War on ‘IS’ targets Syria

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

Islamic State, imperialist terror

Forces of the Islamic State (IS) now control around one third of the territory of both Iraq and Syria. The CIA suggests that they command around 30,000 armed militants. A fundamentalist, jihadist group, their attacks on religious and ethnic minorities, videos showing the beheading of US and British hostages, and reactionary practices towards women have all been well publicised by the ruling class media. The group is well armed, organised, and funded. They have been attracting recruits from all over the world. Fifteen years ago however, secular Ba’athist governments were in power in both Syria and Iraq, where the rights of religious minorities and women were safeguarded. These functioning states with modern infrastructure put neighbouring imperialist client states to shame. So how did a group like IS come to occupy such a strong position in the Middle East? Toby Harbertson looks at its roots.

The simple answer is the destructive interventions of imperialism – primarily US and British. The roots of jihadist fundamentalism can be traced back to the NATO campaign against the Soviet Union, known as the ‘Cold War’. In 1978 a progressive government took power in Afghanistan in the Saur Revolution. The new government quickly allied with the Soviet Union. In response, the CIA organised, trained and funded a jihadist insurgent group which called itself the Mujahideen. This support was stepped up as the Soviet Army entered Afghanistan to fight the insurgency in 1979. US National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, explained in 1998 that the US saw this as an ‘opportunity [to give] the Soviet Union its Vietnam War’. The Mujahideen kept the Soviet Union bogged down in an expensive and bloody war, until Soviet forces withdrew in 1989. These ten years of experience and imperialist support had created the nucleus of the subsequent jihadist movement. Not under direct imperialist control, these militants would not always serve the shifting needs of imperialism, instead fighting for their own fundamentalist, reactionary objectives. They would go on to become Al Qaeda, as well as members of the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Different forms of this imperialist Frankenstein’s monster would be called upon to fight for imperialist objectives, as in Libya and Syria; others, in Afghanistan and Iraq, would form the pretext for, and target of, brutal imperialist interventions.

In the 2003 Iraq war, the imperialist ‘coalition of the willing’, led by the US and Britain, intended to destroy the Sadaam Hussein regime and install a pliable client regime to control Iraq. This was intended to facilitate the extraction of oil and gas by their energy companies, at the same time blocking potential rivals (China, Russia) from these resources. The imperialists failed to meet all these objectives.

By 2010, Iraq was devastated, with sectarian divisions between Sunni and Shia Muslims ignited and with no functioning state. Up to a million people had been killed; three million made refugees. Militants from the Mujahideen took advantage – this was the cradle of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the forerunner of IS.

The imperialist war machine turned to Libya in March 2011, with similar consequences. Fundamentalist groups were given the ideal situations in which to operate and recruit, and the weapons and training they needed to become significant fighting forces. Many of the forces nurtured in Libya then joined the imperialist campaign against Syria from 2011.

The covert campaign to destroy the Assad government, led by the US, Britain, and France, with enthusiastic support from the Gulf ruling elites, contributed directly to the rise of IS. The imperialist countries were averse to committing their soldiers on the ground, and Russia and China were stepping up their opposition to NATO interventions, so a covert strategy was implemented. With the co-ordination and support of US, British, French, and regional intelligence agencies, anyone willing to take up arms to fight against Assad’s government was paid, trained and armed. AQI took advantage of the conditions, moving their base from Fallujah, in Iraq, to Raqqa, in eastern Syria, and declared themselves the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS or ISIL – later IS.

The imperialists insisted that they were only supporting ‘moderate’ rebels, but these ‘moderates’ became irrelevant on the battlefield, with the Syrian opposition becoming dominated by jihadist groups such as Jahbat Al Nusra, Ahrar Al Sham, the Islamic Front, and IS. ‘Moderate’ groups, such as the Free Syrian Army, soon lost their weapons to their jihadist rivals, and the distinction between the groups became blurred.

