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Vol. 77/No. 36      October 14, 2013

Press downplays grinding war in Syria,
ongoing US war threats
(front page)
At least 16 people were killed in a Syrian government airstrike Sept. 29 that hit a secondary school in Raqqa, a provincial capital under control of rebel forces. The aerial bombing was one of many recent attacks by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad across the country — from Damascus to Deraa province in the south to Syria’s northern border with Turkey — as the regime’s army and paramilitary forces, backed by Hezbollah detachments and Iranian military advisers target working-class areas.

Meanwhile, the bourgeois press in the U.S. has dropped the Syrian civil war from its front pages as part of projecting a false image of a march toward peace amid tense negotiations between Moscow and Washington and ongoing imperialist threats of military intervention.

The U.S. has deployed five destroyers and an amphibious landing vessel carrying 700 Marines near Syria’s Mediterranean coast, poised for possible attack. “The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure these core interests in the region,” President Barack Obama said in his Sept. 24 address to the United Nations General Assembly.

More than 115,000 people have been killed in Syria — an estimated 5,000 in September alone — since widespread anti-government demonstrations swept the country in 2011, on the heels of the massive mobilizations that pulled down military dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt. The Assad regime has “disappeared” some 10,000 political activists and systematically punished workers’ districts in an effort to close down political space and crush resistance.

The Assad regime is based on a narrow layer of mainly Sunni capitalist families based in Damascus and Aleppo. It is defended by an army and paramilitary National Defense Force whose officer corps and soldiers are disproportionately composed of members of the Alawite Muslim minority, largely from the country’s Mediterranean coast and Damascus — some of the poorest areas in the country.

The number of refugees driven from their homes is approaching 7 million, close to one-third of the population. More than 2 million have fled the country altogether.

Amid this backdrop, leaders from Washington, Russia, France, and other imperialist nations have taken the podium at the opening sessions of the U.N. General Assembly to argue that a tentative deal for identification and quarantine of Syria’s chemical weapons cache heralds a new turning point toward peace in the region.

Reactionary al-Qaedist forces

Over the past six months the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an armed group backed by al-Qaeda, has been reinforced by fighters from outside the country. They have more and more been turning their focus on seizing territory from opposition forces, as opposed to the regime. In September, ISIS seized Azaz, near the Turkish border, killing several fighters from the Free Syrian Army. Near Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, ISIS launched a campaign it called “Expunging Filth,” aimed at FSA forces there.

In some areas in northern and western Syria liberated from control by Assad’s forces, local councils of workers, farmers, small merchants and others have been formed to run public services and civic affairs. Members have been targeted by both the Assad regime and al-Qaeda-linked militias.

In mid-August ISIS drove anti-Assad militia forces out of Raqqa. City residents took to the streets to protest the group’s assaults on religious and political opponents. For example, after ISIS thugs burned down the Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation, dozens of young people gathered in front of the church and marched through the city Sept. 25, calling the jihadist group “counterrevolutionary” and chanting “Christian and Muslim are one.”

Washington, Paris and other imperialist powers on the one hand and Moscow on the other are trying to pull together a Geneva “peace conference” in November with representatives of the Assad government and opposition forces.

Washington’s goal is to cobble together a new capitalist regime based on elements in the current government, excluding Assad, with some representatives of the bourgeois opposition that will be more amenable to imperialist interests in the region. Moscow seeks to keep the Assad regime, a key ally in the Middle East, in power for as long as possible.

The bourgeois forces that control the self-proclaimed opposition government in exile, which calls itself the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, has been losing support. Eleven rebel groups announced Sept. 24 they were breaking from the exile forces and their military command, stating they could only be represented by people who have “lived their troubles and shared in what they have sacrificed.”

On the heels of these developments, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he doubted any peace conference could be convened by November.

Washington, in cooperation with the governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, continues to back the National Coalition. In a glaring understatement, unnamed U.S. officials told Anand Gopal of Harper’s Magazine that “they prefer to deal with known quantities … rather than the grassroots opposition.”  
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