Syria: Aleppo becoming epicentre of global war

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Aleppo war

On 22 September, the Syrian military announced an assault on the remaining opposition fighters in east Aleppo, with the support of the Russian military. After six years of brutal war, it has judged that it is now in a position to finally retake the entirety of the country’s second city, relegating the imperialist-backed insurgency to mainly rural areas. The major imperialist states and their allies cannot accept such a blow to their longstanding plans to overturn the independent government of President Bashar Assad. Their reaction has been increasingly hysterical. Newspapers have been filled with imperialist politicians hypocritically accusing Russia and Syria of war crimes, whilst ramping up the rhetoric for war against Syria, and even Russia. The stakes in the Middle East are getting ever higher. Toby Harbertson reports.

Claims and counter-claims

A ceasefire was negotiated to begin on 12 September. The Syrian government accused rebel groups of breaking the ceasefire more than 300 times. The agreement was shattered on 17 September by US-led airstrikes on Syrian soldiers fighting the Islamic State group (IS) at Al Tharda mountain near Deir Ez Zor. The attack killed up to 90 Syrian soldiers, injured 100, and allowed a temporary IS advance. The British, Danish, and Australian air forces have all subsequently claimed to have participated in the strike. The US Central Command described it as a targeting error, without offering an apology. Syrian intelligence claimed that it had intercepted communications between the US and IS before the attack. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova explained: ‘We are reaching a really terrifying conclusion for the whole world: that the White House is defending Islamic State.’ (17 September).

The Syrian army declared a unilateral end to the ceasefire on 20 September. The initial US response was to state that decisions about the ceasefire could not be made by Syria. However, within hours, an attack on an Arab Red Crescent humanitarian aid convoy at rebel-held Urum Al Kubra meant attention could be diverted to vilifying Russia. 18 trucks in the convoy were destroyed leading to 20 civilian deaths. The US immediately accused the Syrians and the Russians, claiming that it was an aerial attack. Russia denied the convoy was hit by airstrikes, citing the lack of impact craters, and argued that opposition fighters were in the area who could have carried out the attack. The UN has said that it is not in a position to determine whether the damage was caused by airstrikes. The main eye-witness reports from the scene were from the so-called Syrian Civil Defence Force – known as the ‘White Helmets’. The White Helmets, founded by British private security services contractor, and ex-army officer, James Le Mesurier, has been heavily funded by USAID and the British Foreign Office (21st Century Wire, 23 September). It is clear that there are still many open questions about the attack. US General Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged this, but it did not prevent him from apportioning blame: ‘I don’t have the facts. There is no doubt in my mind that the Russians are responsible.’ (22 September). British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called for Russia to be investigated for war crimes. As the Syrian military and the Russian air force launched the campaign against east Aleppo, the accusations mounted.

The assault on Aleppo

Aleppo is of vital importance for imperialist-backed plans for regime-change in Syria. It was Syria’s largest and most economically important city, is close to the Turkish border and allows access to other major cities further south. Imperialist-backed rebel groups and their regional and international allies will go to any lengths to maintain a foothold there. Contrary to the impression given in the mainstream media, only a relatively small part of Aleppo is in opposition hands. Around 200,000 people remain in the area under siege, with 1.5 million – many displaced from east Aleppo – in the government controlled west. Around 50,000 of these 200,000 are estimated to be rebel fighters and their families.

Jabhat Al Nusra (JN), the jihadist organisation which was until recently the official Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda (which has rebranded itself Jabhat Fateh Al Sham), dominates the rebel forces in Aleppo. UN Special Envoy Staffan De Mistura, told the UN that more than half of fighters in Aleppo are from JN. The Syrian government claims it has created humanitarian corridors for anyone to leave east Aleppo. Médecins Sans Frontières and other NGOs have accused the Syrian and Russian militaries of bombing hospitals and clinics in east Aleppo. The Syrian army has been making initial territorial gains and has vowed to continue until the city is once again under government control.

In a shamelessly hypocritical manner, the UN representatives of the US, Britain and France, walked out of a UN Security Council meeting held on 25 September as the Syrian representative was given the floor. British ambassador to the UN, Michael Rycroft, had earlier accused the Russian and Syrian governments of war crimes. These are countries responsible for countless war crimes from Libya (2011) and Iraq (2003-2011), to Vietnam (1946-75) and Korea (1950-53) and beyond. These are the countries which have imposed brutal war upon Syria to meet their strategic objectives. US President Barack Obama even had the audacity to tell the UN General Assembly: ‘In a world that left the age of empire behind, we see Russia attempting to recover lost glory through force’. This demonisation campaign is motivated not by moral outrage, but by the need to lay the groundwork for further military action against Syria and Russia. US Secretary of State John Kerry insisted that: ‘we must move forward to try to immediately ground all aircraft’ flying in areas where humanitarian aid is required. This is the most direct US statement yet of moves to implement a ‘no-fly zone’.

Escalation ahead

A ‘no-fly zone’ would mean going to war with Syria and probably Russia. US special forces are already deployed in seven military bases in Northern Syria, along with Turkish troops. Hillary Clinton, expected to win November’s US Presidential election, has made clear that she will pursue a more militaristic strategy in the Middle East than Obama’s. Russia is unlikely to back down from its commitments, interests and investments in Syria. The war in Syria has lasted six years and killed more than 400,000 people, but with the assault on Aleppo the insurgency could be coming to an end. Any further escalation by the major imperialists and their allies threatens even more devastating consequences and must be opposed by all progressives. Imperialism out of the Middle East!

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 253 October/November 2016