No to imperialist war on Syria! RCG statement on US airstrike on Syrian airbase

On Thursday 6 April, 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched from US aircraft carriers and struck a Syrian airbase at Al Shayrat, near Homs, killing at least six people, and destroying six aircraft. This was the first openly acknowledged US military strike against the Syrian government in the course of the long war in Syria. Although the US and other imperialist powers, including Britain and France, have been funding and organising the insurgency against the Syrian government for years, this attack marks a dangerous escalation at a point when the Syrian government was beginning to win the war. This could drive further imperialist slaughter and barbarity in the Middle East and beyond. All progressives must oppose US airstrikes on Syria, and fight to build a real movement against imperialist war.

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Syria: the battle for Raqqa

UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein declared, on the sixth anniversary of the war in Syria, that it is ‘the worst man-made disaster the world has seen since World War II’. Despite the government victory in Aleppo in December 2016, which marked a turning point in the war against imperialist-backed and jihadist groups in Syria, it is clear that the country will remain at the epicentre of a regional and global proxy war for a long time to come. The focus has now shifted to the struggle to retake the eastern city of Raqqa from the Islamic State group (IS), with hundreds of US troops openly building up within Syria’s borders, alongside Turkish, Russian, Syrian, and Kurdish forces – all with competing interests and alliances. The threat of wider war in the region has not receded.

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Syria: Government victory in Aleppo a major setback for NATO imperialists

Syrian army units

On 14 December 2016, in perhaps the most important battle of the war, the Syrian military and its allies won complete control of the major city of Aleppo from jihadist and imperialist-backed rebel groups. As well as a major victory for the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad against a waning insurgency, this was a victory for a whole constellation of powers – notably Russia and Iran – over the NATO imperialist powers and their allies. The changing role of Turkey has proved crucial as the focus of the war in Syria looks set to shift to the struggle between Turkey and Kurdish forces in the north and east. The Syrian government has entered 2017 in a position to begin mopping up the last pockets of rebels in western Syria, before turning its focus to rebuilding its devastated cities and infrastructure, and facing the Islamic State group (IS) threat. The legacy of the NATO imperialists’ attempts at regime change in Syria is hundreds of thousands of corpses, many more maimed and disabled, and a country taken back in time. As reconstruction contracts are handed out, it will be those that stood with Syria against NATO who will benefit and increase their regional influence. Toby Harbertson reports.

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Syria: will Russia and Trump end the war?

On 20 November 2016, outgoing US President Barack Obama admitted that he is ‘not optimistic about the short-term prospects in Syria’. US imperialism has grounds for pessimism. The Syrian military and their Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies continue to make gains against the imperialist-backed armed groups which have plagued Syria with six years of brutal war. The Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kutznetsov was deployed to the Mediterranean in mid-November, warning NATO off open intervention against the Syrian government. NATO plans for regime change have failed, and with the election of Donald Trump as US President, many commentators insist that a U-turn in US Syria policy is imminent. This may mean a shift in strategy, but US war in the Middle East will continue. However, the military power of Russia, and its growing influence in Syria and the Middle East, is a major challenge to US imperialism and its allies. TOBY HARBERTSON reports.

NATO out-manoeuvred

After a pause of nearly a month, on 15 November the Syrian air force resumed air strikes on eastern Aleppo. This area is largely controlled by the jihadist group Jabhat Fateh Al Sham - formerly Jabhat Al Nusra (JN), an Al Qaeda affiliate. Estimates of the number of civilians remaining in the area range from 30,000-250,000. The Syrian army maintains exit corridors but JN are laying mines to trap civilians in. This has provoked protests - 1,500 took to the streets on 17 November. Protests have been met with machine-gun fire and the executions of organisers (21st Century Wire, 19 November). Syrian forces are retaking key areas of Aleppo, in a bid to eject the insurgency from its last major urban stronghold outside of its eastern capital, Raqqa.

