Crisis over Qatar

On 5 June Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates cut off transport links and diplomatic relations with Qatar. They accuse Qatar of support for terrorism and complicity with Iran, after Qatar paid about $1bn in ransom payments to Iranian officials and Tahrir Al Sham, an Al Qaeda affiliate group, for the release of members of its royal family, captured and held hostage while on a hunting trip to Iraq. Qatar is viewed by Saudi Arabia as insufficiently hostile to Iran and Qatar supported the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, loathed by the Saudis, who backed its overthrow in 2013. Qatar has retained ties with the Syrian government, opposed by the Saudis, and it may seek to fund the rebuilding of post-war Syria. This would give it influence in Syria, across which oil companies want to install a pipeline route from the Gulf to Europe via Turkey (Robert Fisk The Independent 8 June 2017).

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Saudi Arabia: Malevolent and dangerous

saudi arabia uk britain
Human rights campaigners protest against arms sales to Saudi Arabia used in human rights abuses in Yemen

With US President Trump’s agreement to sell Saudi Arabia $110bn worth of weapons, the US ruling class is showing that it intends to forge a coalition of allies in the Middle East, including Israel, in an attempt to preserve US domination over the region. As US imperialism’s relative economic and ideological strength weakens, so it resorts to its unrivalled military superiority to compensate and maintain its global hegemonic position. The US is determined to prevent the unity of Iran with Syria, Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon and is supported in this by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf monarchies, Turkey and Egypt. The US fuels sectarian divisions between Sunni and Shia Muslims to help it keep control of the Middle East’s strategic fuel resources; control vital to limit potential rivals China, Russia, India and Europe. Trevor Rayne reports.

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Kurds mount determined resistance

The Syrian Democratic Forces are an alliance of Kurdish Arab Turkmen and other rebels

On 24 May 2016 the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), began to advance on Raqqa, the Islamic State (IS) headquarters. The SDF comprises 31 forces, including Kurds, Arabs and other ethnic and religious groups, but its largest components are the predominantly Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) of Rojava (Northern Syria/West Kurdistan). Their advance is receiving Coalition, predominantly US, air support. At the time of writing these forces have liberated towns and villages between Raqqa and the YPG/YPJ-run town of Ain Isa, and have encouraged and welcomed refugees fleeing IS.

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Kurds wage historic struggle

The Kurdish struggle is more significant to the future of the Middle East than ever. In Iraq and Syria, Kurds are crucial to the outcome of the battle against Islamic State (IS) and other jihadi groups. In Turkey, Kurds are in insurrection, the fate of which will decide whether the country succumbs to fascism or progresses towards democracy. The British government, the European Union (EU) and the US are indifferent as towns in Turkey are destroyed by tanks and heavy artillery, civilians are burned to death in their homes, academics, lawyers and journalists are branded as terrorists and the President says that democracy and the rule of law are meaningless in Turkey. Trevor Rayne reports.

The Turkish state planned for war on the Kurds in Turkey and Syria after the defeat of IS in Kobane, in northern Syria/Rojava in January 2015. Turkey’s ruling class fears that Kurdish self-determination in Syria will undermine its rule in Turkey itself, by encouraging the Kurdish struggle for rights. Turkish state forces prevented Kurds going to assist the resistance in Kobane and attacked and killed protestors in Turkey. The success of the Kurdish-led Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in the June and November 2015 parliamentary elections thwarted President Erdogan’s ambition to change Turkey’s constitution from a parliamentary to a presidential system, and provided a pole of attraction for those opposed to the authoritarian rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. A wave of arrests of HDP members and supporters preceded the 1 November election and the predominantly Kurdish town of Silvan was placed under curfew. Turkish state forces attacked Kurds in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. On 3 November the Group of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), established by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), declared the ceasefire, begun in March 2013, to be over.

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'The Kurds don’t vote for me’: the Kurds and Britain

Demonstration in London against attacks on the Kurds, 1991
Demonstration in London against attacks on the Kurds, 1991

For a century, British imperialism has suppressed the Kurdish struggle for self-determination. Armed force has been used in the Middle East, while in Britain the police, prisons and criminalisation have been employed against Kurds. British governments have repeatedly supported Middle Eastern states’ oppression of the Kurds. That oppression has been integral to imperialist domination of the Middle East. Trevor Rayne reports.

* The Sykes-Picot Agreement 16 May 1916:   This secret deal between Britain and France planned the carve-up of the remains of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War. Initially, Kurds were offered a truncated Kurdistan on what is now Turkish territory, omitting the Kurds of Iran, British-controlled Iraq, and French-controlled Syria. This was proposed in the Treaty of Sevres 1920. With the success of Turkey’s Ataturk and the Turkish National Movement, the promise to the Kurds was dropped in the Treaty of Lausanne 1923. At the end of the First World War among the great losers in the Middle East were the Palestinians and the Kurds. The Turkish, Iraqi, Syrian and Iranian states were, in part, founded on the oppression of the Kurds. Kurdish self-determination is inextricably tied to the advance of democracy in the Middle East.  

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