Syria: Peace talks and proxy war / FRFI 236 Dec 2013/Jan 2014

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Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 236 December 2013/January 2014

The Syrian government has complied with the Russian-US chemical weapons plan, destroying all its production facilities by the November deadline. The war has dropped from the top of the news agenda. The international struggle over Syria’s future has shifted focus to the arrangements for the Geneva II peace conference. Relative negotiating positions will be determined by the balance of forces on the ground which is shifting in favour of the Syrian Army. In the northeast, Kurdish forces have taken the upper hand. The strategy of the imperialists and their regional clients is in tatters and they are struggling to reverse this. In the midst of this brutal war, the humanitarian crisis deepens. Epidemics of once controlled diseases threaten millions, and the refugee crisis intensifies. An effective ceasefire and peace settlement would be welcomed. However, peace is not the primary objective as far as the imperialists of Britain, the US, and France are concerned. Toby Harbertson reports.

Geneva II

The Geneva II conference was planned for May 2013 but has been continually delayed. At the time of writing it has been set for 22 January 2014. It aims to bring the Syrian government and opposition together with the permanent members of the UN Security Council. Geneva I in June 2012 agreed a plan to implement a ‘political transition’. US Secretary of State, John Kerry, declared that the goal was to give ‘the people of Syria the opportunity to choose their future’. However, the Syrian people have little room for choice, with his insistence that the US ‘will continue to support the opposition’ (4 November 2013).

For the imperialists, any peace talks must help bring about regime change. The British government hosted 11 Western and Arab nations from the ‘Friends of Syria’ group, who agreed that neither Syrian President Bashar Assad nor his ‘close associates’ should have any role in a future government. The ‘London 11’ asserted: ‘We will step up our joint efforts to channel support to the National Coalition and the Supreme Military Council [SMC] of the Free Syrian Army.’ The National Coalition (NC) is a puppet body of bourgeois exiles. It means little outside the conference rooms of London, Geneva and Istanbul.

Syria can be broadly split into three parts. South and central Syria, including Damascus and Aleppo, are increasingly controlled by the Syrian government with support from Lebanon’s Hezbollah. The north and east are largely controlled by a variety of opposition militias and mercenaries (primarily the Al Qaeda linked jihadist groups Jahbat Al Nusra (JN) and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)). The far northeast is under Kurdish control. With this balance of forces, the NC and London 11 are not setting realistic conditions. They have an interest in delaying or derailing Geneva II until they can change this balance. Equally, the Syrian government has no reason to participate while it continues to make military gains. As long as the conference remains premised on meeting the interests of the imperialists and its opposition, it cannot result in a solution for the people of Syria.

Imperialist mercenaries and Al Qaeda

States, individuals and organisations, particularly in the Gulf, are funding reactionary jihadist groups as direct proxies. In November Saudi Arabia announced that it would support Jaysh Al Islam (JAI), a coalition of Sunni groups, with millions of dollars of arms and training. JAI has joined with other Islamic groups, including Ansar Al Sham and Liwa Al Tawhid, in the new Islamic Front, unifying many of the Gulf-sponsored groups, providing an alternative to the irrelevant SMC. JAI head Zahran Alloush, recently met with the US envoy to Syria, Robert Ford. Saudi Arabia still relies on the military and intelligence networks of US and British imperialism.

Georges Malbrunot of Le Figaro revealed to Press TV how the CIA significantly increased arms deliveries to the opposition in September with 600 tons of weapons shipped in 2013 (10 November). On 31 October, Israel bombed Syria for the fourth time this year, effectively supporting the opposition. Israel and the imperialists have wider regional objectives: ‘Israeli pilots are using Syria as a laboratory to test radar and communications, flight patterns, its bombing accuracy, interception technology and assets to further their readiness for a pre-emptive attack on Iran’ (James Petras, 9 November). Strong Sunni jihadist forces are welcomed in order to fuel sectarian war with their Shia opponents.

Kurdish autonomy

In northeastern Syria, Kurdish fighters have made gains against jihadists with the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) now controlling the Afrin region and the far northeast. On 12 November the PYD declared the liberation of Western Kurdistan/Rojava and announced a new Kurdish transitional government. PYD head, Saleh Muslim, stated: ‘We have found no allies and paid for our own bullets.’ The NC, who have found allies in the imperialist capitals, and never paid for their own bullets, declared the PYD ‘hostile to the Syrian revolution’ (13 November).

Syrian Kurds have found many other enemies. Turkey is constructing a border fence between the Kurdish towns of Nusaybin and Qamishli, sparking protests and hunger strikes. Nusaybin’s Mayor, Ayse Gökkan, called the wall ‘a declaration of war against Kurds’ (The Guardian, 8 November). This newly autonomous area could advance the Kurdish liberation struggle within Turkey, inspiring national aspirations and giving the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) more freedom to organise. Masoud Barzani, the sell-out President of the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq, has also opposed the declaration. Syria’s Kurds face many challenges ahead.

Human cost

Syria has been polio-free since 1999, but in November cases were diagnosed in the northeast. According to the World Health Organisation, polio ‘has so far left ten children paralysed, and poses a risk of paralysis to hundreds of thousands of children across the region’ (8 November). Cases of measles, typhoid, dysentery and hepatitis A have increased in Syria’s north and east. The movement of refugees into Turkey, Jordan and Europe threatens to spread these epidemics. According to UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, 9.3 million people in Syria now need humanitarian assistance, with 6.5 million people displaced from their homes (4 November).

The objective conditions for a successful peace plan do not exist in Syria. The majority of the armed opposition, such as JN and ISIS, will not participate in Geneva II. Arms are still being poured into Syria by the imperialists and the Gulf states. If they cannot shift the balance of forces, the Syrian government will soon control most major cities and roads. This will go some way to alleviating the suffering imposed upon Syria by the imperialist covert war. The sectarian violence has expanded into Lebanon and Iraq, and will prove difficult to control. Ever resourceful, the imperialists will find ways to continue their strategy for regional domination.