A Tale of Two Cities: Atrocities in Aleppo and Mosul
End the U.S. Wars and Imperialist Interventions in the Middle East
Around 300,000 people live in the rebel-controlled Syrian city of East Aleppo. Theirs is a life under siege, with limited access to food, medicine or fuel. In this city alone, more than 10,000 have died. “Those who can’t find a place in a cemetery are buried in empty lots or public parks, which now have row after row of hastily buried bodies in shallow graves” (Wall Street Journal, 10/25/16).
The Syrian regime, backed by Russian airpower, has carried out “acts that beg for an appropriate investigation of war crimes,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. While the siege of Aleppo is undoubtedly criminal and horrific, Kerry’s tears are cynical and hypocritical. Just 400 miles from Aleppo, the U.S. is massively involved in creating a humanitarian catastrophe in the drive to seize the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS fighters, with massive air strikes and special forces on the ground. Meanwhile the U.S. allied Saudi regime has been bombing Yemeni cities for months now. The UN refugee agency warned that the Aleppo battle could “be one of the largest man-made displacement crises of recent times.”
The timing of the U.S. backed forces advancing on Mosul is linked to Russia and Syria’s intensified siege on Aleppo. The U.S. hopes a decisive blow against ISIS in Iraq, pushing them out of Mosul and other cities, will force ISIS to regroup in Syria, undermining the Syrian regime and the efforts of its Russian allies.
As they did a century ago, capitalist and imperialist rivals are competing to re-draw the map of the Middle East in their chase for oil profits and geo-strategic influence. This is in the context of the relative decline of U.S. power globally and regionally. They are driving the region deeper into nationalism, sectarianism and ethnic cleansings.
Destabilization Beyond the Middle East
In Syria, the civil war began as a revolutionary uprising, part of the Arab Spring in 2011. But the uprising rapidly degenerated as various reactionary forces within Syria, and outside regimes, emerged as the main combatants. Now, on one side the reactionary dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad is backed by Russian capitalism and the right wing Iranian Shiite clerics. On another side are reactionary largely Sunni groups dominated by right-wing political Islam, backed by U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Turkey. This includes forces that emerged directly out of al-Qaeda.
In Iraq, the 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation used brutal divide and rule tactics between Shiites, Sunni and Kurdish people, unleashing unending sectarian conflict and a disastrous failed state.
Years of sectarianism, of ethnic and religious civil wars, have not only destabilized the countries at war. The wave of refugees from Syria and Iraq, seeking help in neighboring countries or in Europe, is spreading political instability. The poison of sectarian despair has fueled the rise of radical right wing Islamic terrorism internationally.
Wars Between U.S. Proxy Troops
Turkish troops are also now active in Syria, attacking Kurdish fighters and preparing for a confrontation with Iraq about the future of Mosul, which they do not want to fall into the hands of Kurdish troops. Brutal oppression of Kurdish people, their language and their culture, has long been the reality in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Now, the Turkish elite views the Kurdish progress in northern Iraq and in the Kurdish areas of Syria as a threat to their own regional power ambitions and the integrity of the repressive Turkish state.
U.S. imperialism relies heavily on proxy troops to carry out its wars in the Middle East because the American public remains skeptical of war after the disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, this policy has meant relying on national, religious, and ethnically based forces on the ground as in Iraq that are locked in conflict with one another even as the U.S. continues to arm them for its own purposes. This is a guarantee for continued instability, especially if they succeed in militarily defeating ISIS.
“Several Thousand” More U.S. Troops?
“Too bad a plausible plan for the political aftermath [of the fall of Mosul] is nowhere in sight,” writes the Wall Street Journal (Oct 25). However, their call is for “a long-term U.S. deployment in Iraq of several thousand troops, both for political leverage with Iraq and other regional players and as a regional rapid-reaction force.” The New York Times agrees, fantasizing about a Middle East “desperate for American leadership” (Oct 25). In their eyes, former president George W. Bush was too hawkish, but “Mr. Obama’s approach to the region has not worked” either.
What the New York Times apparently considers too “dove-ish” is an Obama administration simultaneously conducting a massive air war with special ops troops deployed in Iraq, continuing bombardment in Syria, active support for the brutal Saudi-led war on Yemen, covert military campaigns in Somalia and Libya, and the continuing war and drone strikes across Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The horrific situation facing the people of Aleppo and Mosul today must signal a call to action. There is an urgent need to revive the U.S. anti-war movement to stop a further escalation of the slaughter in these ongoing wars for oil and imperialist dominance in the Middle East. The key to ending these wars is action by ordinary working people in the Middle East to defend themselves from sectarian attacks and lay the basis for a movement against oppression and poverty.
