Ten months ago, the Armed Forces of the Syrian Dictatorship and their Russian and Iranian allies began a cowardly and criminal offensive to regain control of the northern province of Idlib.
By Hasan al-Barazili
On the grounds that the Turkish regime does not comply with Sochi’s agreement on the free movement of two highways, the M4 that crosses the country from east to west, the M5 from north to south and also on the presence of terrorists in the region, Russian and Syrian air forces bomb day and night towns and cities in Idlib and contiguous areas in the provinces of Aleppo and Homs. This action is followed by the advance of ground forces linked to the Syrian regime.
This military offensive has already killed more than a thousand civilians and caused, according to the UN, the flight of 900 thousand people towards the border with Turkey, which does not allow their entrance as Turkey hosts already 3.6 million Syrian refugees. In addition, pro-Iranian and pro-regime ground forces plunder graveyards and properties in order to humiliate and demoralize the Syrian population in Idlib who hates the Assad-Russia-Iran triad.
In the past few days, there have been military clashes between Assad / Iran combined ground forces and the Turkish army and allied militias. Turkish President Erdogan threatens to start military operations on the ground by the end of February if Assad does not recover his troops before the Turkish checkpoints negotiated in Sochi in 2018. In addition, he is also commanding rebel militias and has already asked for military help from the United States.
Astana and the Russian, Iranian and Turkish agendas
The agreements reached in Astana (now Nursultan) in Kazakhstan between the Russian, Iranian and Turkish regimes are meant to meet the particular interests of each of them. It has nothing to do with humanitarian aid nor support for the Syrian revolution.
Russia and Iran aim to defeat the rebel forces and regain control over the entire Syrian territory, vying with each other on the country’s wealth and reconstruction contracts.
Turkey wants to increase its influence in the country and prevent any strengthening of Kurdish forces.
In May 2017, the three regimes defined four de-escalation zones, all under the control of the rebels:
- a) Idlib and contiguous areas in the provinces of Latakia, Aleppo and Hama;
- b) Homs (Rastan and Talbiseh);
- c) Eastern Ghouta;
- d) Deraa and Quneitra.
For Russians and Iranians, it was a matter of concentrating military efforts and taking back these areas under the control of the rebels, one by one.
For the Turkish regime, it was a question of bargaining each area for its strategic interests.
Already in the end of 2016, Turkey withdrew allied forces of the Free Syrian Army (ELS) from the city of Aleppo, facilitating the takeover of the entire city of Aleppo by the forces of the Syrian regime and Russian and Iranian allies, to carry out operation Shield of the Euphrates in which Kurdish forces and Daesh were evicted from the western bank of the Euphrates River between Al-Bab and Jarablus, near the Turkish border.
On January 20, 2018, Turkish troops seized the provinces of Afrin, under the control of Kurdish forces, in an operation called Olive Branch, in exchange for the advance of the Syrian regime over southern Idlib province as well as all other de-escalation zones.
On October 9, 2019, after the announcement of the withdrawal of American forces, Turkish troops carried out Spring of Peace operation in which they took a border strip 300 km long by 30 km wide between Ras al -Ayn and Tel Abyad on which President Erdogan promised to allocate 1 million refugees in 10 cities, worth US $ 26 billion, setting apart Kurds in Syria and Turkey.
Now the war on Idlib precedes a new barter that is under negotiation. Although an escalation in the conflict between Turkish and allied forces against Syrian regime and pro-Iranian forces should not be ruled out, the economic and political agreements that link Turkey and Russia push for some kind of agreement that may grant larger areas of Idlib to Syrian regime control in exchange for a wider border strip under Turkish influence where refugees would be located.
Bilateral Russian-Turkish trade reaches $ 25 billion a year. Russia has become the main exporter of oil and gas to Turkey. A gas pipeline under the Black Sea was recently opened to take Russian gas to Europe via Turkey. In addition, Turkey purchased the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft defense system. There are no signs from either Moscow or Ankara that might jeopardize these economic and political relations even though the support for the Assad regime and the control over the entire Syrian national territory is a priority for Putin.
Syria, an occupied and destroyed country
For most bourgeois analysts, Idlib is the last battle of a war whose winner is Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian and Russian sponsors.
But the contradictions of this “victory” are already visible and they must be used by Syrian workers to resume their fight against the dictatorship.
The first contradiction is the occupation of the country. The Assad regime cannot be sustained without the massive presence of Russian and Iranian military forces and this presence turns the Assad regime into a puppet. No major decision is made without the endorsement of the occupiers, who in turn dispute the country’s wealth and the control of the administration. This dispute even implies agreements between Putin and Netaniahu so that Israeli forces can regularly attack the country without any preventive action or Russian retaliation. For Putin, Israeli aggressions are Iran’s problem and Russia will not interfere.
