Category Archives: war

Stop Turkey’s war on the Kurds

National Demonstration 6th March

National Demonstration 6th March

Across Kurdish areas in South Eastern Turkey, areas that are overwhelmingly ethnically Kurdish, a virtual civil war is going on. What the right wing Turkish AKP government describes as “security operations” were first launched in the Sur district of Diyarbakır and the Cizre and Silopi districts of Şırnak in mid-December.

The alleged target of this offensive is the Kurdish PKK (Kurdish Workers Party), an organisation which had an on-off ceasefire with the Turkish government over the last few years whilst Kurds increasingly turned to legal political campaigning with their party the HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party). That ceasefire was eventually called off in November after numerous assassinations and killings of Kurdish politicians and civilians.

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 08.01.10According to the HDP, at least 200 Kurdish civilians, including 70 children, had been killed since last July -the Turkish government claims to have killed 500 ‘militants’. Only last Saturday, 6th February, 60 were killed in Cizre alone. Cizre has been under curfew for nearly 2 months since armed Kurdish militants mostly affiliated with the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H) – often referred to as the “youth wing” of the PKK – declared autonomy and began erecting roadblocks and digging trenches.

On Monday 8th February the regime announced that the repression would be extended into the İdil district of Şırnak, Nusaybin district of Mardin and Yüksekova district of Hakkari. Continue reading

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Assad’s allies – what are they after?

This is the second part of an article on the possible outcomes of the peace negotiations on Syria planned to start in January. The first part can be found at this link and argues that none of the forces that will be involved in the peace talks will press for democracy and an end to the religious sectarianism on both sides. This part looks at the forces behind Assad and how they will continue in a Syria that is either divided through partition or remains at war. 

The final part on the nature of the oppositional force to Assad will be posted within the next couple of days

After the weekends events (Jan 1st-3rd) in Saudi Arabia, the peace talks look increasingly unlikely to take place never mind yield any results. But Syria is already effectively partitioned – so much of the speculation in this posting is equally relevant if the peace talks break down. 


What will happen to the remains of the Syrian government dominated areas?

Assad’s forces

Civil War civilian casualties - 2015

Civil War civilian casualties – 2015

Assad’s military resources – the Syrian Arab Army was reported to have been between 220-280,000 strong at the outbreak of the civil war. The Syrian Army, along with the other military forces with whom they have been allied, have been responsible for the vast majority of the over 250,000 civilian deaths.

On their side they are thought to have lost over 50,000 troops. However huge numbers have also defected or deserted. Something like 40-50,000 have defected to the Free Syrian Army, primarily Sunni Muslims refusing to take part in attacks on civilian Sunni communities.

The current strength of the army was estimated to have halved by April 2015 to about 110,000. By July of that year Assad was acknowledging for the first time that his forces could no longer retake all of Syria. This admission led to increased military support from both Iran and Russia.

In an attempt to stiffen the armies resolve, Iranian and Hezbollah forces have increasingly carried out operations alongside them and are often put in charge of them. But even now with Russia air support, the regimes overall military successes have been minimal.

Continue reading

Syrian peace negotiations – what might they achieve?

It should be recognised first of all that few of the warring Syrian factions would have agreed to peace talks without considerable external pressure, particularly from those who have provided them with arms, armies and military subsidies.

The terrorist atrocities of Daesh on the Russian passenger plane over the Sinai desert had the effect of aligning Assad’s primary big power backer (Russia) alongside his primary big power opponents (US, France and the UK) – both needed to be seen to be taking action against Daesh (ISIS).

But Daesh is just one of many concerns for Syrian people and not the primary one. The majority will have fled or suffer under the Assad’s government heavy artillery and aerial bombardments. Others will have fled from violently hostile Islamist militias dominating their areas. There will be inevitable hopes that these problems will be addressed by any peace conference. But such hopes are likely to be disappointed.

Assad may be weaker than he was a year ago. His Syrian Arab Army continues to collapse, he has become increasingly dependent on Iranian ground forces and Russian air power. But he knows that the opposition are fractured and unable to unite effectively against him.

