Meanwhile, Washington and its allies are maneuvering to ensure the outcome favors the establishment of stable capitalist relations and promotion of their economic and political interests in the region against those of the governments of Iran, Russia and other rivals—as well as those of working people who have begun to step into politics amid the chaos.
The last weeks have seen the most intense fighting since the beginning of the rebellion in March 2011.
Following an unclaimed bombing in Damascus July 18 that killed four senior officials, including Syria’s defense minister, Free Syrian Army forces occupied several largely working-class districts of Damascus, the capital, and Aleppo, Syria’s main industrial and financial center. The Free Syrian Army is a loose umbrella organization comprising most of the various armed groups combating the regime.
After days of intense fighting, the outgunned and outmanned rebel combatants were eventually driven from Damascus. The Syrian army is now waging a full-scale offensive to recapture Aleppo neighborhoods from opposition forces.
The impact on working people has been devastating.
UN officials reported July 29 that some 200,000 people had fled Aleppo in the previous two days of fighting. Those remaining were facing power cuts, shortages of food and fuel, and the ever-present risk of injury or death.
Some 127,300 Syrians had taken refuge in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, many in poor conditions, the UN reported July 27. The Greek government announced July 30 that it was quadrupling the number of guards along its border with Turkey, aiming at keeping out Syrian refugees.
More than 19,000 people, including 5,000 government troops, have been killed since the beginning of the uprising, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights
A weakened regimeThe Assad regime has been shaken and the civil war is now generalized across the country. Large areas of the countryside are under control of opposition forces, especially in the north, as well as several border crossings into Turkey and Iraq. Regime and army defections have increased. The Syrian government is increasingly isolated, not only by the imperialist powers of America and Europe, but by most governments in the region.
At a meeting in Brussels July 23, the European Union strengthened its arms embargo against Syria and extended the list of supporters of al-Assad’s regime targeted by its sanctions.
The governments of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been helping rebel groups obtain weapons. Syrian rebel leaders and fighters operate openly on Turkish soil.
Saudi Arabia’s government has collected more than $100 million in a national drive to support Syrian opposition forces they favor.
A July 22 emergency meeting of Arab League ministers in Doha, Qatar, called on al-Assad to step down and on the Free Syrian Army to form a transitional government.
According to the Christian Science Monitor, the league’s secretary general announced he would travel to Moscow and Beijing to urge these governments to “end their obstruction of UN Security Council action on Syria”—a reference to their repeated vetoing of UN sanctions on Syria promoted by Washington.
Like other regimes in the region, the power of Bashar al-Assad is based on a narrow layer of capitalist families, in this case mostly from the Alawite Muslim minority, a branch of Shiite Islam. Three-quarters of Syria’s population are Sunni, 11 percent Alawite and 12 percent Christians.
Kurds, an oppressed nationality in the region, represent about 9 percent of Syria’s population. Since 1962, 300,000 Kurds have been denied citizenship. The use of the Kurdish language is restricted, and most Kurds are not allowed to own land.
A third of the population survives on $2 a day or less.
Al-Assad became president in 2000 after the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, who had ruled the country with an iron fist since 1963.
The Baathist Party regime of al-Assad has draped itself in anti-imperialist and secular-socialist demagogy, as well as lip service of support for the Palestinian struggle. In reality, when not exploiting the cause of the Palestinian people for its own ends, the regime has stabbed them in the back, including outright slaughters of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in 1976 and 1986-87. And when it has coincided with its national interests, it has allied with imperialism, as it did when it backed the U.S.-led war against Iraq in 1991.
Washington has been at odds for decades with Damascus, in large part because of the latter’s close relations with Moscow and Tehran, and its support for Iranian-backed groups Hamas and Hezbollah in Palestine and Lebanon.
The bourgeois Syrian opposition is deeply divided—along political, ethnic and sectarian lines, and between the politicians in exile and the fighters on the ground.
An early July meeting in Cairo of the Syrian opposition was marked by squabbling among the some 250 delegates and their incapacity to reach an agreement on forming a unified body to represent the disparate opposition. The Kurdish delegation walked out.
While the White House has been calling for months for al-Assad to step down, the Obama administration has provided limited support to opposition groups, saying it does not want arms falling into the hands of Islamist forces, and has limited its intervention in the country to covert operations.
The July 31 Time magazine explained quite bluntly the three-point plan of Washington and its allies.
First, their priority in Syria is to ensure stability after Assad’s fall. The magazine quoted Defense Secretary Leon Panetta as saying, “The best way to preserve that kind of stability is to maintain as much of the military and police as you can, along with security forces, and hope that they will transition to a democratic form of government.”
Second, Time said, one way to achieve this goal is to establish “a military junta along the lines of Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces—a body that would keep intact the armed forces and avoid a bloody Balkan-style breakup of the Syrian state, while overseeing a political transition to a more inclusive government.”
And third, “one leader apparently being groomed to head up such an entity … is Gen. Manaf Tlass, until recently one of the most senior Sunni figures in the Assad regime.” Tlass defected at the beginning of July.
Their challenging goal: replacing the current government with another repressive regime that is both allied closely with Washington and capable of clamping down on growing discontent and combativity among working people—and all without Washington getting its hands too dirty or paying too much in blood and treasure.
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