Washington’s continuing military role in Syria and Iraq is rooted in efforts by Democratic and Republican administrations alike, under cover of defeating Islamic State, to reimpose stability in the region and defend their imperialist interests.
Preparations for a Sept. 25 binding independence referendum by the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq are continuing. Washington, Moscow, Tehran, Ankara and Baghdad all oppose it. There are substantial Kurdish populations adjacent to each other in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. Some 30 million Kurdish people are the largest nationality in the world without their own homeland.
At the same time close to a million people rallied against the Turkish government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan July 9 in a broad demonstration of opposition to the regime’s repressive state of emergency.
At the end of June military clashes took place between U.S. forces and militia loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They are in competition for control of territory around al-Tanf near the majority Shiite southern areas of Iraq. At issue are potential moves by Tehran to create a land link through this area to their ally Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Following the first face-to-face meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin July 7, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that Washington, Moscow and the monarchy of King Abdullah in Jordan had agreed to foster a cease-fire — with agreement of Damascus — in a limited area of southwestern Syria. It began July 9. The area covers Syria’s borders with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and southern Lebanon.
While Kurdish and Syrian Democratic Forces have advanced their drive to liberate Raqqa, the reactionary Islamic State has been shifting its troops and leadership into the Euphrates Valley, where it surrounds 200,000 people in the Syrian provincial capital of Deir al-Zour. Holding and advancing in this area is important for Assad’s drive to effectively retake control of the country.
The Iranian government recently escalated its role in the Syrian war by launching missiles from Iranian territory against Islamic State targets in eastern Syria. Tehran has been supporting the Syrian regime with Iranian officers, Shiite militias from throughout the region and Hezbollah fighting under Moscow’s air cover.
Tehran aims to win control over territory through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon on the Mediterranean Sea. Washington opposes any increase in Iranian influence in the region.
The Syrian civil war began in 2011 after the Assad regime used its army to brutally crush a popular rebellion for democratic rights. Since then hundreds of thousands have died.
Mobilization in Istanbul
Hundreds of thousands of people gathered for a mass “Justice Rally” organized by the bourgeois opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in Istanbul July 9. The action culminated a 25-day march from Ankara to Istanbul.
The protests mark growing opposition to a broad anti-democratic crackdown by the Erdogan government. His government used a failed coup attempt last July to establish a state of emergency that has led to firings and arrests of tens of thousands across the country. The attacks have hit all opposition to Erdogan, including the CHP, but have hit hardest at the Kurds and the Kurdish-led Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
The HDP, along with a wide range of unions, including the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions and Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions, mobilized for the demonstration.
At a certain point the cops blocked tens of thousands more from entering the rally, saying the area was full.
Fight for Kurdish independence
One unintended consequence of Washington’s wars in the region and the civil war that has splintered Syria has been the success of Kurdish forces carving out autonomous regions in both northern Iraq and Syria.
The U.S.-led coalition forged a tactical alliance with the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People’s Protection Units (YPG) military wing in Syria, as well as with the Kurdistan Regional Government’s peshmerga in Iraq, because of the organizational strength and fighting prowess of the Kurdish forces. President Trump has maintained the alliance with the YPG over the strong objection of the Turkish government, which views the YPG as a terrorist organization linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey, which has been locked in a bloody struggle with Ankara for Kurdish national rights for over three decades.
YPG forces in Afrin, a Kurdish canton in western Syria, have been facing daily bombardment by Turkish-led forces. Ankara has sent troops, tanks and other heavy weapons into the Afrin area with the announced intention of clearing the YPG “terrorists” out of the territory, which is near the Syria-Turkey border. Thousands of Kurds marched in the streets of Afrin July 5 to protest the bombings and the Turkish military buildup.
Erdogan has repeatedly stated that Ankara will not permit the establishment of a Kurdish state in northern Syria, home to 2 million Kurds. The YPG seeks to link up the larger autonomous Kurdish cantons in the east with their canton in Afrin in the west.
Ankara fears that the consolidation of a Kurdish ministate in Syria would embolden the struggle of the 15 million Kurds within Turkey for their national rights. For the same reason, Erdogan is staunchly opposed to the KRG’s Sept. 25 independence referendum.
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