So neither of these 2 sides can pretend to be in a position to either force or need to make concessions in these talks.

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 13.43.47 Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 13.44.12

Zahran Alloush speaking to an Army of Islam rally and display of tanks and troops

Zahran Alloush speaking to an Army of Islam rally and display of tanks and troops earlier this year

Indeed in the last week of 2015, the very time that the delegations to the peace conference were being selected, the government forces had a prominent militia leader assassinated – hardly the action of a government not wanting to put the peace process at risk.

The assassinated Zahran Alloush was head of the Saudi-backed Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam), a Damascus-based Islamist militia renowned for its ritualised killings of Daesh soldiers as well as its caging and public display of Allawites/ Shi’ite civilians  in areas at risk of bombing.

The peace negotiations are therefore overwhelmingly driven by the external interests and not by any internal force in Syria. There are, of course, many competing imperialist interests in the peace negotiations – with even the UK now also wanting a stake. These powers may have a joint limited interest in beating back and demolishing Daesh’s “Islamic State” but they have nothing like a joint coherent vision of what they want to replace it.

The idea is laughable that fair elections could be held in Syria whilst so much of the country is controlled by the regime or undemocratic Islamist militias. As in any country so devastated by sectarian violence over such a long time, fear is easily manipulated by communalist politicians like Assad as well as many of his opponents, particularly the Islamist ones.

Their armed forces, their instruments of indoctrination, intimidation and oppression remain in existence. Fair elections presume the rights of free speech and political action. But anyone speaking out against whoever runs the territories they live in would be seriously worried about being killed. Assad’s military forces as well as the sectarian militias would first need to be demobilised, the perpetrators of war crimes arrested, civil society rebuilt and democratic discussion protected. An election without such action would do nothing other than exaggerate the communalist breakdown of the country rather than counter it.

However none of the primary sponsors of the Syrian conflict who have forced Assad and the ‘opposition’ into this conference – that is US, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, or Russia – have the slightest interest in promoting a genuine democracy in Syria.

Each of these powers want to deal with Daesh and little more. Even their reasons to have Daesh eliminated is different for each of the regional and international super-powers.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia looks on Daesh as a troublesome competitor for the allegiance of Sunni Wahhabists and Islamists throughout the world. Indeed Daesh – in actually building a quasi-state power with many similarities with Saudi Arabia – has created huge embarrassment for the Saudi tyrants and their allies. Western governments and most of their media have maintained a meticulous silence on Saudi human rights abuses for decades. Over the last year that has been impossible to maintain.

Turkey

In Turkey Erdogan – who is modelling his state on a different model of authoritarian Islamism – has had a useful modus vivendi with Daesh. It is probably the least interested in eliminating Daesh. It allowed and encouraged Daesh’s war on the Rojavan Kurds. In return Daesh did little that might destabilise Erdogan’s rule but became a more audacious ally with his terror campaign against the Kurds.

Erdogan started his political life in the Islamist Welfare Party. The AKP made attempts to become the international centre for the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) after its loss of power in Egypt.

The relationship between the Ikhwan, Saudi Arabia, Al Qaeda and Daesh is complicated. But anti-Shia sectarianism is more the hallmark of the Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia and its Jihadist offspring rather than the Ikhwan.

Erdogan with his ally, the then President Morsi of Egypt

Erdogan with his ally, the then President Morsi of Egypt

Erdogan was a close ally of the former Muslim Brotherhood President Morsi of Egypt. Both Morsi’s removal from power and his arrest by the military dictators in Egypt were strongly supported by Saudi Arabia. Erdogan often used Islamist solidarity with the former President Morsi, now threatened with execution, as a key election issue at his rallies. However he has never criticised Saudi’s support for that proposed execution.

Al Qaeda and Daesh built their organisation using anti-Shia atrocities, particularly in Iraq. They have also carried out such sectarian atrocities elsewhere in Sunni-majority areas such as Saudi Arabia in an attempt to destabilise it. But Daesh have not targeted Turkey’s 25% Shia community – the Alevites.