From the Arab Spring to Counter-Revolution
The invasion of U.S. imperialism in Iraq created a failed, deeply divided state. Elements of an ethnic and religious civil war have more or less prevailed ever since. ISIS grew directly out of these battles. It is no exaggeration to say ISIS grew directly out of the U.S invasion of Iraq.
However, some claim that the Syrian disaster of ethnic and religious cleansings – a civil war along ethnic and religious lines – flowed directly from the uprising in Syria, which was part of the Arab Spring. This claim makes the mistake of conflating revolution with counter-revolution.
Syria’s dictator Assad had based himself on Alawite and other minorities’ support to prop up his dictatorship. However, his increasingly neo-liberal “free market” policies led to growing unemployment and poverty. Droughts, probably caused by climate change, deteriorated living conditions and the economy even further.
A bit later than in other countries, but still in early 2011, the Arab Spring spread to Syria. A mass movement of ordinary Syrians erupted to oust the dictator Bashar al-Assad.
However, unlike Gaddafi in Libya, Assad still enjoyed a certain degree of support in society. Members of minorities, like Shiites, Kurds and Alawites, did not fully support Assad, but they feared that sectarian ethnic conflict would threaten them if his regime were toppled. Assad also maintained the international backing of Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah. This meant that the Arab Spring faced larger challenges in Syria than other countries.
Nonetheless, inspired by the successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, thousands of ordinary people formed local committees all over Syria to challenge Assad’s regime. Hundreds of Local Coordination Committees sprouted up all over Syria with mass participation. They even partially took over some of the roles and functions of the government.
However, the working class was better organized in other countries like Egypt and Tunisia. In those countries, clandestine or semi-clandestine trade unions came out into the open during those uprisings. Strikes and the threats of general strikes played a key role in ousting their dictators, giving workers a taste of their own power.
Working-class power is based on its unity, and working-class struggles can unify workers. Class struggles can play the role of overcoming sectarian divisions, uniting workers from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. In Syria, however, the character of the uprising was less coined by strikes or other forms of workers getting active as a class.
The regime in Syria felt confident enough to try to crush the opposition, unleashing a brutal crackdown against the democratic uprising, and the military aspect of the conflict quickly became predominant.
The Arab Spring in Syria soon found itself confronted with the counter-revolutionary forces on different sides. The old regime held onto power, despite some cosmetic changes. Right-wing Islamist forces began attempting to exploit the uprising. Imperialism tried to regain control of the situation. Western countries intervened openly in Libya in their own interest to preserve the interests of multinational corporations in the region. Western powers as well as Russia got increasingly involved in supporting proxy forces in Syria.
The forces of revolution were unclear about a way forward. A strong political party and a movement putting forward a socialist program could have united the working class and the poor by aiming to use the wealth of the region to democratically develop society and reach out to workers internationally. The lack of such a mass party left the masses in the hands of different, often sectarian, forces interested in different forms of counter-revolution.
In Syria, these forces are still fighting over the direction of the country and dragging the region deeper and deeper into the abyss.
Nonetheless, the awakening of the masses in the Middle East and North Africa is not over. The Arab masses got a sense of their collective power when they toppled a number of dictators in the region in 2011. The masses are going through horrible setbacks at this time. But under conditions of imperialist domination and mass poverty, working people and the poor will once again be forced to defend themselves, and learn from the successes of 2011 and the huge setbacks since then. There is talk in the region about the need for another revolution to complete what the revolutionary wave of the Arab Spring was unable to complete.
Socialist Alternative demands:
- End all U.S. wars in the Middle East. Bring all the troops home now. End U.S. drone wars and air strikes.
- No to imperialist interventions. Withdraw all foreign forces from Syria and other occupied countries like Iraq.
- End the cycle of war and terrorism.
- For a new party of the 99% in the U.S. to fight against war, imperialism, and oppression. For international solidarity, cooperation, and socialism.
Support the struggle of workers and poor in the Middle East:
- No to sectarianism! Unite all workers, poor people, and youth, regardless of religious and ethnic backgrounds, in a common struggle for jobs, housing, and a dignified life.
- Build united, non-sectarian defense committees to protect workers, the poor and others against sectarian attacks from all sides.
- Grant democratic rights to oppressed nationalities, beginning with the recognition of the right of the Kurdish people to self-determination. This must include, if they so wish, full autonomous democratic rights within the states in which they live, or the establishment of a common state of the Kurds themselves with rights for any minorities protected within any new state.
- Build independent trade unions and mass workers’ parties with a socialist program of democratic rights and transferring the land to the masses and the factories to the workers.
- For a government of representatives of workers and the poor. Nationalize the oil and gas industries and all the commanding heights of the economy to be run under the democratic control and management of working people. Establish a democratically planned socialist economy to rebuild society.