The end of Sykes-Picot? - Redrawing the Middle East borders

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 240 August/September 2014

In mid-July IS launched a major offensive in Syria capturing most of the oil-rich Deir ez-Zor province which borders Iraq.

At the end of June and the beginning of Ramadan, the Sunni group then known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) announced the establishment of the Islamic State across the lands it had captured, from the outskirts of Aleppo in eastern Syria to Suleiman Beg in the Diyala province of Iraq. ISIS (now renamed The Islamic State – IS) proclaimed its leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi as Caliph of all Muslims. IS propaganda proclaimed the ‘End of Sykes-Picot’ referring to the 1916 agreement when British and French imperialists drew new borders for the region, in order to secure resources and power. The historic region of Al Sham, which IS intends to capture, extends over all the lands carved up by this agreement, including Jordan, Lebanon and beyond. Jim Craven and Toby Harbertson report.

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The tilting balance in the Middle East and North Africa /FRFI 229 Oct/Nov 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 229 October/November 2012

The furious demonstrations and attacks on US and other western embassies in over 20 countries from Nigeria to Indonesia in September express the anger of millions of people at their oppression by imperialism. For the people from Tunis to Benghazi, Cairo to Karachi, the US-made video insulting the Prophet Mohammed represents the imperialists’ humiliation of their people and their nations – which they have suffered for over a century. However the US, Britain, France and their allies manoeuvre to contain and co-opt the people’s risings, the Arab Spring still threatens to weaken and break the entire edifice that was constructed by the victorious powers after World War One to dominate the Middle East and North Africa.

After Tunisian President Ben Ali and Egyptian President Mubarak were overthrown in early 2011 the imperialists mobilised their regional allies, especially the Gulf states, to intervene in the revolt in Libya. Money and weapons were channelled from Qatar and Saudi Arabia to groups opposed to the Gaddafi government. On 11 September 2012, the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in the US, the US ambassador to Libya and three of his diplomatic colleagues were killed in a rocket attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. The attack is blamed on a fundamentalist group that benefitted from the aid sent to fight Gaddafi’s army; they have bitten the hand that fed them. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, ‘How could this happen in a country we helped liberate, in a city we helped save from destruction?’

The Gaddafi-led government would not have been overthrown without NATO bombers leading the way. The new government is weak; it is headed by Mohamed Al Magariaf, who lived in the US from 1980 to 2011. Rival militias control much of the country and their members have infiltrated the state forces. Just as the imperialists backed religious fundamentalists against the Soviet-supported government in Afghanistan in the 1980s, out of which grew Al Qaeda, so in Libya and now in Syria the imperialists may be sowing the seeds of something they will regret. US warships now patrol off Benghazi, drones cross its skies and US marines have been dispatched to seek revenge.

At the end of August the 16th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) was held in Tehran and was a diplomatic triumph for Iran and defeat for imperialism and Israel. After years of the US and Israel calling Iran a pariah and threat to the world the representatives of 120 countries, including 31 heads of state and 29 foreign secretaries were joined by UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon, in Tehran in defiance of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu who asked them to stay away. They voted for Iran to be chair of the NAM and for Venezuela to host the next summit, and acknowledged the right of Iran to enrich uranium. The BBC dwelt on Egyptian President Morsi’s verbal support for the opposition in Syria, presenting it as a snub to Iran. They omitted any mention of Morsi’s and the NAM’s commitment to Palestine.

Also at the end of August, speaking in London, the chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, cautioned against escalation in Syria and said that an Israeli attack on Iran would be counter-productive. While the US, Britain and France have assembled an armada in the Persian Gulf, the US has scaled back a joint military exercise with Israel planned for October to test Israel’s missile-defence shield. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to call for the US to impose ‘red lines’ beyond which Iran must not step or it will be attacked. The head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, General Jafari, warned that ‘nothing would remain’ of Israel if it attacked Iran and that US bases would also be targeted. He confirmed that Revolutionary Guards were in Syria supporting the Ba’athist state. It is most unlikely that Israel would attack Iran without US agreement and dominant sections of the US ruling class are very wary about this.

Any weakening of the states and structures put in place after World War One by imperialism will provide opportunities for their greatest victims: the Palestinians, the Kurds and the poor and working class masses. They continue to struggle and the balance of forces is being tilted in their favour.

