War in Syria Imperialists enforce their own chemical weapons monopoly/FRFI 235 Oct/Nov 2013

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Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 235 October/November 2013

The war in Syria has exposed significant splits in the imperialist ruling classes, with divisions emerging about how best to achieve their objectives in the Middle East. Following a rabid push for open war by David Cameron, Barack Obama, and François Hollande, first Cameron, and then Obama, were blocked from carrying out air-strikes and missile attacks by resistance within their own political establishments. Neither could present a coherent strategy for open military intervention, or explain how this war would not go the chaotic way of Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya. In proposing a diplomatic solution, Russia gained political standing and offered a way out for Obama who was isolated. Now, the imperialists will try to tip the balance of forces against the Syrian government in other ways. Britain has played a central role in the campaign to destroy Syria for more than two years through support for opposition groups, sanctions, and special forces involvement. Along with the US, France, Israel and others, they will continue their campaign to destroy the Syrian government. TOBY HARBERTSON reports.

The most recent phase of the machinations against Syria began on 21 August, following an attack using the chemical agent sarin in Ghouta, eastern Damascus. Barack Obama had declared in summer 2012 that the use of chemical weapons in Syria was a ‘red line’ which would provoke US intervention. Responsibility for the Ghouta attack was laid squarely at the door of Syrian President Bashar Assad by the majority of imperialist politicians and their media, despite inconclusive evidence. Preparations for a strike began, with Britain and the US amassing their military hardware in the eastern Mediterranean and taking their case for an attack to their ruling class colleagues. No clear evidence was provided, no coherent plan was laid out, and no clear military objective was stated. The resolve of Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iran, Russia and China, threatened unforeseen and drastic consequences. Despite the claims of some in the ruling classes, the complete lack of a credible opposition is widely acknowledged. Open war in the Middle East did not achieve all the objectives of the imperialists throughout the last decade, with oil production in Libya a fraction of what it was, and bloody chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US and British military largely opposed the attack, seeing it as counter-productive and expensive.

Cameron’s defeat in Parliament left Obama struggling to build another ‘coalition of the willing’, beyond Syria’s ex-colonial power, France. The most bellicose in the US had overstepped the mark and were isolated. Russia took advantage of the temporary disarray in the US ruling class and put forward a plan to bring Syria’s chemical weapons under international control. This defused Obama’s blustering, allowing the exposed warmongers the chance to climb down, and Russia to gain political capital at their expense.

Chemical weapons

Syria signed the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention on 14 September. This leaves Israel as one of only six countries not bound by the treaty. The agreement negotiated by Russia’s Sergei Lavrov and the US’s John Kerry, submitted as a UN Security Council resolution, required Syria to submit immediately an exhaustive inventory of its chemical weapons, as well as production and storage facilities. International weapons inspectors must be granted unfettered access and must be in Syria by November, with the goal of eliminating all chemical weapons by mid-2014. With this new agreement Syria is in a very similar position to Iraq shortly before the 2003 war. The imperialists are still talking tough, to disguise their retreat and keep their options open.

The UN resolution backed by Britain, the US and France makes no explicit threat of military force if Syria does not comply, but refers to Chapter VII of the UN charter which justifies acts of war. Russia favoured a resolution without this threat. On 14 September Obama declared: ‘this plan emerged only with a credible threat of US military action, we will maintain our military posture in the region to keep the pressure on the Assad regime ? If diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act.’ NATO secretary general Rasmussen declared on 18 September, after a meeting with Cameron: ‘irrespective of the outcome of the deliberations in the UN Security Council, the military option will still be on the table’.

Implementing the chemical weapons deal will pose serious problems. Syria has been in a state of war for two years, and an extended ceasefire would be necessary for progress to be made. The imperialist puppets in the Free Syrian Army (FSA) would have to agree to this. However FSA chief, General Selim Idriss rejected the deal outright: ‘We completely ignore this initiative and will continue to fight to bring down the regime’. Chemical weapons experts have suggested that implementing this plan would amount to a UN invasion. Dan Kaszeta, a former chemical weapons specialist for the US, estimated that it ‘would take many thousands of armed soldiers’ and ‘would be the equivalent of an armed invasion of Syria.’ Dieter Rothbacher, a former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, suggested that this could require ‘up to 75,000 ground troops’ (Al Jazeera, 11 September 2013). A UN intervention could paralyse Syria’s campaign against rebel forces, allowing them time to reorganise and resupply with imperialist assistance. Syria will be vulnerable to neighbouring Israel’s massive stocks of nuclear and chemical weapons.

The Ghouta attack

It is worth examining some of the facts around the 21 August Ghouta attack which have not featured prominently in the major British media. Israel first reported chemical attacks by the Syrian government in March 2013; this was met with scepticism. The evidence the US claims to have pointing to government complicity in the 21 August attacks is also reported to have come from Israeli intelligence. Britain’s GCHQ listening post at Mount Troodos in Cyprus is the most important imperialist spying facility in the region, and Israel has no comparable facilities. Nothing was intercepted by GCHQ implicating the government in the attack (Craig Murray, 31 August 2013).