This occupation generates conflicts with the population not only because it drains scarce economic resources but also promotes demographic changes via population transfer and via religious conversion drives to Shiism.
The second contradiction is the state of the economy. The Gross National Product decreased from R $ 60 billion in 2010 to R $ 15 billion in 2016. Today it is lower. The price of the national currency, the Syrian lira, was 47 / USD in 2010. Today it is over 1000 / USD. In March 2019, the UN estimated that 83% of the population lived below poverty line. Meat and vegetables underwent a 50% increase in in prices along 2019 while several other products doubled in price. The government implemented a card for rationing rice, sugar, tea and gasoline at a subsidized price.
The country has vast areas literally destroyed. Its reconstruction is unlikely because the occupying powers Russia and Iran do not want to invest resources but rather to withdraw them, and international economic groups do not feel any security in this occupation regime.
Companies suffer from lack of water and energy, the loss of labor due to exile, death, imprisonment, military draft. In addition, there are international sanctions and favored few entrepreneurs linked to the regime. To make matters worse, the Lebanese economy’s debacle ended up bringing the Syrian economy down even further.
Reconstruction involves the end of foreign occupation and the puppet regime
The country’s reconstruction involves the expulsion of all foreign: Russian, American, Iranian and Turkish forces, and the recovering of national territory by the Syrian people.
This can only be done through the overthrow of Assad’s puppet regime, and the arrest of all criminals responsible for the destruction of Syria and the death of half a million people.
This is not an easy task. On the contrary, the Syrian working people will have to learn from the mistakes and limitations that occurred along nine years of revolution.
The first step is to unite the Syrian resistance forces inside and outside the country. The experience with the Syrian National Council (SNC), later called the National Coalition of the Syrian Opposition, was very bad. Rather than coordinating support for the forces of the revolution and promoting international solidarity with it, the Coalition limited itself to asking for intervention by European powers and the United States when the interest of imperialism was never to overthrow the dictatorship but to reform the regime in order to include their allies (the so-called “moderate” opposition).
It is necessary to build a new national coordination that is democratic and inclusive; that brings together all the efforts for change inside and outside the country; that denounces the situation of oppression and poverty throughout the country; that disseminates the protests in Deraa; that organizes international solidarity to Idlib; that coordinates international efforts to release political prisoners and to bring the Syrian regime to justice for crimes against humanity; that defend and organize millions of refugees.
Authoritarian groups that were in opposition to Assad should be reevaluated. As a result of the regime’s action to liberate Salafists and the funding from Gulf countries and Turkey, dozens of Salafist militias were formed that sought to change the democratic character of the Syrian revolution into a religious and sectarian conflict. To name a few: HTS, which is the main armed force in Idlib, Jeish al-Islam, which was hegemonic in eastern Ghouta, and Ahrar al-Sham. At various times, these groups violated the revolution’s principles of democracy and solidarity by murdering fighters to guarantee their dominance. Raed Fares and Douma’s four are examples. This position is unacceptable and must be fought against.
The Kurdish issue should also be addressed. The Kurdish population has always been oppressed within Syria and elsewhere. The Assad regime has always been and is still an enemy of the Kurds. However, the PYD made a strategic mistake by not supporting the Syrian revolution. His non-aggression “pact” with the Assad regime will now take its toll. There was not even a democratic debate in Rojava and dissidents like Meshaal Temmo were eliminated, what itself should be investigated. At the same time, the forces of the revolution must guarantee the democratic right of self-determination to the Kurdish people, that is, in a democratic Syria the Kurdish people must have the right to discuss and decide their destiny.
The Palestinian issue must also be debated. The Syrian regime has always kept Palestinians and refugee camps under full surveillance and control. To this day, Assad has a violent political police sector exclusive to suppress the Palestinians, the “Branch 235”. He never allowed Palestinians to organize themselves to carry out the struggle for the liberation of Palestine. Furthermore, he abandoned the fight for the Golan Heights. The forces of the Syrian revolution must announce their commitment to the liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea. The overthrow of each authoritarian Arab regime is a step in that perspective.
Finally, the question of the revolutionary party. The Syrian working people and their youth have been fighting heroically for nine years for freedom and social justice. They organized local councils, communication networks, self-defense in a very rich process of self-organization. But there was no revolutionary party that fought to centralize these bodies of the revolution spread throughout the country to overthrow Assad, without any illusion in neither imperialism nor Arab regimes – all of them enemies of the revolution. A revolutionary party that builds links with the working class in the Arab countries, many of which are also going through revolutions like Lebanon and Iraq today, and with workers around the world. That absence shall be overcome.