Syria: The Astana-Deal Struggle Intensifies
Some Notes on Recent Developments in the Syrian Civil War and the Dangers for the Liberation Struggle
By Michael Pröbsting, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, 28 July 2017, www.thecommunists.net
As we have warned in the past, the last weeks have seen a massive intensification of efforts by the Great Powers and their regional allies to pacify Syria, and to finally liquidate the Revolution and divide the country into different zones of influence. (1) In the wake of these intensified efforts, it is vital that all supporters of the Syrian Revolution clearly understand the dangers and challenges ahead.
Let us briefly note the most important developments:
1) The US with its local allies – mostly the petty-bourgeois nationalist Kurdish YPG – is continuing to conquer northern Syria under the pretext of fighting against Daesh. The battle for Raqqa is still going on and it will take some time before the city falls to these enemies of the revolution. It is clear that US imperialism, with the help of the YPG (the darling of many Stalinist and pseudo-Trotskyist leftists), is already transforming this region into its military domain. (2) Several media have already published – to the outrage of the Pentagon – maps which show the exact location of 10 US military installations – including two air bases. (See the map attached below.) (3)
2) At the same time, Russia and its allies (Iran, Hezbollah, and the Assad regime) are also advancing into eastern Syria, effectively driving Daesh out from this region. Russia and Iran are also using this opportunity to build up military bases and, in particular, take control of the border with Iraq while the Iraqi army, following its recent conquest of Mosul, and is also advancing towards the border region. At the same time, the Russian Air Force is continuing its terroristic bombardment against the Syrian people. According to Interfax, it delivered over 5,800 strikes in the past two months! (4) All in all, we are witnessing a race between the two imperialist Great Powers, the US and Russia, along with their respective allies, to defeat Daesh and to grab for themselves slices of Syria that as large as possible.
3) Naturally, the relation between the two imperialist camps and their respective allies is characterized not only by rivalry but also by a degree of cooperation in order to defeat their common enemies. This results in scattered instances of clashes (e.g., Trump’s missile strike against an air base of the Assad regime in last April; the US’s shooting down of drones), but primarily the element of cooperation predominates. This is because both imperialist camps want to see Daesh annihilated and the Syrian Revolution defeated. Currently the Russian/Iranian/Assad camp is clearly the stronger factor, as the US has no relevant local military ally except the Kurdish YPG.
4) It is clear that the imperialists’ battle for Raqqa is in its final phase. It may still take a few months more to conquer the whole of eastern Syria and to smash Daesh. This depends in large part on the degree of continuing cooperation between Russia and the US. Temporary conflicts breaking out between the two could prolong Daesh’s demise. But, in the end, the defeat of the so-called “Islamic State” is unavoidable, as Daesh has greatly undermined popular support for it with its reactionary sectarian and totalitarian policy. However, while Daesh in its current form may not survive, it is very likely that, given the oppression by the imperialist powers and the Assad regime, other forms of Islamist Sunni resistance will continue to exist. While Daesh obviously is a counterrevolutionary Salafist-Takfiri force, it is equally clear that the main enemies in the current conflict in the north of Syria are the imperialist forces and their local allies.
5) The most important political development in the imperialist attempt to liquidate the Syrian Revolution is the so-called Astana negotiations. They are dominated by Russia, Iran and Turkey and include, besides the Assad regime, several factions of the rebels (e.g., FSA, Ahrar Al-Sham). It is the explicit goal of the Astana deal, as stated in its treaty of 4 May, to finish off the Syrian Revolution by transforming the areas still held by the rebels (mainly Idlib, Deraa, the enclaves in East Ghouta and Homs) into territories occupied by foreign troops (mainly Russian, Iranian and Turkish). At the same time, the deal commits its signatories to continue their war against the so-called terrorists, which in particular include the strongest, best organized and most committed force in the ongoing liberation war against the Assad regime – the petty-bourgeois Islamist Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham. (5)
6) For all practical purposes, the Trump administration is currently going along with the Russian-imposed Astana deal. The US has formally ended its so-called aid program to the rebels, which never really reached significant levels. (6) It has instructed the Syrian forces which are part of the so-called “coalition” that they must be exclusively focused on fighting Daseh and not to fight the Syrian regime. This directive prompted one rebel group to depart the US-led forces in Southern Syria. (7) During the recent G20, held in Germany in June, Trump and Putin agreed in an impromptu one-on-one summit to observe an ongoing truce in southern Syria (the Deraa region). (8)
7) Russia, for its part, unilaterally declared a truce for the eastern Ghouta region on 22 July. While most rebel factions, with the exception of Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham, agreed to this, the Assad government continued its terrorist bombings of the region from the air. (9) Clearly there are some tactical differences between Assad and Putin, as the former hopes to entirely eradicate the enclave while the Russian leader prefers to end the civil war sooner rather than later.