Trevor Rayne

Middle East and North Africa: Spring has yet to bring a summer / 228 Aug/Sep 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 228 August/September 2012

The ‘Arab Spring’ has yet to bring a summer for the region’s masses. Imperialism responded to the risings in Tunisia and Egypt in early 2011 by mobilising its local allies, principally Saudi Arabia and its five fellow Gulf Cooperation Council partners. It turned the revolt against Colonel Gaddafi’s government into a NATO-led war. The rebellion in Bahrain was crushed with help from Saudi and United Arab Emirates’ forces. Now imperialism is using its regional allies, including Turkey, to fund and equip forces to overthrow the Syrian state. US imperialism and Israel wage covert war against Iran, accompanied by US and European Union sanctions that amount to economic warfare.

Elections in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt have produced results that confirm rather than challenge the regional status quo. Where necessary, religious-based parties have been courted as potential partners by US and European imperialism and have been found willing to protect their economic and strategic interests – including Israel. In Libya, the Muslim Brotherhood were not needed.

The underlying economic and social conditions that provoked the uprisings have not changed. The forces that overthrew Mubarak in Egypt are still there. The key to radical economic and social change will be the combination of the youth and all the forces for democracy with the poor in the Middle East and North Africa. The poor and working class masses have nothing to gain and everything to lose from the mutating alliances between local ruling classes and imperialism. In Libya, and now Syria, we can see that imperialism is ready to foster the most lethal sectarianism and to plunge countries into chaos in order to tighten its grip on the region and its resources.

Syria

The battle for Damascus has begun. The 18 July assassination of four central generals shows the Syrian government unable to defend itself effectively. As long as its armed opponents can rely on Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar for supplies, funds and bases, with the US and Europe in support, the Syrian state will not be able to eliminate them.

Syria has a strategically crucial position at the heart of the Middle East, and every major power has a stake in its orientation. It is largely surrounded by hostile countries which have called for regime change and NATO or NATO-allied troops are based in seven of its closest neighbours. It has northern and south-western borders with the two heaviest armed regional powers, Turkey and Israel – both clients of imperialism.

On 22 June a Turkish Phantom jet was shot down in Syrian airspace by Syrian forces. Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon called for ‘massive intervention’, on ‘the Bosnian model’. Turkey has been aiding the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and government figures have repeatedly called for a ‘buffer zone’ within Syria – which would involve foreign troops. Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, explained that the downed warplane was testing Turkey’s radar defences. The only country in the region, however, which may have urgent need of radar and anti-aircraft defences in the near future, is Syria. It is more likely that the Phantom’s mission was to test the capacity of Syria’s radar and defence systems, gathering information for possible NATO air strikes.

The radar system which detected the Phantom was purchased from Russia following Israel’s 2007 air strike on a Syrian nuclear plant. Installed and serviced by Russian technicians, it is thought to be one of the best in the region. Russian support for the Syrian government has been a stumbling block to an escalation of NATO orchestrated regime change. The influence Russia wields politically and economically cannot be underestimated. Through oil and gas supplies it has influence over some NATO countries. Turkey is especially dependent with 58% of natural gas imports coming from Russia, and increasingly for oil in an attempt to break a reliance on Iranian oil (40%) in the face of EU/US sanctions.

Russia has played a key role in arming the Syrian state, with $5.5bn worth of contracts signed since 2006. It has stated it will not sign further arms deals with Syria, but its actions are being scrutinised and highlighted by the US and other NATO powers to vilify and pressurise Syria’s allies. British insurance company Standard Club forced a ship carrying helicopters, refurbished in Russia, to turn back from its intended destination in Syria. Russia was unperturbed and the helicopters will return to Syria, following dozens of Russian marines and six warships sent to Tartus, Russia’s only Mediterranean port. This sends a clear message about Russia’s interests in Syria. Russia is also looking for ways to protect its regional interests in a possible post-Assad future. Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov met Syrian opposition forces on 11 July to discuss Russia’s draft UN resolution. The UN manoeuvring of the US, UK and France to enact Chapter Seven of the UN charter, allowing further sanctions and military action, continues to be blocked by Russia and China. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called for Russia and China to ‘pay the price’ for this defiance.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia are stepping up their intervention, with Saudi Arabia paying generous salaries to FSA fighters to encourage mass defections. The NATO powers are right behind them. Despite the efforts of UN peace envoy Kofi Annan, Iran has been excluded from peace talks due to the imperialist veto. For Iran, much is at stake. The attacks on Syria are part of an attempt to weaken and isolate it, forcing it to comply more readily with the imperialists’ agenda, and to prise open its huge oil resources. Iranian special forces are in Syria fighting to stop this happening. With the competing interests of all these major international powers being played out in Syria, what is at stake is much more than Assad’s government. Turkish troops are now massed on the northern border, and Syria has staged a huge training exercise to show off its ample military capacity. The trajectory of the war in Syria is being determined primarily by foreign powers and not by the Syrian people.