UN Special Envoy to Syria, Staffan De Mistura, accused JN of war crimes in its shelling of government-controlled areas of Aleppo (Guardian, 31 October). Accusations of Syrian and Russian war crimes in Aleppo however, fill the British media – especially the bombing of hospitals. Russian Defence Ministry spokesperson, Major General Konashenkov, explained that the US has refused to provide coordinates of medical facilities in eastern Aleppo. He continued: ‘If we count the number of “hospitals” and “mobile clinics” bombed in Syria over the last year, according to American and especially British sources, one might conclude there were nothing but “hospitals” in Syria’ (Russia Today, 18 November).

NATO is once again being out-manoeuvred by Russia in the international proxy-war in Syria. The Admiral Kutznetsov, the flagship of the Russian Navy, is now launching bombing raids over Syria. Peter Ford, the former British Ambassador to Syria, called its deployment ‘a quantum jump in Russia military capabilities’ in Syria (Russia Today, 15 November). This came at a time when US and British military figures were calling for a ‘no-fly zone’ in Syria, and proposing ‘cratering’ Syrian airfields. The Admiral Kutznetsov cannot be ‘cratered’ without an act of war on Russia. Warships and planes from Britain and other European nations were mobilized to escort the Admiral Kutznetsov through the North Sea and English Channel. Britain and others put pressure on the Spanish government forcing it to prevent the Russian fleet from refuelling in the Spanish-occupied enclave of Ceuta in North Africa.

Trump to lead a policy shift?

Amidst this increasing tension, the unexpected victory of Donald Trump in the US election brought confusion, and speculation of a looming change in US foreign policy. Whilst Hillary Clinton fought the election with rhetoric about escalating the war on the Syrian government, Trump promised to focus the US intervention in Syria on destroying the jihadist Islamic State (IS), praising Presidents Assad and Putin. Trump has pledged to stop US support to armed groups in Syria, much of which has ended up supplying jihadists including IS and JN. De Mistura praised Trump’s priorities (BBC Hardtalk, 15 November). However, most US and European leaders and media have explicitly condemned Trump’s strategy. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson – who held similar opinions on Assad and Russia to Trump before he assumed his cabinet role - is due to visit Trump in the next few weeks to persuade him of the need to put Assad’s removal at the centre of his Syria policy (Sunday Telegraph, 12 November).

The initial indications suggest that any policy shift at the top will not give respite to the people of the Middle East. Trump’s new National Security Adviser – Mike Flynn – was the top US intelligence official in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He has argued for further US support for Turkey, whose soldiers are illegally in both Syria and Iraq. Independent journalist Patrick Cockburn explains that one member of Trump’s foreign policy team, John Bolton, has been ‘advocating a war with Iran since 2003’, and ‘proposes carving out a Sunni state in northern Iraq and eastern Syria … As a recipe for deepening the conflict in the region, it could scarcely be bettered.’ (18 November). Trump is reported to have plans to expand the US military. His unstinting support for Israel will force him towards protecting its regional interests.

Obama’s government, supported by its NATO and Middle-Eastern allies, will do all it can in its final weeks to tip the balance against Assad’s government and Russia. The assault on Mosul, an IS stronghold in Iraq, launched by Iraqi, Kurdish and US forces in late October, will drive thousands of IS militants into Syria. On 21 November, surface-to-air missiles reached rebels in Syria for the first time, suggesting that the US prohibition on such weaponry has been relaxed, or that Saudi Arabia and Qatar have now decided to ignore it (Middle East Eye). Trump will be taking his place at the heart of the world’s most powerful military machine, which is currently engaged in wars in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere across the Middle East and Africa, surrounded by a top team of proven imperialist warmongers. Only a struggle against imperialism can win peace in the Middle East.

Hands Off Syria! Coalition - Points of Unity statement

The Revolutionary Communist Group/Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! is pleased to have signed the 'Points of Unity' statement below produced by the Hands Off Syria! Coalition. To add your name or your organisations name, and to view the full list of more than 1,300 signatories, please visit the Hands Off Syria! Coalition site.

