The offensive against rebel forces and civilians in Syria’s Idlib province carried out by the Bashar al-Assad regime and its backers in Moscow and Tehran has intensified since December. The assaults have forced 800,000 people to flee their homes, the biggest single displacement of people in Syria’s civil war.
Some 80% of those fleeing are women and children. The regime’s coalition forces have retaken a third of the province, as well as most of the remaining pockets of rebel forces in adjacent Aleppo.
Assad and his supporters have also clashed with Turkish troops in Syria, who back many of the rebels in Idlib and have engaged in clashes with U.S.-backed Kurdish forces elsewhere. Turkish troops based in a series of observation posts have also come under fire. And Washington unleashed an airstrike on Assad’s forces Feb. 12 after its troops to the east came under fire, a reminder that the U.S. rulers remains deeply embroiled in the conflicts across the Mideast, with the largest air force in the region.
Idlib today is held by different armed groups, including reactionary jihadist forces, that have fought Assad since mass mobilizations for political rights in 2011 were viciously assaulted by the regime and grew into a civil war.
Working people and others in Syria fought heroically against Assad’s forces, and the regime was being driven back across the country, facing certain defeat. But Tehran mobilized militia forces and its ally Hezbollah from Lebanon to intervene on the ground, while Moscow moved in with its air power and long-range artillery in 2015, shifting the relationship of forces.
The fighting created a vacuum into which the reactionary Islamic State drawn from all over the world coalesced and created a brutal caliphate that spread over largely Sunni areas in both Syria and Iraq. Washington intervened and, alongside allied Kurdish-led forces on the ground, routed the Islamist combatants.
As Assad’s coalition advanced against the rebels, many fled to Idlib, most under “deconfliction” agreements with Moscow that promised them refuge there. The population swelled to some 3 million, who now, in violation of the agreements, have come under heavy bombardment.
The rebel area is largely controlled by the reactionary jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, though their supporters are only a minority of the population.
Idlib is “the last area where these people can be free,” Jomana Qaddour, co-founder of the Syria Relief and Development agency, told the Financial Times. “The fate of Idlib is so important — not just to the people that live there but to all Syrians that went out demanding their freedom and dignity.”
The conditions for those running from Moscow’s bombings and Assad’s murderous assaults have grown significantly worse since May 2018 when the Turkish government closed its border to refugees from Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his regime had had enough, with some 3.6 million Syrians who fled the civil war to Turkey.
Now, in the middle of a harsh winter, refugees are left fighting for places in overcrowded and unheated camps near the Turkish border, or setting up makeshift camps themselves, where many are dying from exposure to the cold. Muadh al-Ahmad told Al Jazeera that his home city of Saraqib was turned into a virtual “ghost town” in the days before Assad’s recent offensive.
Hospitals, warehouses of aid, schools and camps of fleeing refugees have all been hit by Syrian airstrikes.
As Assad stepped up the onslaught on Idlib, the Turkish government has deployed 6,500 more troops to the province. Erdogan threatened to retaliate against Assad’s forces “anywhere” in Syria after 13 Turkish soldiers were killed in early February.
Washington says it backs the Turkish government. U.S. special envoy James Jeffrey was dispatched to Ankara where he referred to the 13 slain Turkish soldiers as “martyrs.”
The U.S. rulers want to use the conflict between the Turkish and the Russian-backed Syrian governments to pull Ankara away from developing relations with Moscow. Ankara had increased its collaboration with Moscow as Washington allied with the Kurds in both Syria and Iraq to crush Islamic State. The Turkish government views the Kurds as a deadly threat. Some 30 million Kurds comprise an oppressed nationality, living in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.
US get out of the Middle East!
The misery inflicted on the Syrian people by the Assad dictatorship and its backers is part of broader conflicts, wars and rivalries throughout the region, as Washington, Moscow, Tehran, Ankara and other capitalist regimes jockey to protect their political and economic interests.
“U.S. intervention in Syria and Washington’s sanctions on Iran are an extension of the bosses’ assaults on working people at home,” Alyson Kennedy, Socialist Workers Party candidate for president, told the Militant Feb. 16. “My campaign demands the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Mideast and an end to the sanctions on Iran. These fall hardest on workers and farmers who continue to fight government assaults and to protest the impact of the Iranian rulers’ wars.
“Our starting point is solidarity with the struggles of working people across the region, whether it is the fight for political rights in Syria in 2011 or the decadeslong struggles of the Kurdish people for their independence and sovereignty,” she said. “And we back those in Iran and Iraq who are protesting today against their governments and against Tehran’s military interventions in the region.”