The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 81/No. 34      September 18, 2017


Tehran, Assad advance interests against Washington

Lebanon-based Hezbollah and affiliated Shiite militias — backed by Moscow, the armed forces of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and Iranian officers — pushed into southeastern Syria Sept. 5, breaking through the Islamic State’s siege of the city of Deir el-Zour in the oil-rich Euphrates Valley. In so doing, they blocked the efforts of Washington and its Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces allies to extend their control further into the key region.

What is unfolding, the Washington Post said Sept. 5, is “a global race to control the rest of the desert province, also named Deir al-Zour, which the United States has also been preparing to liberate.”

U.S. bombers, special forces and the SDF are currently fighting to take Raqqa, which has served as the capital of the reactionary IS’s self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq, some 90 miles from Deir el-Zour.

The speed and size of the forces involved in the Tehran-Baghdad-Moscow offensive reflects the importance these regimes put on the area. For the Iranian rulers, the prize is opening a land route linking Tehran, areas in Iraq controlled by Shia militia, Assad-controlled land in Syria, and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The Assad advance was aided by cruise missile strikes against Islamic State positions from Russian warships positioned in the Mediterranean Sea.

Competing national interests

As the bloody Syrian civil war grinds on, all the imperialist and capitalist regimes involved are fighting to advance their own national economic, political and military interests in the area.

In 2014, as part of capturing large swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq, Islamic State took Deir el-Zour province and most of the capital city of the same name from anti-Assad rebels, laying siege to a military garrison and 93,000 civilians that remained under the Assad regime’s control. Deir el-Zour province is the last IS stronghold in Syria. It ends at Iraq’s border.

The over six-years-long civil war erupted in 2011 after Assad — using his army, air force, imprisonment, torture and executions of his opponents — beat back countrywide mobilizations for democratic rights and the end to his regime. With the military intervention of Washington, Moscow, Tehran and Ankara, the war has turned what once was Syria into a cauldron of competing national capitalist interests. Over 400,000 people have been killed and half of Syria’s population of 22 million turned into refugees.

To defend its economic and political interests in the region, Washington’s military intervention aims to engineer some kind of political settlement of the war as part of its effort to reimpose imperialist stability in the Middle East. While initially calling for the removal of Assad in any settlement, Washington now accepts the reality of the regime’s survival. The U.S. rulers recently ended a covert yearslong CIA program that supplied a number of anti-Assad rebel groups with weapons.

Speaking at an Aspen, Colorado, security forum in July, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said that Washington has two enemies in Syria — Islamic State and Iran. The latter is what the competition in Deir el-Zour is all about. And it is why reports of the fighting indicate Iranian officers, Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite militias are centrally involved.

Assad’s advances in the Euphrates Valley were made possible by a deal reached by Moscow, Tehran and the Recep Tayyip Erdogan regime in Turkey last May to set up four so-called de-escalation zones based on cease-fire deals with rebel forces — in reality negotiated surrenders glibly dubbed “national reconciliation deals.” These allowed the rebels to relocate to Idlib, freeing up regime troops for the effort towards the east.

Damascus also threatens that down the road it will take military action to reclaim the Kurdish-controlled autonomous region on the Turkish-Syrian border.

‘Fabric of society destroyed’

Despite the agreements, the Assad regime continues to shell opponents and civilians in the “de-escalation zones” with barrel bombs and so-called elephant rockets — inaccurate improvised munitions made from gas canisters that maim and kill indiscriminately.

“Life is nonexistent. Permanent terror, and people are not coming out of their basements,” Abdullah al-Khatib, a former electrician living with his eight-member family in Ain Terma near Damascus, told Reuters.

Conditions for toilers in territories controlled by Assad are disastrous. Over 85 percent of the population live in poverty. Sixty percent don’t have money to buy food or other essentials. Inflation is out of control. Foreign relief is the only way most survive.

“The fabric of society has been destroyed,” said Jihad Yazigi, editor of The Syria Report.  
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