8) Hezbollah has intensified its military offensive against the rebel enclave in the Arsal region on the Syrian-Lebanese border. The rebel forces – led by Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham – are desperately fighting for their survival, but their situation is extremely difficult.
9) While the Assad regime as well as the imperialists and their allies are the most dangerous enemies of the Syrian Revolution in terms of military force, Turkey’s Erdoğan regime is the Revolution’s most dangerous political enemy. This is so because Turkey not only possesses a sizable army in the region, but also because it exercises strong influence on the leaderships of various rebel factions. Furthermore, Turkey has much more credibility among Syrians than Russia, Iran or the US, as it has provided refuge for millions of Syrians and in past years has offered logistical support for some rebel factions. Hence, Turkey’s actual influence far transcends that which it has on the relatively small number of rebel forces who were incorporated into the Turkish-led Operation Euphrates Shield. They also strongly influence other FSA factions, along with Ahrar Al-Sham. As a signatory to the counter-revolutionary Astana deal, the Erdoğan regime is now striving to both increase its influence in Syria and liquidate the liberation struggle against the Assad regime.
10) As part of this process, the Erdoğan regime has upped its efforts in the rebel-controlled Idlib region to weaken the forces allied with Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham. The latter organization has unequivocally condemned the Astana deal and has officially warned Turkey not to attempt to invade Idlib. (10) Given the strength of Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham, Turkey and its allies are reluctant to openly invade the province and are limiting themselves to various assassination attempts against HTS leaders, while encouraging hostile maneuvers by Ahrar Al-Sahm which has become de facto the reactionary agent of Erdoğan and the Astana conspiracy. (11) However, these attempts to militarily utilize Ahrar Al-Sahm against the revolutionary forces backfired when Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham defeated Erdoğan’s agents in a relatively bloodless confrontation between 19 and 23 July. As a result most of Idlib is now under the control of HTS. While these developments provoked many internal conflicts within both HTS as well as in Ahrar Al-Sahm, this recent military confrontation resulted in the significant strengthening of the former organization and weakening of the latter. (12)
11) While the defeat of the pro-Astana forces in Idlib is certainly a welcome development, it would be naïve to ignore the terrible dangers looming before the Syrian Revolution. First of all, there is the backward and sectarian policy of the HTS leadership itself, which repels many non-Sunnis as well as opponents of its strict religious agenda. However, a much more imminent danger is the unholy alliance of all the imperialist and regional forces – including Turkey – which are threatening to unite in order to conquer Idlib and to annihilate the liberation fighters. (13) This would probably mean the end of the Syrian Revolution. Given the ongoing battle against Daesh in the Raqqa region which currently occupies the imperialist forces, it is possible that the liberation fighters still have some time to prepare for the upcoming assault. But probably not very far in the future is the time when all reactionary opponents of the Syrian Revolution will unite to subjugate the whole of Syria to their reactionary Astana deal.
As we have stated in the past, it is now crucial to place massive pressure on the rebel leaderships not to support the Astana deal. In fact, all who are authentically true to the Syrian Revolution must demand that all negotiators claiming to represent Syrian rebel factions immediately cease their participation in the so-called “peace negotiations” at Astana and Geneva. Similarly, all forces that, in the interest of the Great Powers, are instigating armed provocations against rebel factions fighting against the Assad tyranny must be denounced.
The central task now is for all loyal supporters of the Syrian Revolution to call for the creation of an anti-capitulationist united front of all forces which unambiguously reject the Astana deal; which oppose the partition of the country by the Great Powers and their regional allies; and which support the continuation of the struggle against the Assad tyranny.
