The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 77/No. 40      November 11, 2013

Syria war uproots millions,
ripples across Middle East
(feature article)
Two and a half years of civil war in Syria have taken an enormous toll on workers and farmers there, who face the menace of possible U.S. military intervention and relentless bombardments by the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. Meanwhile, the social ramifications spill beyond the country’s borders, fueling tensions between and within nation states and compounding burdens foisted on working people throughout the region.

Well over 115,000 Syrians have been killed. Millions have been driven from their homes, scattered throughout Syria and the Middle East.

Hundreds of thousands are trapped in areas under siege and face acute shortages of food, medicine and other basic necessities. More than 1 million are in areas where aid deliveries are blocked and residents cannot leave as part of what one Syrian official is quoted in Reuters as calling a “starvation until submission campaign.” About half are reportedly in the region outside Damascus and more than 300,000 in Homs province in central Syria.

While open threats of military action from Washington have subsided, U.S. troops and warships remain poised near Syria. The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, which was diverted to the Red Sea in September and escorted by the guided missile cruiser USS Monterey, sailed through the Suez Canal Oct. 20 into the Mediterranean Sea, “keeping U.S. options for responding to future crises open,” Stars and Stripes reported.

Since Assad announced Sept. 29 he would comply with the deal brokered between Moscow and Washington to divulge and dismantle the Syrian military’s chemical weapons arsenal, his regime has stepped up attacks against working-class areas under rebel control.

Government forces bomb between 60 and 100 locations across the country every day, according to Der Spiegel.

Seven million people, almost one-third of the population, have been displaced. More than 2 million have fled the country, most of them crossing borders into neighboring Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, as well as Egypt.

In addition to attacks by pro-government forces, working people in parts of the country face growing brutality from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the al-Nusra Front and other al-Qaeda-linked groups whose goal is not to overthrow Assad, but to seize territory and influence amid chaos and impose their extreme, sectarian views on others.

Reports of these groups killing civilians trying to flee, destroying Christian and other non-Muslim religious sites and holding civilian hostages have become more frequent. Some estimates put their numbers at 5,000 to 7,000 men. The Free Syrian Army, an umbrella of heterogeneous anti-government militias, is estimated to have some 90,000 members.

Refugees destabilize region

Huge camps have grown up in neighboring countries near Syrian border areas. But 75 percent of Syrian refugees who fled the country end up in towns and cities where they and other working people face shortages of housing, schools, health care and other social services.

Mafraq, Jordan, doubled its population in the last year to 250,000. Rents have doubled, as have prices for garbage pickups and water delivery. Competition for jobs is acute. Streets are littered and sewers clogged. Up to five families often share one-room apartments.

Lebanon, with a population of 4 million, is now home to well over 1 million Syrian refugees.

Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed military and political organization that control parts of southern and eastern Lebanon, has about 10,000 fighters in Syria backing the Assad regime.

In addition to social tensions created by the massive influx of refugees, the Syrian civil war is spilling over into parts of Lebanon. Reuters reported Oct. 28 that 17 people had been killed and more than 100 wounded in the northern city of Tripoli in fighting that started Oct. 22 between Hezbollah and opponents of Assad. Tripoli is majority Sunni and support for the Syrian opposition is strong there. Two months ago, two car bombs at Sunni mosques killed 42 and wounded hundreds.

In August, the al-Qaeda-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigade in Rashidiya, near the city of Sur, took responsibility for firing four rockets aimed at Israeli territory. One was intercepted and three fell into the Mediterranean Sea. The retaliatory air attack from Israel hit military targets near the Lebanese town of Naameh, according to Israeli sources.

More than 300,000 Syrians have made their way to Egypt. They were initially welcomed by President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, who backed the rebellion against Assad. But when Morsi was ousted, army and political figures scapegoated Syrians for growing social problems and painted them as backers of the toppled Brotherhood. “My kids can’t play outside anymore,” one Syrian refugee living in a suburb of Cairo told BBC News Oct. 17. “There were 1,700 refugees living in the area, but now there are no more than 500.”

The weakening of the Assad regime has boosted the Kurdish fight for self-determination in northeastern Syria, where they set up their own government in 2012. Kurds are an oppressed nationality of 25 to 30 million residing in parts of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria. The Kurds represent the largest nationality in the world without their own state.

Fighting has recently increased in the Kurdish region of Syria between the military wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the leading Kurdish group, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. ISIS has attacked Kurdish villages, seeking to grab turf and power, driving tens of thousands toward the border with Iraqi Kurdistan.

When Iraq opened a single border crossing in August, more than 46,000 flooded across in 10 days. More than 200,000 Kurdish refugees from Syria are now in the largely autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Over 600,000 Syrians have fled to Turkey, where half of all Kurds live and where they have been pressing and gaining ground in their fight against discrimination.  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home