Created: Monday, 19 December 2011 14:45
Written by Toby Harbertson
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.