Al Qaeda supporter of Ikhwan - from video where they kill children protestors by throwing from roof in Cairo

Al Qaeda supporter of Ikhwan – from video where they kill children protestors by throwing from roof in Cairo

Undoubtedly there will be not only strong business links between Daesh and Erdogan’s AKP but also political sympathies with Al Qaeda and Daesh around the AKP, just as they were in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

Any agreed audacious international action against Daesh would create considerable problems for Erdogan. Like the Saudis, but for different reasons, he will want to allow Daesh supporters to not be eliminated but reorganised under the leadership of the safer Wahhabism of the Saudi regime.

Russia was not been targeted by Al Qaeda or Daesh in recent years unlike the West – the attack on one of their passenger planes above Sinai changed that. Also the predictions that 30% of their population being Muslim is known to concern Putin. He has concerns that his generalised repression could trigger repetitions of wars like that in Chechnya especially if Jihadists within greater Russia see a successful Islamic State only a few hundred miles away.

But support for Assad has been significant for Russia – they will never support any measure that may remove him or the regime that they and Iran have worked so hard to keep in power.

The US are unwilling to repeat an Iraq-style occupation in Syria. They have instead invested considerably in trying to get militias that will be loyal to them off the ground in Syria. Such actions have been spectacular failures with the militias they have financed being gobbled up by Islamist militias. At present they and the rest of the western governments involved have contracted out that task to the Saudi regime – allowing the Saudis to become not only the paymasters for most of the militias but also to shape them politically. This could become a major cause of embarrassment to them.

On top of all these political concerns, there are economic ones.

Syria is not only a source for hydrocarbon fuels, it is also a potential route for gas and oil pipelines. Some have argued that Qatar’s involvement in Syria was a result of Assad’s blocking of a pipeline being built from Qatar through Syria to Turkey. Turkey is trying to reduce its dependence on Russian natural gas. Assad, Russia’s ally felt bound to oppose that.

Middle-East-map

Middle-East-map

The potential territorial contiguity of currently Shia-dominated regimes of Syria-Iraq-Iran gets in the way of Sunni co-operation between the Gulf states and Turkey. Now with Iran coming out of the cold of US sanctions, Iran itself may want to position itself as Turkey’s, and beyond them Europe’s main supplier.

So these external powers may want peace in Syria – or at least stability for business – but only after their vested interests are assured.

But there again war is useful for profits in the arms industry. The US arms industry currently sell Saudi and their close ally UAE $8 billion per year in equipment alone. Britain and France arms suppliers are not far behind. In the past much of Saudi’s military expenditure, which is currently the fourth highest in the world, were vanity projects. Now Saudi Arabia has wars like that in Yemen to invest in as well as a serious loss of oil revenues. If it feels its arms can’t be used they may reduce their purchases. There will be strong business pressures to allow Saudi Arabia to continue to invest, probably more openly, in arming forces in Syria. Possibly through a role in occupation.

Could the murderous forces mobilised on both sides be curbed?

The arms supplied by Saudi, Qatar, UAE and Turkey has been immense. In 2014 $92.7 million of arms were bought and supplied to Syrian militias by Saudi Arabia – and that is just from Bulgaria! Without such arm supplies and subsidies from them to the militias and armies in Syria they could not continue their war. Further up the supply chain are of course the US, France and the UK.

On the other side Assad’s Syrian Arab Army has nearly collapsed. Without the elite Iranian Quds force – now being backed up by the more regular Iranian Revolutionary Guards – without Iran’s Lebanese ally Hezbollah, without Russian military assistance, Assad’s war on his people would collapse – even with his use of mass murdering barrel bombs.

So yes, if there was a will from foreign powers, they could pressurise internal Syrian forces to negotiate peace.

But is there the will for peace from the big powers? And more importantly what sort of ‘peace’ do they want?

None of the parties who are likely to gather round the negotiating table in New York on January 25th have much concern either for social justice or for a genuine pluralistic, non-sectarian multi-ethnic Syria where democratic rights are protected. All the them have disgraceful records in working with religiously sectarian forces and supporting brutal authoritarian governments in the area.