Dear Friends of Peace and Justice in the U.S. and the World,

We are very pleased to announce that, following a lengthy round of deliberations among several organizations and leading individuals in the peace movement about the urgent need for a broad coalition to oppose war and U.S./NATO intervention for a forced regime change in Syria, numerous organizations and prominent leaders of the peace movement have signed on the Coalition’s Points of Unity statement and have agreed to cooperate within the framework of an Ad Hoc coalition named Hands Off Syria Coalition.

Our objective is to create the broadest possible united front for peace and justice by peace activists and organizations in the U.S. and around the world to fight for an end all violence, intervention and sanctions against Syria, which is now threatening world peace.

We have attached below our Points of Unity statement for your review. It is our sincere hope that you will also agree with this statement and join this broad coalition, either as an organization or as a pro-peace individual.

We sincerely thank you for considering this invitation, and ask you to kindly distribute this invitation broadly.

Hands Off Syria Coalition

U.S. Hands Off Syria

An Urgent Message for Peace on the Eve of Wider War

We raise our voices against the violence of war and the enormous pressure of war propaganda, lies and hidden agendas that are used to justify this war and every past U.S. war.

We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, endorse the following Points of Unity and will work together as an Ad Hoc Coalition to help put an end to the regime change intervention by the United States, NATO and their regional allies and the killing of innocent people in Syria:

  1. The continuation of the war in Syria is the result of a U.S.-orchestrated intervention by the United States, NATO, their regional allies and reactionary forces, the goal of which is regime change in Syria.
  1. This policy of regime change in Syria is illegal and in clear violation of the United Nations Charter, the letter and spirit of international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  1. This policy of forced regime change is threatening the security of the region and the world and has increased the danger of direct confrontation between the United States and Russia, with the potential of a nuclear catastrophe for the whole world.
  1. War and U.S. and EU sanctions have destabilized every sector of Syria’s economy, transforming a once self-sufficient country into an aid-dependent nation. Half the Syrian population is now displaced. A UN ESCWA report reveals these U.S. sanctions on Syria are crippling aid work during one of the largest humanitarian emergency since World War II. The one third of Syrians refugees in surrounding Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey have been hit hard by U.S. cuts to UNICEF. This forces desperate refugees to struggle to reach Europe.
  1. No foreign entity, be it a foreign government or an armed group, has the right to violate the fundamental rights of the Syrian people to independence, national sovereignty and self-determination. This includes the right of the Syrian government to request and accept military assistance from other countries, as even the U.S. government has admitted.
  1. Only the people of Syria have the inalienable right to choose their leaders and determine the character of their government, free from foreign intervention. This right cannot be properly exercised under the conditions of U.S.-orchestrated foreign intervention against the Syrian people.
  1. Our opposition is to forced regime change in Syria by U.S.-backed foreign powers and their mercenaries. It is not our business to support or oppose President Assad or the Syrian government. Only the Syrian people have the right to decide the legitimacy of their government.
  1. The most urgent issue at present is peace and putting an end to the violence of foreign intervention that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and the displacement of millions of Syrians both internally or as refugees abroad.

Based on these Points of Unity, we, as individuals and organizationsin an Ad Hoc Coalitionagree on the following demands and commit ourselves to working together to help achieve them:

  1. An immediate end to the U.S. policy of forced regime change in Syria and full recognition and compliance by the U.S., NATO and their allies with principles of international law and the U.N. Charter, including respect for the independence and territorial integrity of Syria.
  1. An immediate end to all foreign aggression against Syria, and serious efforts toward a political resolution to the war.
  1. An immediate end to all military, financial, logistical and intelligence support by the U.S., NATO and their regional allies to all foreign mercenaries and extremists in the Middle East region.
  1. An immediate end to economic sanctions against Syria. Massive international aid for displaced people within Syria and Syrian refugees abroad.

Only in a peaceful and independent Syria, free of foreign aggression, can the people of Syria freely exercise their sovereign rights, express their free will and make free choices about their government and their country’s leadership.

We invite all supporters of peace and peoples’ right to self-determination around the world to join hands of cooperation in this effort to achieve these most humanitarian demands.

We need jobs, healthcare, education and an end to racist police violence here at home, not U.S. wars abroad!!