Syria: the British ruling class steps up its offensive /FRFI 232 Apr/May 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 232 April/May 2013

The British state intends to reaffirm its influence in the central Middle East, as it did in the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement. This agreement was secretly negotiated between British and French diplomats who drew a line across the region, roughly along Syria’s south-eastern border. North of the line was to be the French sphere of influence, and south was Britain’s. Today, with the same contemptuous disregard for human life, these two imperialist powers are at the forefront of the struggle to dismember Syria, motivated by the same fight for resources and strategic dominance. Working to get around the EU arms embargo through legal and illegal means, arming opposition forces, which it has nurtured, the British state is stepping up its offensive against Syria.

Frustrated at the lack of progress with regime change, British imperialism is increasing its military support for the Syrian opposition. Attacking the EU embargo prohibiting arming any forces in Syria, Prime Minister Cameron declared on 13 March that ‘the world has stood by and frankly not done enough’, suggesting that in supplying the opposition you ‘can have influence with your partners’. Britain’s Labour Party may disagree with the methods, but not the goal. Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander argued that the primary task was ‘not to arm the rebels but to unify them’ to achieve transition. French foreign minister Laurent Fabius echoed Cameron, declaring France and Britain would act together. German imperialism decisively blocked them and British and French militarism was isolated within the EU, 27-2 in favour of keeping the embargo. This has not stopped their imperialist manoeuvres in the past, as with their 2011 destruction of Libya – supported by Labour. Cameron stated his willingness to go against the EU again: ‘We are still an independent country. We can have an independent foreign policy.’

British imperialism will push the boundaries of the embargo until it overturns or bypasses it. On 6 March, British Foreign Secretary Hague announced an additional £9.4 million package of ‘non-lethal’ military aid to opposition militias. What support is given depends on what will ‘save most lives’. It will include armoured vehicles and body armour handed directly to the Syrian National Coalition, protecting those fighting against the Syrian state. In Hague’s simplistic narrative the innocent, democratic opposition needs protecting from the Syrian army, attempting to justify Britain’s alignment with one side. Britain’s intervention in Syria – or anywhere else – has never been about saving lives.

How does Hague’s narrative hold up? French President Hollande condensed it: ‘We can’t allow a people to be massacred by a regime.’ Death toll statistics are regularly used to show the brutality of the Syrian government. However, it is increasingly recognised that the Syrian army makes up a significant part of this death toll. Even the opposition-aligned Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than two-thirds of casualties are armed men, undermining cries of indiscriminate massacre. Opposition militias have been accused by Amnesty International of war crimes and are heavily armed – particularly the jihadist group Jahbat Al Nusra. Their weaponry comes through Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with active support from major imperialist powers. Networks of special forces around Syria’s borders play a key role in transferring these arms. The Telegraph revealed Britain’s role in transferring 3,000 tons of heavy weaponry from Croatia. This shipment of 75 plane-loads was reportedly paid for by Saudi Arabia, overseen by the US, and included ‘weapons from other European countries including Britain’. Every avenue is being exploited by the British state in its race to overthrow the Syrian government.

British royal Prince Charles is also working to this end. His March trip to Jordan was a declaration of support for King Abdullah’s oppressive monarchy – particularly in its role as a base for British, French and US military personnel to train ‘rebel’ militias and ferry illicit arms into Syria. Reprising Cameron’s role of last November – coinciding with an increase in British support for the opposition – Charles visited Syrian refugees close to the border and shed a few crocodile tears. The Prince travelled with diplomats and businessmen such as Chris West, director of the Shell foundation (of Anglo-Dutch Shell). At a business forum in Amman he explained that Jordan ‘is an important market for Shell, which has successful investments in the country due to its high level of stability and security,’ (Jordan Times). The royal delegation next headed to Saudi Arabia to show its support.