Much of the direct funding and arming of the fundamentalists was directed by imperialism’s allies in the Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia and Qatar. IS is widely known to have been supported directly by the Gulf monarchies. On 20 August 2014 German Development Minister Mueller accused Qatar of financing IS before being reprimanded by his government. Britain’s former Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has admitted that IS was among the rebel groups in Syria that received support from the US and Britain and a former head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, claimed IS was established by Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief, who was tasked with destroying the Syrian government (The Independent, 16 July 2014). Alongside this support, a flow of private donations from Kuwait and elsewhere further strengthened IS.

Turkey, a member of NATO and key imperialist ally, has long supported and trained militants, allowing free passage across its border with Syria. This strategy is intended to support IS and other groups in order to destabilise the Syrian government as well as weaken Kurdish forces in northern Syria.

In June 2014, IS advanced from its base in Syria and took control of one third of Iraq. This threatened imperialism’s oil-rich client, the KRG. Weaponry and equipment given by the US to the Iraqi army was captured. The imperialists’ strategy had not destroyed Assad’s regime, but instead created a monster which they cannot control.

The imperialists have always been willing to ally with any reactionary force which helps them meet their strategic objectives. They have always been willing to turn on their former allies with cruise missiles and special forces. The current imperialist intervention in Syria and Iraq will not stop the influence of fundamentalist forces in the region or elsewhere. Instead it will throw up new contradictions and obstacles to imperialist objectives.

Toby Harbertson

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 241 October/November 2014

A critical time for the Kurdish struggle

By 23 September 2014 140,000 Kurdish people had left Kobane Canton in Rojava (West Kurdistan) in Syria for Turkey. Over one hundred villages were evacuated in the face of an Islamic State (IS) attack. IS was reported to have 40 tanks and 30 armoured personnel carriers 12 miles from Kobane city. Kurdish groups were amassing a large fighting force to resist the attack. Turkish police and soldiers forcibly prevented Kurds from crossing from Turkey to fight IS. There is evidence of Turkish state complicity in the IS operation. The Turkish government and other regional powers fear the democratic and revolutionary potential of Rojava and the liberation struggle of the Kurds in North Kurdistan (Turkey), led by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). While the US, Britain and NATO talk of defeating IS they have hesitated to help Rojava resist the attack. Trevor Rayne reports.

In June 2014 the IS occupied Mosul in northern Iraq. The following month it attacked Kobane but its month-long assault was fought off by the Rojavan People’s Protection Units (YPG) with PKK assistance. On 3 August IS broke through the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) force’s lines to take Sinjar and Zumar in South Kurdistan (northern Iraq). IS then attacked Makhmour, Erbil, Kirkuk and Germiya, all in KRG territory. The KRG peshmerga militias retreated without a fight but the PKK and YPG forces rallied in defence of the Kurdish people and land, pushing IS back. From 15 September IS mounted its heaviest assault on the Kurdish people yet with the attack on Kobane Canton. Two trains loaded with weapons and forces were reported arriving from Turkey for IS and coinciding with the IS assault. At the same time the Turkish army reinforced its troops along the border with Rojava. As of 22 September the dominant group in the KRG, Masoud Barzani’s Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), has offered no support to the Rojavan Kurds but the other main party, Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), was sending help.

Contending class forces

In July 2012 the people of Kobane rose up against the Syrian Ba’athist government and with the YPG took over the city’s borders and state institutions. From Kobane the Rojavan revolution spread to include three Cantons (Efrin, Kobane and Cizire) in the declared autonomous region of Rojava (see FRFI 237, February/ March 2014). Practising democratic confederalism, Rojava emphasises participatory democracy and decision making from the grassroots up, along with equality and participation of women – many of the YPG guerrillas are women – and it stresses the importance of ecology.