If a peace deal is likely out of these negotiations – it is likely to be one that leaves the Assad regime in existence even though personally Bashar Al-Assad may be shunted off to some Russian dacha. It will not be one that will put genuine democrats in charge of Syria. Saudi Arabia’s lead role in the coordination of the Syrian ‘moderate opposition’ is one guarantor of that. Iran and Russia are also guarantors – on the other side.

If any ‘peace deal’ is negotiated, it will probably be through a partition of Syria – initially by freezing many of the present military front-lines between the competing forces.

Such a partition won’t be easy to negotiate – it certainly won’t be in the interests of the Syrian people.


I will look in my next posting on what partition might mean for Syria and what internationally democrats and socialists should do to prevent it and the continuation of the wars in Syria

The Syrian ‘opposition’ – how long can the Saudi deception continue?

The premise on which the British Parliament agreed to join bombings in Syria was that there would be little risk of a military escalation. Clearly bombings can drive the army and the administration of the ‘Islamic State’ into bunkers or into temporary physical dispersion. But a physical territory can only be captured if taken over by military forces on the ground. Cameron and others supporting the war made out that such a force was in existence.

Salman At Riyadh Conference

Saudi’s King and Foreign Minister welcome delegates

Rarely has it been possible to get a snapshot of the Syrian military forces supported by US, UK and France. Cameron played with illusions and words in the British parliament but illusions are insufficient for the US. They need to strengthen their bargaining power in the continuation of the earlier Vienna talks on Syria that may resume in New York next week.

For that reason they authorised Saudi Arabia to co-ordinate the Syrian “opposition” at a meeting in Riyadh on Tuesday and Wednesday (8th and 9th Dec) of this week. The very fact that they passed on such an important task to the regime at the centre of world Wahabbism and Sunni Islamist sectarianism revealed a lot about both the likely outcome of the West’s bombing campaign in Syria but it also revealed much about the majority of the Syrian militias. Continue reading

Where do we go and how do we conduct ourselves

saudi.siWhere do we go and how do we conduct ourselves after last night’s decision to bomb Syria? I expect some will be offended by what I say below
The decision of the UK parliament to authorise bombings is undoubtedly a blow.

I imagine we all fear seeing videos in future like those that Chelsea Manning released to the world and for which she paid such a terrible price – a video of an exercise in smart warfare where a minibus of innocent men and children are machine gunned down and murdered.

And things happen like that when ‘intelligence’ is not delivered by people on the ground and in Raqqa and elsewhere there is little reliable intelligence on the ground.

It is unlikely that there will be military successes in defeating Daesh and liberating areas for ‘democracy’ – because there will be few democrats on the ground other than YPG who, as many MPs drew attention to last night, are being bombed by Turkey and denied heavy weaponry by the Western powers. But the YPG do not have the capabilities alone of liberating Syria for democracy.

Most foreign interventions start with large popular enthusiasm. As wars progress, support drops away if there is no success. In the absence of military successes, Cameron either has to accept de facto defeat or go for further involvement to justify his earlier decision to enter the war. We know from #pigsgate and #terroristSympathisers that Cameron never admits to being wrong. Continue reading

But still Daesh has to be defeated!

YPJ liberate SinjarFrom the response to the Paris atrocity, it appears that sections of the left still fail to understand the Jihadist Islamist organisations of Al Qaeda and Daesh/ ISIS. Undoubtedly many do so wanting to be able to take a position that allows them an easy argument against a repetition of the disastrous war on Iraq. But their way of doing that is to put a ‘context’ on the tragedy that partially absolves Daesh for the responsibility for it.

