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Middle East :: Syria
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Devastated communities in Syria
US president Donald Trump's decision to launch missile attacks against the Shayrat air base in Syria ratcheted up the long running conflict there and dangerously fuelled tensions between the US and Russia and Iran, and also with North Korea and China. It will also significantly increase rivalries between Sunni and Shia-based regimes in the Middle East.
Trump claimed that the tomahawk missiles attack was ordered "on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched," referring to Khan Sheikhun, where over 70 people died.
The appalling death of scores of civilians, including children, rightly led to revulsion and condemnation from working class people around the world. However the US, supported by other Western powers, cynically seized upon the terrible incident to try to strengthen their position in the Syrian conflict.
In the absence of an investigation into the reasons for the chemical deaths and without seeking a UN mandate, or even a mandate from the US Congress, Trump ordered the missile attacks against Syria.
The US attacks were welcomed by European governments, as well as Turkey and Israel. The opposition Islamist Ahrar al-Sham militia in Syria welcomed US "surgical strikes."
Meanwhile Assad will use the US attacks to try to bolster his anti-imperialist credentials at home. Socialists give no support whatsoever to the Assad regime, which has shown no concern for the lives of innocent civilians during Syria's long and bloody civil war. Assad is a brutal dictator prepared to use ruthless means to stay in power.
However, as of yet, there is no hard evidence to say that the Assad regime was responsible for the death of civilians from chemicals.
Given that Assad, with crucial help from Putin and Iran, is winning the war, it appears counterproductive from his point of view to launch an indiscriminate chemical attack, fully aware that it would be a pretext for a possible US-led military attack. Moscow insisted that the Syrian air force hit a depot of chemical weapons produced by rebels fighting government forces.
At this stage, the only certainty about the latest events in Khan Sheikhun is that it killed scores of civilians, on top of the hundreds of thousands of other war-related deaths.
This is fundamentally a result of the counter-revolution that unfolded in Syria following a genuine mass revolt against the rule of Assad in 2011, inspired by revolutionary movements in Tunisia and Egypt.
In the absence of strong, united, working class organisations and a socialist leadership, sectarian and Islamic forces were able to step into the vacuum, aided by reactionary Gulf States and Turkey and by Western powers. This led to the degeneration of the mass revolt into a vicious, multi-faceted civil war.
It is unclear whether the US air strikes are a show of strength and limited action or if they presage a broader military intervention in Syria. The Shayrat airbase is an important staging post for Syrian and Russian military operations against the largely Islamic armed opposition and the US attacks will be a blow.
Russia condemned the US air strikes as an "act of aggression" and a "violation of international law" and suspended its channel for communicating military action in Syria with Washington, used to prevent accidental conflict.
These developments leave open the possibility of direct clashes between US-led and Russian military forces in Syria, with far-reaching consequences in the region and internationally.
Iran, which has militias fighting alongside Assad's troops, also strongly condemned US actions. Adding to the dangerous complications on the ground, Iranian forces are also in Iraq, nominally fighting alongside the US-backed Baghdad regime's troops against Isis.
Trump appeared to order the air attacks while in talks with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, on his visit to the US, which will only serve to increase tensions with the Beijing regime.
As the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI - the international organisation the Socialist Party is affiliated to) warned, the advent of Trump's administration marks a shift to more dangerous and unpredictable world relations.
In this situation, the working class and youth of the Middle East, the US and all over the world need a mass anti-war movement and the development of powerful working class parties, with bold socialist policies, to counter the war, terror and poverty of capitalism and imperialism.
Trump's response reeks of hypocrisy when his administration is also at this moment ramping up a bombing campaign against Isis in Syria and Iraq, leading to increasing civilian casualties including hundreds in one strike alone in Mosul.
US imperialism has also been supporting Saudi Arabia in its brutal campaign in Yemen against Houthi rebels which is leading to massive casualties, a collapsing economy and potential mass starvation. Trump's attack on Syria takes place at the same time he has acted to prevent any refugees fleeing the war-torn country from coming to the US...
While Trump claims that he was moved by the horrible images from Idlib, it is clear that the main purpose of this attack was to distract from his plummeting poll numbers and domestic troubles including the rejection of the Muslim ban by the courts after mass protests and more recently the failure to pass Trumpcare...
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Article dated 12 April 2017
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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