Iran

The full range of US and European Union (EU) sanctions against Iran came into effect on 1 July 2012. Any foreign bank or company trading with Iranian banks faces exclusion from the US banking and financial system. Alongside banning imports of Iranian oil, the EU has banned the sale of insurance for tankers carrying Iran’s oil. South Korea, Iran’s fourth biggest oil customer, will stop buying Iranian oil because of the EU insurance ban. The Financial Times reports Iran trying to hide its tankers’ identities, with changed names and different countries’ flags. The stated purpose of the sanctions is to stop Iran enriching uranium to the point where it could build a nuclear weapon. Iran has repeatedly said that it does not intend to build a nuclear bomb. However, the sanctions are really part of an attempt by imperialism to force regime change in Iran – they complement the assassination of Iranian scientists, cyber warfare and material support for anti-state forces.

Oil accounts for 80% of Iran’s foreign income. At the end of June an Iranian official said that oil exports had dropped by 20%; estimates are that they could be halved. The rial has lost 30% of its foreign exchange value since December 2011. Iran’s food prices are rising steeply: 50% to 100% on staple foods. There are currency shortages with which to buy imports. Youth unemployment is officially 22.5%, but could be much higher. The sanctions amount to economic warfare against Iran.

The US has increased its presence in the Gulf, with two aircraft carriers and accompanying battle fleets, minesweepers, a special operations platform, stealth bombers and other warplanes. The US and 19 other countries have scheduled a military exercise in the Gulf for September and in autumn the US and Israel will conduct a joint exercise to test Israel’s missile defence systems. On 3 July the Iranian Revolutionary Guard test fired dozens of missiles, including weapons capable of reaching Israel. A spokesperson said that 35 US military bases and Israel were targeted. World oil prices jumped in response.

Seven countries, including India and South Korea, were exempted from the US sanctions (Japan was already exempt), but China was not. China is Iran’s biggest oil customer. The US wants to make China dependent on supplies from Saudi Arabia and its other Gulf clients. How it intends to impose sanctions on the country that funds the US government deficits is hard to see.

Libya

The US and British governments sent their congratulations, newspapers continued with the ‘success story’ that is supposed to be Libya and expressed satisfaction at the victory of Mahmoud Jibril and his ‘moderate pro-business’ National Forces Alliance (NFA) in the 7 July congressional elections. Jibril was the National Transitional Council’s interim prime minister. He has a US doctorate in economics and leaked US cables describe him as ‘reform minded’ and someone who ‘gets the US perspective’.

The media largely ignored the 5 July Amnesty International report, ‘Libya: rule of law or rule of militias’ which tells a different story: the arbitrary arrests, torture, killing with impunity, the forcible displacement of populations and extortion that is the rule of over 500 militias. Amnesty International reports, ‘The entire city of Tarwargha, estimated at 30,000, continues to be prevented from going home.’ Tarwargha was a mainly black African town. Racism and xenophobia against dark skinned Libyans is rife. Eritrean and Somali refugees, including children, are detained and forced to work as slaves. It is estimated that 4,000 people are still detained without trial in prisons outside central control. Amnesty records 20 deaths through torture since the Gaddafi government fell last August.

Those who peddle the myth of Libya’s ‘progress’ ignore the 50,000 killed by the NATO-led war against the Libyan government and disregard the racism into which the country has been pushed. In the recent period militias fired at a convoy carrying the British ambassador, seized staff from the International Criminal Court, occupied Tripoli airport, desecrated a Commonwealth war cemetery and continue to fight each other. Dozens of private security firms operate in Libya and the US and European oil multinationals are back in business – it is a success story for them, not for Libya’s masses.

Egypt

Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood was confirmed the winner of the Egyptian presidential elections with 51.7% of the votes on 24 June. Before he took office, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) dissolved parliament, in which the Muslim Brotherhood was dominant and decided that it and not the president would dictate foreign policy, set its own budget and resume its powers to arrest and torture at will.

Within hours of being declared president Mursi said that Egypt would honour its international treaties, meaning continue to recognise and collaborate with Israel. His first overseas trip was to Saudi Arabia where Mursi affirmed Egypt’s strategic alliance with that country and said Egypt would not give preference to Hamas in Gaza compared to the Palestinian Authority. Mursi will not open the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza unless he is forced to. On 14/15 July US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Mursi and the head of the SCAF General Tantawi. She said that the US will continue to provide the Egyptian army with $1.3bn a year and offered $1bn more in aid.