Trivialising either the actions or the responsibilities of Daesh for their own crimes does not help. As with all forms of fascism, Al Qaeda and Daesh have ideologies as well as organisations. A diminishing but still sizeable proportion of the left continues to lie to itself, as much as it does to others, about the history of both. Its self-deception is indeed its only excuse. Continue reading

Increasing tensions between the two faces of Saudi Arabia

The Telegraph, which appears to be the chosen vehicle of the Saudi regime to speak to Britain, had a fascinating article yesterday. They report a statement apparently approved by the King and his senior advisers most notably his son Prince Mohammed bin Salman, that surprisingly seems to take a conciliatory line. The statement claims that they may allow international human rights organisations to monitor what is going on in their country.

A few weeks ago the Saudi Ambassador in the UK, in an article also in the Telegraph, took a remarkably different and threatening tone to those like Corbyn who have protested about their human rights record.

But in their “manifesto for change” yesterday (12th November) , not published in full by the Telegraph, they try to beef up claims about progress on women’s rights and appear to acknowledge that they have failed to do more.

They do however maintain their belligerent attitude to their Shia minority and make no concessions about their treatment of the two al-Nimrs, both awaiting execution. Nothing is said either about free speech blogger, Raif Badawi.

But the most interesting thing about the article is what it says about the economy and the desire for a closer economic relationship with US, UK and European businesses. The Telegraph doesn’t publish their full statement but designates it as a Thatcherite one – saying that it will cut public spending and privatise the economy with the help of inward investment.

We shouldn’t confuse Saudi public spending with the British nationalised industries that Thatcher destroyed or sold off. The Saudi economy is a massively corrupt economy. The vast oil income in the past was wasted by its ruling class on their personal wealth, on vanity projects, on bribing both domestic and international friends when it was needed. It is a pretty stagnant economy although in recent years there has been a phenomenal infrastructural development but little growth in industries.

Meanwhile Saudi’s oil income has drastically diminished as Saudi has lowered prices to maintain its share of the fuel market. And, of course, oil exports will eventually diminish.

So yesterday’s statement is one made on behalf of Saudi’s capitalist modernisers wanting to create a more diverse and market-regulated capitalist economy.

But the Saudi regime often faces blatantly in more than one direction at the same time – usually through leaks.

For other than its desire for capitalist development in conjunction with the US, UK, and France, there is also its desire to maintain its imperialist project across the Middle East. That project to re-establish Sunni Islamist hegemony is not going to end. Saudi endured years of been sidelined by movements like the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda and Daesh as well as their cocky competitor Qatar.

Now they have created their Sunni armed coalition with other Gulf states as well as Pakistan, Egypt and Morocco in Yemen

Image showing Saudi-led coalition

Image from Business Insider

Image from Business Insider

They also have ambitions in Syria to be central to Sunni sectarianism and pursue further their proxy war with the Iranian state.

To re-establish hegemony they have needed to beef up their oppressive use of Sharia, and make conciliatory gestures to the Brotherhood, to Qatar and even to sections of Al Qaeda like the one in Syria, Al Nusra.

Bizarrely the ones seeming to be behind the statement issued yesterday for capitalist development are the same ones pushing their reassertion of brutal Wahhabism.

They possibly believe that they can go in both directions at once: promoting medieval reaction throughout the region whilst having Western supported accelerated capitalist development at home. The aggressive posture to the Shia indicates that they will continue to promote their proxy wars with Iran and need to stoke that up at home.

But what about their words about allowing monitoring of human rights in Saudi Arabia? It is hard to believe that they are genuine.

They are perhaps said in order to counteract the aggressive and diplomatically damaging “keep out of our business” statement of their ambassador to the UK. There are international conventions on human rights that the Saudi regime cannot ignore, particularly after the British Tory government gets them the chair of the UN Human Rights Council.

Maybe they think they can use the UN Human Rights Council to create some compliant body that will selectively look at and exaggerate the limited gains on women’s rights at the top of Saudi society whilst ignoring the real oppression, the beheading of atheists or of women migrants, the denial of democratic and workers rights etc.

But regardless of any dishonesty in Saudi rulers statement, it also reveals their weakness. They need international help from western governments and businesses. The same businesses that we work for and that are based here. The same governments that are supposedly democratically accountable to us.

They can’t pretend that they can ignore what we do. We should do more to expose their records.