The British ruling class’s determination to destroy the Assad government cannot be seen as merely a foreign policy choice. The deepening capitalist crisis is pitting the imperialist powers against one another in a desperate struggle for investment, resources, and control. They cannot tolerate the Syrian state’s defiance of the imperialist world order. No matter how they dress up their involvement in Syria, the underlying motives are base. Whether under the mantle of the Conservative Party or Labour, this struggle will be conducted ruthlessly until there is a movement with the power to challenge it. They must be exposed and opposed at every turn.

Toby Harbertson

A dilemma for imperialism in Syria /FRFI 231 Feb/Mar 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 231 February-March 2013

US and European imperialism remain intent on removing the Ba’athist state in Syria. The military build-up on Syria’s borders increases with the deployment of US, German, and Dutch Patriot missiles. However, the imperialists face a problem: they have not been able to construct, and they cannot foresee, a reliable replacement for the Syrian government. The Free Syrian Army (FSA), which the imperialists and their Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) allies have funded, has turned into packs of looting gangs and the main fighting force for the opposition has become the fundamentalist militia, the Jahbat Al Nusra (JN), which is both unreliable and unpopular with the population in the areas it has occupied. Atrocities committed by the opposition forces are turning the people against them.

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Syria: British imperialism takes the centre stage/FRFI 230 Dec 2012/Jan 2013

FRFI 230 December 2012/January 2013

As the war in Syria continues, British Prime Minister David Cameron has made clear the central role British imperialism intends to play in managing the overthrow of the Syrian government, and in grooming the replacement. The stage has been set, with hundreds of British and US troops stationed on Syria’s borders, and a huge military build-up on the northern border with Turkey. Just hours after the election of the US president a marked escalation in the imperialist aggression towards Syria was evident. Following months of stalemate, with imperialist intervention limited to covert support, an opposition government was needed to be the public face of imperialist regime-change. Cue the Doha conference, a NATO-backed summit to forge artificial unity between opposition factions at all costs. Could the new National Coalition for Revolutionary Forces and the Syrian Opposition (NCRFSO) be the final vehicle for London, Washington and Paris to ride into Syria?

On 6 November British Prime Minister David Cameron took a break from selling military hardware to despotic Gulf monarchies to visit Syrian refugees in the Za’atri camp in Jordan. Assuring us of his concern for the refugees’ plight, Cameron signalled a new phase of imperialist aggression towards Syria: ‘Let’s be frank, what we’ve done over the last 18 months hasn’t been enough... now, with a newly-elected American president, we have got to do more to help this part of the world, to help Syria achieve transition.’ Cameron’s visit was a clear manoeuvre to assert Britain as a major player in the struggle for Syria. His visit, lodged firmly in a military context, was the first by any G20 leader, and coincided with an announcement of increased British aid to Syrian refugees to more than £50m, making Britain the second largest donor after the US. Where this money will go is yet to be seen.

Cameron’s visit coincided with the US presidential elections and the Doha conference in Qatar – an initiative spearheaded by Qatar, the US, Britain and France. For Cameron, the conference presented ‘an opportunity for Britain, for America, for Saudi Arabia, Jordan and like-minded allies to come together and try to help shape the opposition’. This has been key from the start of the conflict: constant power struggles and splits have left the opposition chaotic and fractured, with factions arguing among themselves for huge donations from imperialist and regional powers. After contorting through many forms and acronyms, NCRFSO has become the new opposition umbrella organisation which has been ‘shaped’ by NATO. It claims to represent more than 90% of the Syrian opposition. Influential groups within Syria, such as the National Co-ordinating Councils (NCC) have rubbished these claims. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated: ‘We have recommended names and organisations that we believe should be included in any leadership structure’. Indeed one of the three leaders to emerge in NCRFSO, Riad Seif, is one of Washington’s main people in Syria, revealed by Wikileaks to have been meeting with US officials for decades. Now the imperialists can begin the process crucial to their regional aims – granting NCRFSO frozen Syrian assets, turning national embassies over to its people, giving it representation on international bodies, and, crucially, supplying more heavy weaponry without censure.

