Conflicts heat up in Syria as US, rivals push interests

By Terry Evans

The multifront conflicts in Syria being fought by rival capitalist powers in the region — alongside intervention from Moscow and the imperialist rulers in Washington — continue to take a horrific toll on working people there. As each of these powers seeks to assert its own military and political interests, conflicts among them have sharpened.

Officials of the opposing sides clashed at the Feb. 16-18 Munich Security Conference.

Holding a piece of an Iranian drone Israeli forces shot down after it flew into Israel from Syria, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the gathering that Tel Aviv would do whatever it takes to prevent Tehran from having a permanent military presence in Syria and would continue to directly target Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Tehran-backed militias based there.

In response, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif taunted Netanyahu about how Syrian gunners brought down an Israeli jet that retaliated against Iranian-backed forces in Syria.

Israeli defense forces Feb. 10 responded with airstrikes on Iranian military forces inside Syria, alongside raids that wiped out half of the Bashar al-Assad dictatorship’s air-defense capabilities.

U.S. National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster spent much of his time there seeking to win support from European governments for Washington’s plans to renegotiate aspects of the agreement struck by the Barack Obama administration with Tehran in 2015. That deal eased sanctions against the Iranian regime in exchange for slowing down its nuclear weapons program. McMaster spoke out on Washington’s alarm at what he called Tehran’s “network of proxies” that “is becoming more and more capable.”

The U.S. rulers, along with Tel Aviv, are resetting relations with regimes in the region to counter the Iranian regime’s rising influence. This includes Washington’s announcement that it would keep 2,000 troops in Syria alongside its Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces allies that now control some 25 percent of Syria, including most of its oil wells.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov condemned Washington’s actions on his way to the conference. He told Euronews Feb. 16 that the U.S. was violating “Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. They are forming quasi-local authorities in a bid to establish a Kurd-based autonomy there.”

“It may entail big problems in a number of other countries with Kurdish populations,” Lavrov added, which face, he said, “the Kurdish problem.”

Some 30 million Kurdish people are divided among four countries — Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran — and denied a homeland by the rulers there.

Turkish invasion targets Kurds in Afrin

The Turkish rulers are deeply concerned about their “Kurdish problem.” Ankara began sending bombers, tanks, Turkish forces and thousands of Ankara-backed Free Syrian Army troops to invade territory controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the Kurdish province of Afrin in northwestern Syria Jan. 20.

The Turkish government is also intensifying its attacks inside Turkey on anyone who speaks out against the assault on Afrin. Over 2,100 people have been detained on charges of terrorism for questioning the invasion, and a curfew was imposed Feb. 14 in the predominantly Kurdish area of southeastern Turkey.

Ankara sees as a threat the autonomous areas of Syria, taken by Kurdish-led forces in the vacuum created by the years of war there and through their role as an ally of Washington against Islamic State. They seek to oust the YPG from Afrin because they fear the impact Kurdish gains in Syria will have on aspirations of Kurds facing national oppression within Turkey.

No end to Syria war

Fighting broke out Feb. 7 when what was reported to be forces organized by the Syrian government attacked Kurdish-led SDF troops and U.S. forces near oil fields in Deir el-Zour province near Raqqa. Washington responded with massive firepower and reportedly killed over 200 of the attackers.

Since then Moscow acknowledges that at least some of those killed were Russians. It insists there were just five, all mercenaries with no connection to the government, even though they were trained and supplied at Russian bases in Syria. Other sources, including associates of the mercenaries in Russia and people who fought with them previously in eastern Ukraine, say the majority of those killed were Russian mercenaries.

Moscow is seeking to minimize any direct conflict with Washington in Syria, and to deflect anti-war reaction at home.

The Assad government in Syria has been able to retake control of most of the country — outside areas run by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces — with the intervention of Russian airpower and ground troops from Iran, Hezbollah and other Tehran-backed militias. Before this intervention, Assad had steadily lost ground in a civil war after he brutally suppressed a 2011 popular uprising aimed at overthrowing his rule.

As a result of their efforts to bolster Assad’s rule, Iran’s counterrevolutionary rulers have extended their influence across the region. They have established a route to transport materiel from Iran to their Hezbollah ally in Lebanon. The Israeli rulers are determined to push back against Tehran’s strengthened position.

Last year Moscow signed a “de-escalation” agreement with opposition forces in eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus that Assad has besieged for five years. But in recent weeks Russian warplanes and Syrian forces have unleashed a murderous assault there. The Syrian Observatory reports that bombardments Feb. 18-20 destroyed five hospitals, killed 250 civilians and wounded 1,200.