Egypt is negotiating a $3.2bn loan from the International Monetary Fund. The IMF will demand cuts in fuel subsidies, which account for a quarter of government spending and upon which many Egyptians depend. The Egyptian pound is falling and food prices will rise. The revolt will resume.

Trevor Rayne and Toby Harbertson

The King of Bahrain - an FRFI guide– May 2012

The King of Bahrain - an FRFI guideThe King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Khalifa, was a guest of HM Queen Elizabeth II for her Diamond Jubilee lunch at Windsor Castle on 18 May 2012. He also hosted the Formula 1 Grand Prix on 22 April 2012. Below are some interesting facts for FRFI readers.

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Murderous British imperialism - military operations in North Africa and the Middle East since 1945

Murderous British imperialism - military operations in North Africa and the Middle East since 1945

The Royal Air Force bombing of Syria on 3 December 2015 is the 50th separate British military intervention in the Middle East and North Africa since the end of the Second World War. This region contains approximately half of the world’s proven oil reserves; control over these reserves and the distribution of oil is essential for the British ruling class and for the balance of power between the competing imperialist states.

Five of the world’s top ten oil producing countries are in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq and Kuwait. Additionally, among the top 20 producers are Algeria, Libya and Qatar. The US is the world’s biggest oil consumer followed by China, Japan and India. Control over the distribution of oil is critical for controlling the emergence of powers to rival the US, Britain and Europe. 

As well as bombing Syria the RAF is bombing Iraq. The RAF was founded in 1918 and began bombing Iraq in 1919. It is now in to the tenth decade of its existence and has bombed Iraq in seven of those ten decades.

Five current Arab heads of state trained at the British Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst; they are those of Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman.

British military interventions since 1945

1. 1945-48 Palestine Reinforce the British occupation army until the end of the mandate.

2. 1946 Iran Counter Soviet influence and Kurdish and Azerbaijani republics.

3. 1947 Aden Suppression of civil disturbances.

4. 1948-49 Somalia Prevent reunification of the country and maintain protectorate.

5. 1948-51 Eritrea Suppression of the Shifta revolt.

6. 1951 Iran Aqaba Iranian oil nationalistion.

7. 1951-54 Suez Canal Zone.

8. 1954–83 Cyprus Suppression of EOKA and occupation.

9. 1954 Egypt Intervention on the Nile.

10. 1955 Buraimi Oasis Preventing incursion from Saudi Arabia and its allies.

11. 1955-60 Yemen border incidents.

12. 1956 Bahrain Suppression of riots.

13. 1956 Egypt Suez crisis and invasion.

14. 1957-59 Muscat and Oman Suppression of resistance struggle.

15. 1958 Iraq Military coup ousts King Faisal II.

16. 1958 Jordan Military assistance to regime following Iraq coup.

17. 1958 Kuwait Iraqi General Qasim claims Kuwait is part of Iraq.

18. 1958 Lebanon Attempt to bolster Pro-western Christian government.

19. 1961 Kuwait Prevention of Iraqi incursion.

20. 1962-70 Yemen Civil war Britain sided with Royalists. 200,000 Yemenis killed.

21. 1963-67 Aden Attempted suppression of socialist-led national liberation struggle.

22. 1964 Yemen Radfan campaign against socialist-led revolutionaries.

23. 1966 Das Island Abu Dhabi oil dispute.

24. 1967 Libya Guarding oil installations and preventing coup against King Idris.

25. 1970 Jordan ‘Black September’ Operation Shoveller to protect King Hussein against an uprising in support of the Palestinians under attack from Jordanian troops. This was a critical intervention shaping the Middle East henceforward.

26. 1971-76 Dhofar (Oman) Suppression of socialist-led revolt.

27. 1973 Egypt RAF moves UN troops after Yom Kippur war.

28. 1974 Malta Defence of British bases during anti-crown disturbances. Premier Dom Mintoff declares Malta a republic and negotiates end of bases by 1979.

29. 1974 Kuwait.

30. 1974 Cyprus Operation Ablant evacuation of British nationals after Turkey invades.

31. 1977 Somalia British Special Forces support their West German counterparts at Mogadishu airport after the Red Army Faction hijack a Boeing 737.

32. 1978 Lebanon Supporting UN force; transporting Fijian troops via Tel Aviv en route to Lebanon.

33. 1979 Iran Revolution Evacuation of westerners.

34. 1982 Egypt Part of UN force stationed in Sinai.

35. 1983 Lebanon stationed in Beirut.

36. 1983 Aden/Yemen Evacuation of British nationals.

37. 1986 Gibraltar Reinforcement of air defences after US bombed Libya.

38. 1986 Cyprus Reinforcement of Akrotiri base after US bombed Libya.