The Russian government continues to blame rebel groups for the Ghouta attack, and submitted a dossier of evidence to the UN on 18 September. Prosecutors in Adana, Turkey, have charged six men of the Al Qaeda-linked rebel group Jabhat Al Nusra (JN) and Ahrar ash Sham with seeking out chemicals with the intent to produce sarin gas. On 29 August, Dale Gavlak (AP journalist) and Yahyeh Ababneh reported that Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar Bin Sultan provided JN with sarin gas which was let off after mishandling (Mint Press News). After this report spread across the internet, Gavlak was sacked from AP. Mint Press News reported on the pressure they received to discredit the article. Gavlak has since played down her involvement in the article.

Jihadists reportedly make up between 35% and 60% of rebel strength in Syria (Daily Telegraph, 15 September 2013). Increasingly militants from the main jihadist groups JN and Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are launching attacks on FSA linked rebel groups, such as the ISIS capture of the town of Azaz on 19 September. These groups have been increasingly accused of human rights violations, including summary executions of prisoners (UN Human Rights Council, 10 September 2013). The Independent’s Robert Fisk states: ‘Now we’ve got rebels chopping off prisoners’ heads, I’m not sure what scruples they’d have about using sarin’ (15 September 2013). Whoever was responsible for the attack in Ghouta, it is clear that it has played into the hands of the Zionists and the imperialists.

Support for FSA stepped up

The chaotic assortment of 1,000 rebel groups in Syria has never formed the coherent opposition which the imperialists require. Britain and the US are continuing their push to create a credible opposition in order to enable regime change. After meeting Ahmad Al Jarba, the president of the puppet Syrian National Coalition, William Hague declared: ‘The people of Syria should be in no doubt that the UK stands fully behind the Syrian National opposition – the sole legitimate representatives of the Syrian people’. On 13 September, France, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Jordan publicly agreed on the need to strengthen the Syrian opposition forces in order to ‘remain firm with the regime’. Co-operating with US and British intelligence, Saudi Arabia has stepped up deliveries of light weapons and anti-tank guided missiles since the Ghouta attack, alongside ‘Arab governments that do not want their support publicly known’ (The Times, 6 September 2013). It has been confirmed that key figures in the FSA have long received salaries from the CIA and rebels in Aleppo have confirmed that they had been giving lists of targets for air-strikes to the US and others (Wall Street Journal reporter Adam Entous on Democracy Now, 6 September 2013). Sky News reported: ‘It is widely acknowledged in northern Syria that this type of information is being passed to US handlers... It is an open secret that the US is training, and heavily linked to, the FSA and rebel groups in Turkey and Jordan. British advisers are assisting rebel groups on a variety of levels, but the government continues to insist that it is non-military'. FSA sources tell Sky News that is true, but only in the 'broadest sense of non-military assistance.’ This is certainly not the behaviour of countries intent on a ‘political’, ‘diplomatic’ or ‘peaceful’ solution.

Everyday suffering

With increasing support for the opposition forces, and a potentially disabling UN agreement, the future for Syria looks bleak. Already the war has killed more than 100,000 people, at least half of whom were fighting for the Syrian government (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 1 September 2013). The UN High Commission for Refugees estimates that six million people have been displaced so far, one million of these children, and at least two million displaced outside Syria’s borders. Lebanon hosts one million refugees, in a country of only 4.5 million people. British medical journal The Lancet has found that over three million children in Syria are now living in poverty, and exposed the destruction which has been wrought on the Syrian health care system. From a functioning public health care system which achieved better results than Saudi Arabia in 2011, it is now falling apart and hopelessly unable to meet demand (Middle East Research and Information Project, 14 May 2013). 15,000 doctors have fled the country, leaving only 36 in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo. Before March 2011, 90% of Syria’s pharmaceuticals were produced in Syria; now, due to damage to manufacturing plants, production has been reduced by 90%. EU and US sanctions have led to severe shortages of cancer medicines and other medical supplies. 37% of Syrian hospitals have been destroyed and a further 20% severely damaged. In Syria’s coastal city of Latakia, the main referral hospital receives a new emergency patient every 32 seconds (World Health Organisation, April Briefing, The Lancet, 16 September 2013).

This is the brutality which the imperialist system has created through sanctions, covert war, and political manoeuvring. The criminals in the British, US and French governments express concern and implore for ‘solutions’ – which involve more violence, more chaos, more suffering. They need to break Syria, then Iran, in order to further dominate the Middle East. The chaos in the region has so far meant that their objectives have not been fully achieved. The imperialist strategy is coming apart, and destroying more and more lives. We must bring the anti-imperialist message to every struggle in Britain, and organise against Britain’s barbaric imperialist system.