The KRG of South Kurdistan is led by capitalist and feudal classes. In the past, for example in 1992, the KDP and PUK have united with the Turkish state against the PKK. However, the KDP and PUK have fought each other, as they did between 1994 and 1997, over revenues and power. These tensions weaken the KRG peshmerga. Barzani, as President of the KRG, imposed a blockade on Rojava and has tried to weaken PKK influence in the region. Barzani and his family enjoy opulent lifestyles, largely resulting from trade with and investment from Turkey. Barzani’s son has bought a $10m residence in Virginia, US. Erbil, capital of the KRG, has plush restaurants and hotels but poor hospitals and schools. Barzani resides in a mansion while PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan is held in a Turkish prison.

Barzani recently said he would put Kurdish independence to a referendum. The PKK rejects the notion that independence for Kurdistan can be achieved through the declaration of a state and condemns the KDP for promoting capitalist nationalism, refuting its claim to be for independence.

When IS attacked the Kurdish Yazidi people in Sinjar in August and the KRG peshmerga put up no resistance, the YPG crossed from Rojava (Syria) to defend the Yazidis and created a safe exit route for them off Mount Sinjar. When IS attacked Erbil and Makhmour the PKK came down from the Qandil Mountains bordering Iraq and Turkey to fight them. ‘Our support is just as important for the peshmerga as these US strikes – bombing alone can’t get rid of guerrilla groups, we know from personal experience,’ explained Sedar Botan, a female PKK veteran commander (Financial Times 16/17 August 2014). On 13 August Barzani visited the PKK in Makhmour to thank them. Barzani will have been under increasing pressure to call a national congress of all Kurdish organisations across Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran to mobilise for Kurdish self-defence. He will fear PKK influence growing at his own expense.

Israel, Turkey and oil

In June 2014 Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said, ‘The Kurds are a fighting people who have a proven political commitment and political moderation, and they’re also worthy of their own political independence.’ That same month a tanker carrying oil from the KRG arrived off Israel’s coast. The oil was piped from South Kurdistan to the Turkish port of Ceyhan and delivered to the Israeli port of Ashkelon. The Kurdish region of Iraq contains an estimated 45bn barrels of oil, about a third of Iraq’s total reserves. ‘Over the past five months, according to Turkey’s energy minister Taner Yildiz, 16 tankers bearing a total of 11.2m barrels have sailed from the Turkish port of Ceyhan. When Baghdad, which insists it should process the oil sales, suspended budget payments to Erbil this year, Turkey came to the rescue with big loans’ (Financial Times 22 September 2014).

For Israel, Kurdish oil would reduce dependence on Russian and Azerbaijani supplies. Turkey has more than 2,200 companies registered in Erbil and the majority of its $12bn trade with Iraq is with the KRG. Israeli payments to the KRG for Kurdish oil go through a Turkish Halkbank account. Israel has made no comment on these oil imports. The pipeline carrying the oil from the KRG to Turkey was completed in December 2013 and built by the British firm Genel Energy, led by ex-BP boss Tony Hayward (of the Gulf of Mexico disaster). Genel has discovered oil in South Kurdistan. Another British company investing in South Kurdistan/KRG oil is Gulf Keystone, headed by former British chief of defence forces Lord Guthrie. When the US, Britain, France, Germany and Italy say they will arm the Kurdish forces fighting IS they mean the KRG peshmerga who ran away. Imperialism, Israel and Turkey have every interest in preserving the KRG as their regional ally and every reason to fear the PKK and Rojava.

Turkey enforced an embargo against Rojava but its border with IS-controlled territory remained open. Turkey has provided a transit route for 12,000 IS recruits and for weapons and other supplies. Injured IS fighters have been treated in Turkey’s hospitals. Kurdish People’s Democratic Party MP Demir Celik said at a press conference in Turkey’s parliament that IS forces include around 2,000 Turkish Special Forces. When IS took Mosul in June they seized 49 hostages from the Turkish consulate. On 20 September the Turkish government announced a successful rescue operation to free the hostages. The Prime Minister said the operation had been conducted after months of negotiations and that no ransom had been paid. ‘Pro-ISIS Turkish websites say the Turks were released on the direct orders of the “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’ (Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, 22 September). The release of the hostages resulted from Turkey’s support for IS. IS has smuggled oil from northern Iraq through KRG-controlled territory for sale in Turkey.

