In late December Donald Trump abruptly announced plans for the withdrawal of US troops from Syria.
His Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and anti-ISIS envoy Brett McGurk resigned in protest. The US establishment was horrified at losing their foothold against Iran and Islamic State. It has now succeeded in slowing the withdrawal. Senior State Department officials report the withdrawal is going ahead with no time-frame attached.
But the US is not the only imperial power jostling over Syria. A full US withdrawal risks encouraging a Turkish invasion across northeastern Syria.
Turkey is home to the largest Kurdish population in the world, and is fiercely opposed to any indication of Kurdish independence. They are eager to squash Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) militias which dominate 30 per cent of Syria. The presence of 2000 US troops fighting alongside the YPG has protected them from Turkey. The US has used them to fight Islamic State, but was never going to be a reliable supporter of Kurdish freedom.
With Russia’s blessing, Turkey bombed and invaded Afrin last year to fight the YPG, leaving 130,000 displaced.
The YPG are now looking to Assad to dissuade a Turkish invasion. For Assad, whose forces are responsible for most of the 500,000 killed in Syria since 2011, this is only another symbol of his strengthening hold over Syria. The UAE and Bahrain have reopened embassies in Damascus, symbolising a growing consensus that Assad is the sole force able to maintain control. Each move is another nail in the coffin of the 2011 revolution.
The imperialist carve up of the country has been catastrophic for Syrians. Russian bombs have flattened hospitals and civilian areas. US aerial bombardments have killed thousands. The US has fired tens of thousands of artillery rounds into Raqqa leaving 90 per cent of the city destroyed. They’ve used white phosphorous in civilian areas, and targeted people fleeing the destruction.
Rasha Badran, who lost 38 family members to US coalition air strikes, said, “We thought [US and allies] would target Daesh [ISIS] and leave the civilians alone. We were naïve.”
Australia has 800 troops in the region, and another 300 in Afghanistan. Socialists in Australia should demand Australia withdraw from the Middle East and drop support for US imperialism. And we need to fight to welcome the refugees fleeing the Syrian regime, imperialist bombing, and IS attacks.
Liberation for Syrians will not come from Assad’s brutality or the bombs of any of the imperial powers. The only hope is for a revival of the revolutionary spirit of 2011. Recent protests in Tunisia and last year’s strikes in Iran are an inspiring reminder of the possibility for revolutionary upsurges capable of toppling dictators.
By Daniel Cotton