No unity in US-led coalition against IS

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Sixty-two nations form the US-led coalition to destroy the Islamic State group (IS) in Syria and Iraq. The official motto of the coalition, ‘One mission, many nations’, hides the endless divisions between the countries apparently united under its banner. It has been bombing IS since June 2014 with Britain joining the attack on Syria in December 2015. Despite this grand coalition including many of the world’s most powerful militaries, IS still holds vast swathes of territory. There is abundant evidence that IS and other jihadist groups rely on countries within this coalition for their very existence. For many coalition partners, other objectives take priority over destroying IS.

US ruling class figures have begun to make the divisions in the coalition clear, as the consequences of these contradictions sharpen. Defence Secretary, Ashton Carter, said of the coalition partners: ‘Many of them are not doing enough, or are doing nothing at all’ (22 January). It has long been known that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States have been actively or tacitly supporting IS and other jihadist groups. Saudi Arabia provides support for the Islamic Front (IF) - a jihadist group which works closely with Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al Nusra (JN). Fighters and arms from IF and JN have flowed to IS. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan and others have ceased entirely their active participation in air-strikes on Syria and Iraq, to concentrate their onslaught on Yemen, which is fuelling the growth of jihadist groups there, including IS.

Turkey has the power to seriously undermine IS in weeks if it had the will. If Turkey managed its border with IS territory in Syria as aggressively as it does its sealed border with Kurdish areas, IS would be paralysed. Turkey remains a major supporter of IS, in order to expand its regional influence, destroy the independent government of Syria, and undermine any potential of a Kurdish state. The evidence for Turkish government support for IS is extensive. It is estimated that Turkey has facilitated around $1 billion of oil sales for IS (Nafeez Ahmed, Insurge Intelligence, 19 November 2015).

The objectives of the main imperialist powers in the coalition - the US, Britain, and France - in the war on IS, are far from clear. Decades of imperialist war in the region have led to the creation of IS. NATO hostility to the government of President Assad meant huge quantities of weaponry and funding were transferred to armed groups in Syria. The rise of IS was viewed with ambivalence, and opportunities to check its progress were not taken. Now, with the threat IS poses to their national security, the imperialists have been forced to act. But they are unsure how far they are willing to go. They need a continued military presence in the Middle East in order to ensure control of the region and its resources. They still aim to remove Assad, and IS has been by far their most successful instrument in weakening his government. They still need alliances with Turkey and Saudi Arabia, both of which refuse to compromise on this issue. However, with increasing imperialist accommodation with Iran, there is no guarantee that these contradictory objectives in the region will continue.

Britain’s involvement in the bombing campaign against Syria has so far been token, with only four air strikes conducted against Syria, before the RAF returned to focusing on Iraq. Britain’s involvement in the war is more about remaining at the imperialist top table, than making a military difference. The British ruling class knows it must prove to still be a reliable ally for the US, in order for US imperialism’s military might to continue protecting its foreign interests. The imperialist bombing of Syria and Iraq is not primarily aimed at destroying IS. If they were really interested in doing this, they would pressure Turkey and their Gulf allies to starve IS of funding and weapons. The bombing campaign is about the division of world and its resources amongst a handful of countries, people, and companies. To stand against IS we must stand against imperialism. Imperialism out of the Middle East! Hands off Syria and Iraq!

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