Ocalan and the PKK had declared a ceasefire with Turkey in March 2013. That ceasefire was ended on 25 September 2014, citing Turkish support for the IS attack on Kobane. The Turkish state presents itself as seeking a democratic solution to the Kurdish question. Its connivance with IS and the attack on Rojava must be challenged. ‘Today the freedom of the Kurds and the liberation of the peoples of the Middle East from the atrocities of ISIS are intertwined. Therefore, the Kurdistan Freedom Struggle is now synonymous with the Democratic Middle Eastern Revolution,’ Duran Kalkan, Executive Committee of the PKK.

Hands off Rojava!

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 241 October/November 2014

Imperialists launch war on Islamic State in Iraq and Syria

On 11 September 2014, Barack Obama, US President and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate announced the escalation of the military campaign against the Islamic State (IS), extending air strikes and military operations from Iraq into Syria. This will be accompanied by a renewed push to arm and support ‘moderate’ rebel forces who have been fighting Syrian President Assad. At the NATO summit in Newport on 4 September, British Prime Minister David Cameron argued that Assad’s ‘illegitimacy’ provided moral and legal justification for breaching Syrian sovereignty in the pursuit of IS. On 11 September, a spokesperson for Cameron stated that the British state had ruled out nothing over Syria. It is only a year since a proposal in the House of Commons calling for airstrikes was defeated. It is also a year since Obama attempted to build a coalition to launch a war against Syria. Splits in the ruling classes foiled imperialists plans at that time. However, as the crisis of capitalism deepens, and rivals emerge, the need for strategic domination increases. A year later, IS has provided the suitable pretext for war which chemical weapons could not. Openly fighting a war inside Syria’s borders, whatever the stated aim, could provide the imperialists with a strategy to finally overturn the Syrian government.

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Qatar: a fairy godmother for the warmongers

Map of Qatar

On 14 July 2014 at the Pentagon, US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel signed a $11bn arms deal with representatives of the Qatar government to provide Apache helicopters, advanced Patriot surface-to-air missiles and Javelin handheld ground-to-air defence systems to one of the world's most ruthless, reactionary dictatorships. The biggest arms deal of 2014 was a reward for the good behaviour of the Qatari ruling class in defending US imperialist interests in the Middle East and North Africa, including Qatar's arms supplies to 'rebel' groups in Syria, its role in the brutal 2011 NATO invasion of Libya and for maintaining a fort against revolution in the Gulf. Qatar has defence pacts with the US, Britain and France and hosts the biggest US military base in the Middle East.

This August the US writer Peter Theo Curtis, kidnapped two years ago in southern Turkey by the Syrian Jabhat al Nusra was freed after an apparent deal with Qatari representatives. Qatar said the release was down to 'communication with the right people in Syria.' This follows the release five months ago of 13 Greek Orthodox nuns. Reporting on the £43m apparently paid by Qatar for their 'humanitarian' release, Robert Fisk commented that, 'They must be the most expensive nuns in the world – if, that is, a poisonous press and the ferocious rumours of civil war are anything to go by.' The truth behind the scenes is that Qatar's role in Syria has been anything but humanitarian, backing extreme fundamentalist groups attempting to bring down the Ba'athist state. It is the only Gulf country known to have gone beyond the wishes of US President Obama not to allow the shipment of heat-seeking shoulder fired missiles to the 'rebels'. Last year Qatar acted as a middle-man for arms sold by the Sudanese government to these groups, arranging delivery through Turkey. Shipments included Chinese-made anti-aircraft rocket launchers, seen in online footage of Free Syrian Army forces shooting down Syrian army planes.