This shift to a more overt military strategy was declared by British Foreign Secretary William Hague at the Doha conference, stating that the British government ‘has authorised diplomats to have direct contact with military figures on the ground’. Despite increasing international awareness of the war crimes committed by some rebel militias, and US concern over growing Islamist influence in dominant sections of the opposition, the British government was among the first NATO powers to call for the direct arming of these militias. Hague hosted a meeting in London on 16 November with the new coalition leadership and discussed options for supplying them with weapons. Previously, the transfer of arms had only been publicly admitted by the Gulf states and Turkey. However, Cameron explained how he was ‘frustrated’ by the EU arms embargo, calling for the text to be adjusted to allow arming the rebels for ‘self-defence’. Syria’s battlegrounds are already awash with foreign weapons: the Syrian army killing with Russian and Iranian products, and the rebels armed by more than three dozen countries including more than half of the membership of NATO.

On 20 November the British government recognised the NCRFSO as the ‘sole legitimate representative’ of the Syrian people. Labour Party shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander backed the government saying, ‘recognition is a vital step forward’.

Direct British intervention is being prepared on Syria’s borders. Several hundred US and British soldiers have been deployed north of Amman in Jordan, 35 miles from the Syrian border. British General Sir David Richards, the Chief of General Staff, stated that plans for British military intervention are being ‘continually brushed over’ whilst acknowledging that it would require a ‘huge effort’. In the north, Syria’s border with Turkey has seen a huge build-up of military strength. Israel has repeatedly fired on Syrian military positions from the occupied Golan Heights in response to a stray shell it acknowledged as ‘accidental’. All these forces hostile to President Assad’s government in Syria are waiting for decisions at the top.

London, Washington and Paris are situating themselves in dominant positions and shoring up their networks of influence in a future Syria. Many commentators and groups on the left in Britain now acknowledge this reality, but underplay the role of British imperialism, preferring to focus on the US. As we saw with the 2011 intervention in Libya, it is again Britain and France that have taken the lead to push for further military intervention. Encouraging the US to bring its military might to bear on the Middle East once again will be the task of the British and French ruling classes. For communists in Britain, it is essential to expose and oppose the role of British imperialism. We cannot let there be a repeat of 2011’s imperialist slaughter with no real domestic opposition.

Hands off Syria – we must take the message to the streets!

Toby Harbertson.

Syria: covert intervention and the failure of the British left /FRFI 229 Oct/Nov 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 229 October/November 2012

Conflict in Syria has raged for 18 months. International and regional powers, whilst talking of ‘diplomatic solutions’ and ‘ceasefire’, continue to stoke an unpredictable fire which could engulf the entire Middle East. Competing warships manoeuvre in the eastern Mediterranean, signalling the scale of the interests involved. Different imperialist powers are sponsoring different interventions, while Russia and China continue to resist these attacks on Syrian sovereignty and their own strategic and economic interests. The scale of the human suffering increases and the capitalist media trumpet their fickle concern about massacres and refugees. The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) claims that 234,368 people have fled Syria, fuelling calls for a ‘no-fly zone’. In this context, where does the British left stand? Where is the anti-war movement? Syria has seen the British left hopelessly divided. There is a need for an understanding of imperialism: the international threat it poses and how we are to challenge it. TOBY HARBERTSON reports.

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Houla Massacre in Syria: The Lies of the Ruling Class Media – July 2012

This photo, used by the BBC in connection with the Houla massacre, was revealed by the photographer Marco Di Lauro, to actually depict the skeletons of Kurds killed in Al Musayyib, Iraq, in 2003. The BBC credited the picture as from 'activists'.

On 25 May the massacre of 108 people in Houla near Homs shot to the top of the news agenda around the world, closely followed by 55-78 reported deaths in Qubair on 8 June. Following the Houla massacre, The Independent's headline – 'Syria: The world looks the other way. Will you?' - demonstrates the conclusions which the capitalist media happily jumped to, calling for international action.

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