Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!
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.
Suicide bombings were largely unknown in Syria before the current 14-month uprising. The secular Ba’athist government has protected the rights of minority faiths, and many Syrians are wary of the sectarian violence and persecution in neighbouring Lebanon and Iraq. Since December, five huge suicide attacks have hit Damascus, killing approximately 100 people. Others have struck Aleppo. The attacks have targeted security and intelligence buildings and many of the dead have been soldiers and police. Al Qaeda- affiliated groups, including the Al Nusra front, have been blamed by western and Syrian intelligence. After calls from Salafist and Wahhabi leaders, followers have been travelling to Syria to fight the government. Reuters reported on 30 April that the FSA now favours home-made bombs to target military institutions. A huge explosion in Hama on 26 April – blamed on a Scud missile by the opposition and the BBC – showed the scale of these bomb factories. There is no clear line between these Islamic militants and the militias which make up the FSA.
The GCC countries are funding this sectarian struggle. The Sunni Muslim Brotherhood has emerged as the main force in the Syrian National Council (SNC) which loosely directs the FSA. Donations of $100 million from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, alongside $33 million from the US, are paying SNC and FSA salaries. Kamal Lebwany, ex-SNC member, explained: ‘The Muslim Brotherhood monopolises everything – the money, the weapons, the SNC. The SNC has a liberal peel covering a totalitarian, non-democratic core.’ The Washington Post reported on 16 May that arms supplies to the FSA were increasing; paid for by the GCC and ‘co-ordinated by the US state department’.
Sectarian street fighting has broken out in Tripoli in Northern Lebanon. Close to the opposition stronghold of Homs in Syria, much foreign intervention is channelled through Lebanon. Tripoli was the intended destination for two huge arms shipments from Libya which were recently intercepted. The arms and militias which have been poured into the region threaten to force Lebanon back into bloody civil war. The chaos left by the imperialist destruction of Iraq is a warning for the entire region.
Kofi Annan, as the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, put a ceasefire and peace plan into place on 12 April. It was set up to fail and was condemned by NATO governments before it started. A successful ceasefire would pave the way for de-militarisation of the situation: with 300 UN observers on the ground, covert imperialist intervention and government repression would be under a degree of scrutiny. Dismissing the ceasefire as a failure is key to the imperialist-GCC strategy of pouring arms, special forces and foreign fighters into Syria. Despite the initial decrease in violence, within a month the FSA had resumed large scale attacks and throughout May government forces were attacked escorting UN observer convoys. An opposition offensive on 14 May in Rastan, near Homs, overran a military base killing 23 soldiers. The ceasefire allowed the consolidation of the FSA’s hold on territory in Idlib province. An FSA commander told The Independent, ‘Idlib is our Benghazi.’
With areas of the country in chaos and the UN peace plan collapsing, the threat of overt imperialist intervention is never far away. The US has led large military exercises in Jordan just south of Syria, involving 12,000 troops from 17 countries. Turkey has threatened to invoke Article IV of the NATO Charter, allowing military intervention to protect Turkey’s borders. The EU has imposed more sanctions, compounding those in place since 1980. Their effects are inflicted on the working class; millions are going hungry due to the government’s inability to buy grain to produce the subsidised bread they rely on.
Food and fuel prices have risen 50%, and unemployment has risen drastically, whilst the Syrian pound has devalued by 50%. Attempts at reform and multi-party elections have been doomed amidst this chaos being orchestrated by the imperialists. Vicious sanctions have repeatedly been shown to be a prelude to imperialist invasion, forcing the victim to its knees. If NATO and the GCC get their way the people of Syria will suffer much more barbarity.