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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people                              
Vol. 80/No. 2      January 18, 2016



2001-15 Militant Index
Now Available Online
(lead article)

Washington war plans unravel as conflicts surge in Middle East

Police in Diyarbakir, Turkey, attack Dec. 31 protest of thousands against Turkish government's brutal assault on Kurdish population. Several hundred thousand people have been displaced.

The Barack Obama administration has suffered a series of setbacks in its plans to forge a strategic bloc with Moscow and Tehran to bring about a cease-fire in Syria, increase coordination of military moves against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and bring stability to U.S. interests in the region. Competing national interests have fueled growing conflicts between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Russia, and stepped-up war moves by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan against Kurds in the southeastern part of the country.

Plans are increasingly uncertain for a U.N.-sponsored Jan. 25 international conference to discuss steps toward forming a coalition government in Syria.

At the same time, Washington continues to step up bombing and other military moves in both Syria and Iraq.

Moscow and Tehran want to keep long-time ally Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in power. Washington has no viable replacement it trusts among opponents of Assad claiming to lead Syria’s Sunni majority. Zahran Alloush, one of the most prominent Sunni militia leaders who has fought both Assad’s regime and Islamic State and was expected to be one of the opposition’s delegates to the U.N. conference, was killed in airstrikes Dec. 25 by either Damascus or Moscow.

The Al Saud monarchy in Riyadh executed 47 prisoners Jan. 2, many by beheadings. Included among them was Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, an imam who has spoken out against the regime’s attacks on Shiites. The gruesome images looked much like the brutal murders carried out by the reactionary Islamic State in Syria.

The moves come as the regime has embarked on a radical austerity plan as oil prices have plunged, wreaking havoc on the monarchy’s balance sheet.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called for “divine revenge” against Riyadh. Demonstrators in Tehran sacked and set fire to the Saudi Embassy. In response, Riyadh broke diplomatic relations with the Iranian government. Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates also cut back diplomatic ties.

The Saudi regime is locked in a prolonged proxy war against pro-Iranian forces in Yemen.

Since Turkish fighter jets shot down a Russian warplane at Turkey’s border with Syria Nov. 24, relations between the countries’ rulers continue to deteriorate. Russian President Vladimir Putin called the attack a “stab in the back” committed by “accomplices of terrorists.” Moscow imposed a series of economic sanctions against Turkey.

Turkish assault on Kurds

Erdogan vowed Dec. 31 to continue the Turkish regime’s bloody assault on the country’s oppressed Kurdish population in the southeast region and bragged that Turkish forces killed 3,100 fighters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in 2015. Ankara launched a “synchronized war on terror” in July, ostensibly aimed at both Islamic State and the PKK, but in fact overwhelmingly targeting the Kurds.

Erdogan has sent bombers and thousands of Turkish troops with tanks to put many Kurdish towns under siege, displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians.

“People are dying in their own homes,” Nurettin Kurtay, a teacher in the region’s Silopi district, told the New York Times. “Our schools and our infrastructure has been destroyed. There is no difference between what is going on here and next door in Iraq and Syria.”

Following World War I, the victorious imperialist rulers of France and Britain, determined to prevent the establishment of an independent Kurdistan as they dismantled the defeated Ottoman Empire, divided the Kurds between Iran and the newly created countries of Turkey, Syria and Iraq. Roughly half of the region’s 30 million Kurds live in Turkey today.

“There will be a Kurdistan reality in the next century,” Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) in Turkey, said Dec. 27. Erdogan branded the statement “treason” and called for charges to be brought against him. The HDP is a threat to Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party because it has gained support beyond the Kurdish population and surpassed the 10 percent threshold to gain seats in the Turkish parliament in the last two elections.

Kurdish fighters in Iraq and Syria are the only consistently effective fighters against Islamic State, driving their forces out of sections of the two countries.

Washington-backed Iraqi government forces, rebuilt after they crumbled in the face of Islamic State assaults early last year, retook from IS the city of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, Dec. 28. Their next target is the key city of Mosul.

To accomplish this goal, however, is impossible without the aid of Peshmerga forces from the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. “You cannot do Mosul without Peshmerga,” Iraqi Finance Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, a Kurd, told Reuters Dec. 29.

Attacks on Muslims, mosques

As they step up war moves, Washington and other imperialist powers sought to use the specter of Islamic State terror attacks during the holiday season to justify increased military and police presence on city streets and new restrictions on political rights. Amidst government scapegoating and cries to limit immigration and rights of Muslims, attacks on mosques increased across the country.

New York Police Commissioner William Bratton fielded 6,000 heavily armed police officers around Times Square during the annual New Year’s Eve celebration. Belgian authorities cancelled the annual holiday gathering in Brussels entirely.

Cops in Pasadena, California, stationed armed cops and surveillance cameras along the annual Rose Bowl football game parade route.

Officials in Munich, warning of terrorist threats Dec. 31, shut down rail stations and deployed heavily armed cops throughout the city.

While liberal media have focused attention on calls by Republican presidential candidates like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz to stop refugees from Syria from coming to the U.S., the Obama administration has stepped up attacks on travel by Muslims.

U.S. officials barred Pakistani-born British gym owner Mohammad Tariq Mahmood and his family from boarding a flight from London to Los Angeles Dec. 15 for a vacation at Disneyland. “They think every Muslim poses a threat,” Mahmood told the press.

Two days later Ajmal Masroor, a British imam outspoken against Islamic State terrorism, was prevented from boarding a flight at London’s Heathrow Airport by a U.S. diplomatic official who refused to give any explanation.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations reports a continued increase in threats and assaults against Muslims and mosques across the country. In Alameda, California, and elsewhere, a number of these attacks have been met with broad solidarity and public protest (see article on page 3).

These attacks open the door to broader restrictions on political rights.

Department of Homeland Security officials say that beginning in 2016 they intend to deny U.S. citizens the ability to use state driver’s licenses as proof of identity for air travel unless they are “enhanced” with a Radio Frequency Identity chip in compliance with the 2005 Real ID Act. The chip “will signal a secure system to pull up your biographic and biometric data for the CBP [Customs and Border Protection] officer as you approach the border inspection booth,” according to the Homeland Security website.

People whose state governments do not issue such licenses will have to produce a passport or other proof of identity or be turned away.
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