Syria: a bloody stalemate

Escalating violence in western Syria has dominated the news, with daily reports of intense urban fighting. It is now a year since the insurgency began. The UN estimates that over 8,000 people have been killed, and 30,000 displaced. Intense diplomatic manoeuvring demonstrates the strategic importance of Syria for imperialism. Regional domination is the real prize for Britain, the US and France; they view Syria as key to subduing Iran, Hezbollah in Lebanon and even the Palestinian resistance. Toby Harbertson reports.

The imperialist strategy is to destabilise the Syrian government and replace it with a pliant opposition in the form of the Syrian National Council (SNC) and Free Syrian Army (FSA). For the people of Syria this means insecurity, enforced poverty, deepening sectarian divisions and death.

The violence in the Baba Amr district of Homs was extensively covered throughout February. Body counts were reported daily, and western journalists embedded with the opposition dispatched eyewitness reports back to their newspapers and TV networks. The FSA withdrawal from the area on 1 March followed the death of the Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin; journalists were then evacuated from the heart of the fighting. Much of the city has been affected and many refugees have fled to Lebanon. These journalists did not report the presence of imperialist special forces in Homs: the Lebanese Daily Star reported ‘13 French officers’ held by Syrian authorities there. Baba Amr was listed by Israeli intelligence analyst DEBKAfile as one of four locations operating as bases for foreign forces and residents have reported large numbers of Iraqis, Libyans and Qataris among the rebels. The FSA is presented as a popular armed response to state brutality – an indigenous and credible force ready to overthrow the Syrian government. This is not the case.

The FSA resembles the forces which imperialism sponsored to overthrow the Libyan government; a loose umbrella organisation for various militias, with different strengths, connections and agendas. On 11 February Al Qaeda leader, Ayman Al Zawahri, called on supporters from neighbouring countries to fight against Syria’s government; US officials have confirmed that the Iraqi branch was behind bombings in Damascus and Aleppo. It is striking how rebel activity is concentrated around Syria’s borders. Following the rebels’ defeat in Homs, the focus of violence shifted to Idlib – close to the border of Turkey’s Hatay province – home to a NATO command centre. Refugee camps in Turkey are the FSA’s base, and French special forces provide training and support. The name FSA is used to imply coherence for a patchwork of groups; funded and armed by different imperialist, regional and religious powers.

After the FSA’s defeat in Baba Amr, Qatar’s Sheik Al Thani declared he would, ‘do whatever necessary to help them, including giving them weapons to defend themselves’. Qatar granted $100 million to the new puppet government in Libya. Within days Libya gifted the Syrian opposition the same amount for ‘humanitarian aid’. Turkey has renewed calls for intervention, with Prime Minister Erdogan, explaining ‘a buffer zone, a security zone, are things being studied’. This would involve direct confrontation between foreign forces and the Syrian army. By closing its embassy in Syria and withdrawing all citizens, Turkey appears to be preparing for war.

US intelligence agency Stratfor emails state that US special forces trained the embryonic FSA. British MI6 operatives have been reported in Homs. SNC spokesperson Bassma Kodmani said that unnamed governments were supplying high-tech arms and equipment to the FSA. British Foreign Secretary Hague explained that Britain will continue supplying the opposition with ‘non-lethal’ aid, whilst US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said the US would supply radio equipment. These governments are held back from revealing the extent of their involvement without a UN resolution.

Al Jazeera, having justified NATO intervention in Libya to regional audiences, is again being used for Qatari and imperialist foreign policy. Its support for the Syrian opposition and presentation of news to justify military intervention created conflict within the network. Leaked footage of interviews in Homs shows the news being manipulated to gain sympathy for the opposition. Al Jazeera’s refusal to carry pictures of armed fighters attacking government soldiers in Wadi Khaled prompted high-level resignations in its Beirut Bureau. The head of Syria coverage, Ahmad Ibrahim, is the brother of Anas Al Abdeh, a leading SNC member.

On 26 February the Syrian government held a referendum on changing the constitution. A 57.4% turnout was recorded, with 89.4% voting in favour of a new constitution and multi-party elections – announced for 7 May. This is dismissed by imperialist governments and press, or ignored. It is important to remember that most of Syria remains calm, touched only by the economic problems which sanctions have brought. On 14 March, the anniversary of the uprising, tens of thousands demonstrated in support of the government and against foreign intervention. Iran, Lebanon, Iraq and Algeria remain behind the Syrian government. Lack of opposition progress has resulted in defections from the SNC; three key members left on 14 March, and at least 20 members split to form the Syrian Patriotic Group, all to offer more armed support for the FSA.

Britain, France and the US have pushed for a UN resolution to justify war on Syria, but Russia and China have opposed any draft resolutions, protecting their interests in Syria and Iran. Russia’s deputy defence minister said that Russian special forces are training Syria’s army. Former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, has been appointed as joint UN–Arab League envoy to Syria, to bring about a peaceful resolution. He called for the international community to ‘speak with one voice’ over Syria and met Assad for negotiations. The SNC refuses to enter negotiations; their sole aim is regime change. The government refuses to negotiate with opposition groups until violence ends. Salim Kheirbek, a Syrian dissident, explained to the New Yorker, ‘No more than 30 per cent of the people are involved in the resistance. The other 70 per cent, if not actually with the regime, are silent, because it is not convincing to them, and especially after what happened in Iraq and Libya. These people want reforms, but not at any price.’ Fighting on the side of imperialism is not how the Syrian people will free themselves from the bourgeois oppression of the Ba’athist government.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 226 April/May 2012

 

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