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No to war in Syria and Iraq

By Marcus Halaby

US President Barack Obama took office in 2009 promising to end the US occupation of Iraq. Today US warplanes are bombing Iraq and Syria with the aim of “degrading and destroying” the Islamic State. Pentagon press secretary Adm. John Kirby said. “We know we are at war with ISIL [ISIS or Islamic State]”.

In Britain Labour supported Cameron in the parliamentary vote to authorise UK planes bombing Iraq. Tony Blair as usual wants “boots on the ground” and an alliance against Islamism with Russia and China, the old “clash of civilisations” refrain.

Having supported a Shia sectarian regime in Iraq for four years and faced with a Sunni-ISIS “uprising”, Barack Obama has had to go into reverse, trying to rebuild some sort of Sunni-Shia coalition, and even draw Iran and Saudi Arabia together to combat ISIS.

Now Obama is subjecting Iraq to his trademark tactic of airstrikes, seen so often in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. These murderous attacks are supposed to avoid American casualties, which ground troops would entail. But bombing and drone strikes, and the inevitable killing of innocent civilians will if anything win hearts and minds for ISIS.

Coalition of the unwilling

The Final Declaration issued at the recent meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Wales endorses this renewed “War on Terror” in Iraq and Syria. Now the bombing has started. US Secretary of State John Kerry is after “boots on the ground” from allies in the region. But the intense rivalries within the new coalition will make this difficult if not impossible.

The pretext for this reassertion of American power is the threat posed to Iraq by Islamic State extremists. But the USA is acting to keep in power an Iraqi government that still rests mainly on sectarian Shia militias. These are responsible for atrocities every bit as terrible as the Islamic State’s, and which, like their sponsor Iran, supports a dictatorship in Syria that has killed more than 200,000 of its own people, including with poison gas.

And they are relying on the support of a country, Saudi Arabia, whose own official ideology is a landmark of social and religious intolerance indistinguishable from the Islamic State’s, one which beheads around a hundred people a year, for “crimes” including apostasy, witchcraft, blasphemy and homosexuality.

Obama and his allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as well as his enemies Syria and Iran have between them produced the Islamic State monster that now threatens the stability of a major oil-producing state that was supposed to be a model of US nation building.

The Islamic State, like al-Qaeda and the Taliban before it, is a direct product of the 2003-10 US invasion and occupation of Iraq. It grew in Syria, not through popular support but because the revolution against the Assad dictatorship, led by the Free Syrian Army, was subjected to a US-inspired blockade of arms and funds, handing the initiative to those Islamists who could tap into the fortunes of the ultra-reactionary dynasties of the Arab Gulf.

The labour movement, here and internationally, must oppose this latest war drive. This will be harder than it should be given the dire situation of the British far left, whose internationalist horizons have narrowed since the days of the anticapitalist summit sieges and the antiwar demonstrations of a decade ago.

One sign of this has been the polarisation of the left over both Syria and Ukraine. The Stalinist and Russophile forces that defend the antifascist resistance in the Donbas generally excuse President Bashar al-Assad’s mass murder in Syria. They see Putin’s Russia as the champions of a global anti-imperialist axis.

At the same time those elements of the “post-Leninist” left, who correctly defend Syria’s revolution, cheered on the pro-EU movement in Ukraine and excuse its fascist-infested pro-Nato government. They see Putin and Russia as the main danger and totally ignore Nato’s offensive in Eastern Europe.

The blindness of both to the big picture conspired to produce a pitiful mobilisation against the NATO Summit in Newport on 31 August, despite the decisions taken there, which will have a decisive influence on the next 10 to 20 years.

Compared with the regular international days of action of the 1998-2004 period, or even with the Occupy movement, it is clear that the major socialist, communist, anarchist and left Labour forces have in their despair jettisoned principled internationalism.

A global offensive

Our ruling classes – unlike the left – are at not at a loss as to what to do. While the banking crisis of 2007-08 rocked the Western economies, their answer was to bail out the bankers and bondholders. Governments rapidly seized the opportunity of the fiscal crisis that followed to launch a global offensive against welfare and public services.

Internationally tension between the new imperialist powers like China and Russia, on the one hand, and the old ones like the USA and the EU, on the other, began to mount, spreading from the economic into the military-strategic sphere. Within the Western alliance tensions between Germany and the USA have grown, as the US tries to thwart Germany’s plans for economic links with Russia and China.

The Nato Summit’s Final Declaration is nothing short of a declaration of a New Cold War in pursuit of US hegemony in Europe and a new hot war in the Middle East. It aims to create a new Iron Curtain of military bases on Russia’s borders.

Combined with Obama’s new strategic doctrine of a “Pivot to Asia”, aimed at containing China with another string of new or expanded bases, it means we are in a new and dangerous period of rivalries between the great powers. But clashes in the new cold war could become hot.

Rebuild anti-war movement

We need to rouse the left from its slumbers – from its daydreams of Occupy-style peaceful revolutions, courtesy of neo-conservative Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the largesse of Western “democracy foundations”. The genuinely dictatorial regime in China and the highly repressive one is Russia certainly deserve popular movements for democracy, indeed social revolutions. But “revolutions “ under the sponsorship of the West or its agents, as in Ukraine or in Egypt, rapidly reveal themselves as counter-revolutions.

Likewise no credit should be given to the false “humanitarian” arguments that our rulers will raise to justify their latest adventure. This holds true regardless of whether the excuse for their bombing involves aid to the Kurdish Peshmerga, saving refugees or defending the rights of women.

All these targets of the Islamic State have the right to defend themselves, and to take arms and assistance from wherever they can find them. Yet the US and its Nato allies have up to now refused to supply weapons to the Kurds or to the Syrian secular and democratic revolutionaries. They did nothing until recently to stop the flow of weapons and fighters to ISIS and al-Nusra. In the early days of the Syrian revolution they maintained an arms embargo, which could only benefit Assad.

US airstrikes in Iraq and Syria will create the civilian casualties we saw in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Far from crushing ISIS will they will probably help it sink roots. Should the Kurds go beyond taking weapons from the US to doing Washington’s dirty work for it, this will ultimately rebound on them, as it has in the past on so many other allies of the USA.

The response to the Israeli brutalities in Gaza this year showed that there is still a massive potential for resistance to the US, Britain and their allies. We need to build on this base a resolutely anti-imperialist, antiwar movement.

• No to a new round of the War On Terror – no airstrikes

• No to Nato expansion – no to the New Cold War

• No to EU-US or Russian imperialist domination of Ukraine

• Support the Syrian and Kurdish Resistance to Assad and ISIS

• Support the Ukrainian Resistance

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