Qatar was instrumental in setting up the Islamic Front, formed in November 2013 with a programme of 'toppling the regime' of Assad, as well as opposing secularism and Kurdish independence. The Qatari government has shaped the Front's constitution, using its TV station Al Jazeera to promote the group's aims for a 'state of justice, rule of law and freedom', in a bid to counter the Syrian 'regime's propaganda' and to reassure foreign backers. US Secretary of State John Kerry said in December 2013, 'The United States has not met yet to date with the Islamic Front. There has not been a discussion... It’s possible that it could take place.' Qatar has backed the front's largest faction, the al Qaeda-linked Ahrar al Sham group. It and other member organisations are known to have carried out sectarian killings, including the massacre of 190 civilians in Latakia province in August 2013. The groups that Qatar has supported are known to be in conflict with ISIS and al Nusra for one is losing the battle. Qatar is estimated to have spent $3bn in Syria so far. Once again the human price of these unpredictable, imperialist-backed war games is being paid with the suffering of ordinary people.

Since General Sisi's military coup in Egypt in July 2013, Qatar has continued supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which has faced severe repression from an Egyptian government which labels it and Hamas as terrorist organisations, and has collaborated with the Israeli military to maintain the Gaza blockade. In response to Qatar's criticism of the coup regime,Egypt has withdrawn its envoy to Qatar and demanded the implementation of an agreement for Qatar to co-operate in 'handing over outlaws, stopping spreading rumours and information that incite hatred and violence via Al Jazeera TV channel and putting an end to interference in Egypt’s domestic affairs.' Egypt continues to hold Al Jazeera reporters and Qatar is finding that, unlike in Syria, where the kidnappers are on their payroll, negotiating a release is not so easy.

While the US government and its allies have come out strongly in support of the Sisi regime in Egypt, their relationship with Qatar shows their recognition of the instability of the region. The Obama government has provided arms to three successive Egyptian regimes, including the supposedly opposed presidencies of Mubarak, Morsi and Sisi. It froze a large part of its $1.3bn in military 'aid' after the fall of Morsi's Brotherhood government but has since made moves to restore it. John Kerry recently assured the Egyptian rulers that, 'I am confident…that the Apaches will come and that they will come very, very soon.'

Qatar's role in Egypt has provoked tension with other Gulf dictatorships. In March, after a meeting of the Saudi-dominated Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) the governments of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates took the unprecedented decision to remove their ambassadors from Qatar in protest at Qatari 'interference in their internal affairs.' At issue is Qatari ruling class support for the Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Palestine, anti-Saudi rebel forces in Syria, and Hizbollah in Lebanon. The UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are bankrolling the Sisi regime and see the Brotherhood as a transnational threat, with the potential to destabilise their own states. Brotherhood activists in these countries have been banned and imprisoned.

Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar have deeply involved themselves in the struggle for political control resulting from the 'Arab Spring', attempting to stamp out any forces that threaten their own ties to the imperialist plunder of the Gulf and North Africa. The imperialists are backing both horses. US and European leaders are aware of the increasing international opposition to direct Western intervention and of the limitations of relying on Israel. Qatar offers the unique opportunity to negotiate with the Taliban, the Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas, should the need arise. It will act as a willing agent to intervene brutally on the side of reactionary forces across the region and stands as a strategically important Gulf state. Qatar is the world's second gas exporter after Russia and is now part of the 'Gas Troika', an alliance with Iran and Russia which, while it is in its early stages, may hold 60% of the world's gas reserves. EU capitalists are speaking of the opportunity that Qatar provides to 'wean' Europe off Russian gas.[1] But in a land where 20 Indian migrant workers die every month to build palaces and football stadiums, resistance can never be far away.

Louis Brehony

[1]   http://www.huffingtonpost.com/giorgio-cafiero/as-europe-reconsiders-rus_b_5212368.html