39. 1987-88 Dubai Persian Gulf minesweeping by Royal Navy and RAF.

40. 1991 Iraq Gulf War I.

41. 1991-2003 Iraq RAF bombing raids and enforcement of no-fly zones.

42. 1994 Yemen Evacuation of embassy.

43. 1994 Kuwait Operation Driver to reinforce British garrison and warn Iraqi regime against invasion.

44. 2003-11 Iraq War.

45. 2011 Libya to evacuate British nationals.

46. 2011 Libya Enforcing UN no-fly zone and removal of Libyan government

47. 2012 Jordan Support and training for forces opposed to Syrian government.

48. 2013 Mali Support for French occupation force.

49. 2014 onwards Iraq RAF part of anti-Islamic State operations.

50. 2015 onwards Syria RAF part of anti-Islamic State operations.

 

Trevor Rayne

1. 1945-48 Palestine Reinforce the British occupation army until the end of the mandate.

 

2. 1946 Iran Counter Soviet influence and Kurdish and Azerbaijani republics.

 

3. 1947 Aden Suppression of civil disturbances.

 

4. 1948-49 Somalia Prevent reunification of the country and maintain protectorate.

 

5. 1948-51 Eritrea Suppression of the Shifta revolt.

 

6. 1951 Iran Aqaba Iranian oil nationalistion.

 

7. 1951-54 Suez Canal Zone.

 

8. 1954–83 Cyprus Suppression of EOKA and occupation.

 

9. 1954 Egypt Intervention on the Nile.

 

10. 1955 Buraimi Oasis Preventing incursion from Saudi Arabia and its allies.

 

11. 1955-60 Yemen border incidents.

 

12. 1956 Bahrain Suppression of riots.

 

13. 1956 Egypt Suez crisis and invasion.

 

14. 1957-59 Muscat and Oman Suppression of resistance struggle.

 

15. 1958 Iraq Military coup ousts King Faisal II.

 

16. 1958 Jordan Military assistance to regime following Iraq coup.

 

17. 1958 Kuwait Iraqi General Qasim claims Kuwait is part of Iraq.

 

18. 1958 Lebanon Attempt to bolster Pro-western Christian government.

 

19. 1961 Kuwait Prevention of Iraqi incursion.

 

20. 1962-70 Yemen Civil war Britain sided with Royalists. 200,000 Yemenis killed.

 

21. 1963-67 Aden Attempted suppression of socialist-led national liberation struggle.

 

22. 1964 Yemen Radfan campaign against socialist-led revolutionaries.

 

23. 1966 Das Island Abu Dhabi oil dispute.

 

24. 1967 Libya Guarding oil installations and preventing coup against King Idris.

 

25. 1970 Jordan ‘Black September’ Operation Shoveller to protect King Hussein against an uprising in support of the Palestinians under attack from Jordanian troops. This was a critical intervention shaping the Middle East henceforward.

 

26. 1971-76 Dhofar (Oman) Suppression of socialist-led revolt.

 

27. 1973 Egypt RAF moves UN troops after Yom Kippur war.

 

28. 1974 Malta Defence of British bases during anti-crown disturbances. Premier Dom Mintoff declares Malta a republic and negotiates end of bases by 1979.

 

29. 1974 Kuwait.

 

30. 1974 Cyprus Operation Ablant evacuation of British nationals after Turkey invades.

 

31. 1977 Somalia British Special Forces support their West German counterparts at Mogadishu airport after the Red Army Faction hijack a Boeing 737.

 

32. 1978 Lebanon Supporting UN force; transporting Fijian troops via Tel Aviv en route to Lebanon.

 

33. 1979 Iran Revolution Evacuation of westerners.

 

34. 1982 Egypt Part of UN force stationed in Sinai.

 

35. 1983 Lebanon stationed in Beirut.

 

36. 1983 Aden/Yemen Evacuation of British nationals.

 

37. 1986 Gibraltar Reinforcement of air defences after US bombed Libya.

 

38. 1986 Cyprus Reinforcement of Akrotiri base after US bombed Libya.

 

39. 1987-88 Dubai Persian Gulf minesweeping by Royal Navy and RAF.

 

40. 1991 Iraq Gulf War I.

 

41. 1991-2003 Iraq RAF bombing raids and enforcement of no-fly zones.

 

42. 1994 Yemen Evacuation of embassy.

 

43. 1994 Kuwait Operation Driver to reinforce British garrison and warn Iraqi regime against invasion.

 

44. 2003-11 Iraq War.

 

45. 2011 Libya to evacuate British nationals.

 

46. 2011 Libya Enforcing UN no-fly zone and removal of Libyan government