meet the stated, and the hidden, objectives. The difficult position of US imperialism is well illustrated by Obama’s contradictory statements. The day after US air-strikes began, he insisted: ‘I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq’. On 29 August, Obama stated: ‘we don’t have a strategy’ with regard to fighting IS. On 11 September he stressed: ‘our objective is clear’.

The imperialists are in a weakened position, with splits in their ruling classes, a lack of resources, and few reliable regional allies. Sections of the ruling classes have highlighted the scale of the campaign necessary to actually meet objectives in the region. US Army General Martin Dempsey insisted that US combat troops in Iraq have not been ruled out. Former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair called for ‘someone’s boots on the ground’ (22 September). Blair and Dempsey acknowledge that the current imperialist strategy in the region is insufficient to protect the huge interests at stake. Rebel proxies have proved unreliable and likely to backfire. What Blair and Dempsey are calling for is a full imperialist-led occupation of Syria and Iraq.

The imperialist powers will have to choose whether to commit more ground troops to Iraq and Syria, or to carry on with the strategy which left such chaos in Libya. Moqtada Al Sadr, commander of the 500,000-strong Iraqi Shia coalition, the Mahdi Army and Bloc of the Free, has declared that he will order attacks on any US ground forces in Iraq. If committed in Syria, imperialist ground troops, or regional clients, would face a tough fight from the Syrian army and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Russia has made clear that strikes inside Syria breach international law, and any escalation could provoke further Russian reaction. Kerry stressed, ‘We have the ability to destroy [IS]. It may take a year, it may take two years, it may take three years, but we are determined it has to happen’. With huge interests at stake, and profit-hungry ruling classes, the war can only escalate.

One thing is certain, further imperialist intervention in Iraq and Syria will cause yet more chaos, death and destruction. Resistance will be ignited and perpetuated, whatever form this takes. In Britain we must fight the consistent, murderous role of British imperialism in the Middle East. Obama said of IS: ‘it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.’ The same is true of US and British imperialism.

Toby Harbertson

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 241 October/November 2014