Syria: UN peace plan set up to fail / FRFI 227 June/July 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 227 June/July 2012

On 10 May two huge car bombs exploded in Damascus outside a military intelligence building, killing 55 people and injuring 400 more. It was the deadliest attack in a string of bombings throughout Syria. Despite claims by the imperialist-backed opposition that these attacks are orchestrated by the government to discredit the resistance – repeated in the western media – it is becoming clear that Islamic forces are gaining influence. Heavily armed militias of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) now control territory, and have escalated attacks with improvised explosive devices. Despite a UN ceasefire and multi-party elections, the NATO-GCC (Gulf Co-operation Council) alliance is stepping up pressure on Syria, arming the opposition, threatening intervention and tightening sanctions. TOBY HARBERTSON reports.

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Syria: a bloody stalemate /FRFI 226 April/May 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 226 April/May 2012

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.

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Syria: imperialism orchestrates ‘civil war’ / FRFI 225 Feb/Mar 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 225 February/March 2012

Syria: imperialism orchestrates ‘civil war’On 10 January 2012 Syrian President Bashar Al Assad gave his third televised speech since the beginning of ten months of violence. He focused on the ‘unprecedented media attack’ in which ‘over 60 TV channels in the world are devoted to work against Syria’ and the mounting conflict around the borders, funded, armed and organised by foreign forces. Capitalist media condemned Assad as ‘paranoid’, attempting to shift the blame, but on this occasion he is closer to the facts than their reporting. Despite the Syrian Ba’athist government’s history of repression, of betraying the Palestinians and collaborating with the US rendition programme, imperialism views it as insufficiently compliant and has mobilised to destabilise and remove it.

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Syria: imperialists manoeuvre for influence/ FRFI 224 December 2011/January 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 224 December 2011/January 2012

As the political crisis in Syria deepens the response of imperialist countries has been to repeat the political, economic and media campaign which presaged military intervention in Libya. Whilst in Syria the stakes of intervention are much higher, and the situation within the country is different, it is clear that the Syrian people’s struggles are being used by competing imperialist powers.

Syria’s suspension from the Arab League on 16 November could mark the beginning of the end for the Syrian government led by Bashar Al Assad, echoing the expulsion of Libya nine months earlier. This Arab League move has been spearheaded by members of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), specifically Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the same regional forces which imperialism mobilised against Libya. Turkey has also been at the forefront of diplomatic action, and calls for military intervention. Russia and Iran have stood by Syria, protecting their own interests.

Violence in Syria has intensified and the presence of organised armed resistance led by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is heading towards civil war. Armed insurgency is active around the cities of Deera, Homs and Hama in the west and operates from bases in Lebanon and Turkey. In addition to the rising death toll of protesters – the UN estimates 3,500 killed – there has been a significant and largely unreported toll of government soldiers. There have been co-ordinated rocket attacks on military bases and the Ba’ath Party headquarters in Damascus. The FSA declares its own strength as between 10,000 and 25,000, but according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, only 1,000 soldiers have defected from the regular army.

Co-operation is increasing between the FSA and neighbouring Turkey, with the Turkish government threatening to set up a ‘safe zone’ in northern Syria defended by Turkish troops. The opposition Syrian National Council is based in Turkey and the Arab League have called on governments to recognise them as the legitimate political representative of the Syrian people. British Foreign Secretary Hague, alongside leaders from other imperialist powers, has met with opposition representatives. Hague called upon the opposition to form a ‘common platform’, as regime change would be the ‘best thing for Syria’.

To counter the anti-government demonstrations in the west, demonstrations have been organised in Damascus and Aleppo to support the government. There are also increasing reports of violence between pro and anti-government protesters in Homs and elsewhere, with Outlook India reporting that Homs hospital was filled with ‘women and children’, killed by ‘bullets fired by the opposition, not state troops.’ On 12 November, the day of the Arab League vote to suspend Syria, Damascus and other cities saw their biggest protests in history, as millions of Syrians filled the streets to support their government against the Arab League’s imperialist agenda. The embassies of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, France and the US were attacked.

Large sections of the Syrian population support the government and are angry at the international refusal to let Syria solve its own problems. Prisoners have been released and attempts at reforms introduced, but sanctions are taking an economic toll. Oil accounts for 25% of Syria’s wealth but the European Union has refused to buy Syrian oil since 3 September. By November the Syrian government stopped paying for oil produced by multinationals within Syria – including Total and Royal Dutch Shell. With a lack of international markets, oil stockpiles are growing. Imperialism is doing everything it can to escalate the insurgency and unrest, banking on regime change to serve its interests.

Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the other GCC nations act against Syria as a proxy to destabilise Iran. Russia has a big stake in maintaining the Syrian government. Along with China, it vetoed the call for UN sanctions in the Security Council on 4 October. These countries have learned that their abstention in the corresponding vote against Libya did not protect their interests and prevent NATO intervention. Russia continues to sell arms to Syria, and in 2009 had investments there amounting to $19.4 billion. The Mediterranean port of Tartus is the only Russian naval facility outside of the former Soviet Union, and on 19 November Russian warships arrived, in what is seen as a challenge to the talk of military intervention.

Turkey backs the FSA call for a ‘no-fly zone’, French foreign minister Alain Juppe wants tougher sanctions, and US President Obama says all options are ‘on the table’. It is clear that the opposition does not have the military power or popular support to overthrow the Syrian government. The imperialist forces are looking to the example of Libya, and pushing for interventions to break the stalemate and enact regime change. In an interview with the Sunday Times (20 November 2011) Assad gave a stark warning to those pushing for intervention: ‘Strike Syria and the world will shake … Military intervention will destabilise the region as a whole, and all countries will be affected.’

The principled stand taken by ALBA in its delegation to Syria shows us the way. Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Minister Nicolas Maduro explained, ‘We are in no doubt that imperialism and Western powers want to take advantage of Syria’s internal problems, in order to conspire against, do damage to and destroy Syria.’ Standing by the right of nations to self-determination he declared, ‘The Syrians are the only ones who should find solutions to their problems.’ We must stand by this call and oppose all imperialist intervention in the Middle East.

Toby Harbertson

Imperialists step up interference in Syria / FRFI 223 Oct/Nov 2011

FRFI 223 October/November 2011

The continuing protests against the Assad regime have now been going for six months despite the brutal response of the state. Human rights groups calculate that over 2,500 people have been killed in the ongoing protests; the state claims that armed terrorists have been involved and that around 500 police and security officers have been killed in the same period. There are clearly different strands to the opposition to Assad and Ba’ath Party rule. One is represented by the large protests that have taken place in many cities calling for political reforms, which have been mostly peaceful, but have been suppressed, at times brutally, by the army and security forces. Another strand is armed and associated with the Muslim Brotherhood; their actions in attacking police and security forces are the basis of Assad’s claims that armed gangs and terrorists backed by foreign interests are attempting to break up the Syrian state.

The imperialists are involved in attempting to undermine the Syrian government and co-opt the opposition in the hope that a new regime will end its alliance with Iran and its support for Hamas and Hezbollah. Following the visit at the beginning of July of the ambassadors of the US and France to the city of Hama to support anti-government protests, on 13 September the British Ambassador to Syria joined ambassadors and envoys from the US, France, Canada, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands and the representative of the EU at a memorial vigil in Daraya, Damascus for an activist, Giyath Matar, who his family said had died in custody. The British government indicated that it would continue to openly interfere in Syria’s internal politics by supporting the opposition.

After a number of different conferences in Europe and Turkey of exiled opposition groups, mainly associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, on 14 September in what seems a significant step a meeting in Istanbul announced the formation of the ‘Syrian National Council’. Around half its 140 members are said to be based in Syria. At a news conference Al Jazeera reported that its spokesperson Basma Kadmani declared that the aim of the Council was to topple Assad within six months; she opened the door for foreign military intervention by saying they were ‘in favour of international protection of civilians’.

On 17 September opposition activists inside Syria held a conference in Damascus organised by the ‘National Coordinating Body for Democratic Change’ (NCBDC). The call for the conference was centred around three demands: no to violence, no to sectarian division and no to foreign intervention.

A statement issued by a leading member of the NCBDC at the end of the conference called for: ‘the overthrow of the tyrannical and corrupt security regime and for democratic change, the peaceful revolution of the Syrian people must continue... We must end the military solution, allow peaceful protests, withdraw the army to the barracks, try those responsible for the massacre of protesters, release all political prisoners and begin reconciliation between the army and the people.’ The NCBDC was created in June and is reported to have representatives from Syrian secular movements; one of the Communist Parties and a number of Kurdish political parties; the Muslim Brotherhood is not involved and did not attend the conference.

The Syrian government is also engaged in what it calls the ‘National Dialogue’, with meetings taking place across the country in all the main towns and cities to discuss political, economic and social reforms. Whether this is too late to answer the demands of the opposition and diffuse the protests remains to be seen.

Our position is clear: we oppose any interference, whether military or economic, from British imperialism in the affairs of Syria. As the Deputy Foreign Minister of Cuba put it in a statement opposing the UN Security Council’s condemnation of Syria: ‘Cuba reiterates its confidence in the capacity of the Syrian government and people to solve their internal problems without any foreign interference and demands full respect for this Arab country’s free self-determination and sovereignty.’

Imperialist hands off Syria!

Bob Shepherd