Any confidence in the existing leaderships of the rebel factions (including that of the HTS) is misplaced. The only way forward for the Syrian Revolution is to create popular councils and militias, under the control of the workers and poor peasants, which will fight for a workers’ and peasant republic. We repeat our call for an international workers’ and popular solidarity movement in support of the Syrian Revolution. Furthermore, we urge all authentic supporters of the liberation struggle to unite and found a revolutionary party in Syria and a global revolutionary international based on a program of permanent revolution.
(1) See on this in particular RCIT: Syria: Condemn the Reactionary Astana Deal! The so-called “De-Escalation Zones” are a First Step towards the Partition of Syria and a Conspiracy by the Great Powers to Defeat the Revolution, 7 May 2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/astana-deal/; Michael Pröbsting: Is the Syrian Revolution at its End? Is Third Camp Abstentionism Justified? An essay on the organs of popular power in the liberated area of Syria, on the character of the different sectors of the Syrian rebels, and on the failure of those leftists who deserted the Syrian Revolution, 5 April 2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/syrian-revolution-not-dead/
(2) See on this e.g. Roy Gutman: America’s Favorite Syrian Militia Rules With an Iron Fist. The Kurdish YPG recruits fighters at gunpoint, assassinates political opponents, and suppresses the media, The Nation, 13.2.2017, https://www.thenation.com/article/americas-favorite-syrian-militia-rules-with-an-iron-fist/; Al Jazeera: US begins sending weapons to Kurdish YPG in Syria, 2017-05-31, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/05/begins-sending-weapons-kurdish-ypg-syria-170531042959705.html; Tom Perry: Syrian militias get more U.S. support for IS fight, plan new phase, Reuters, Jan 31, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-arms-idUSKBN15F15S; Al Jazeera: Syrian Kurds say Russia to build base in Afrin. In agreement with Kurds, Russia to operate military base in Afrin and train YPG fighters in ‘anti-terror’ combat, 20 March 2017, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/03/russia-strikes-deal-syrian-kurds-set-base-170320142545942.html; US Arab Spring policy? Third party counter-revolution, 3.3.2017, https://eternispring.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/us-arab-spring-policy-third-party-counter-revolution/?fb_action_ids=1414757321930172&fb_action_types=news.publishes; SDF attack on Marea is US policy – and Syria’s attempted end-game, 19.2.2017, https://eternispring.wordpress.com/2016/02/19/sdf-attack-on-marea-is-us-policy-and-syrias-attempted-end-game/; Brief thoughts: Syrians’ rejection of the so-called “Syrian Democratic Forces” sends a clear message to the US – We define our revolution, not you, 29.2.2017, https://eternispring.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/brief-thoughts-syrians-rejection-of-the-so-called-syrian-democratic-forces-sends-a-clear-message-to-the-us-we-define-our-revolution-not-you/; Kurdish YPG commander: We will go to Idlib after liberating Raqqa from ISIS”, http://syria.liveuamap.com/en/2017/29-march-kurdish-ypg-commander-we-will-go-to-idlib-after
(3) Reuters: Turkey’s publication of U.S. troop locations poses risk, Pentagon says, July 20, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-lebanon-idUSKBN1A608S, https://twitter.com/Acemal71/status/887393308506558465, https://twitter.com/ragipsoylu/status/887620922978512896
(4) Interfax: Russia’s Air and Space Forces delivered over 5,800 strikes in Syria in the past two months, 24 July 2017, http://www.interfax.ru/world/571855, https://twitter.com/XSovietNews/status/889472275505967104
(5) The full text of the Astana agreement can be viewed by visiting the following link: https://twitter.com/Charles_Lister/status/860208101714255877; see also https://twitter.com/Charles_Lister/status/860191046101323776; Al-Jazeera: Syria’s ‘de-escalation zones’ explained, 2017-05-06, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/05/syria-de-escalation-zones-explained-170506050208636.html
(6) Greg Jaffe and Adam Entous: Trump ends covert CIA program to arm anti-Assad rebels in Syria, a move sought by Moscow, Washington Post, July 19 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-ends-covert-cia-program-to-arm-anti-assad-rebels-in-syria-a-move-sought-by-moscow/2017/07/19/b6821a62-6beb-11e7-96ab-5f38140b38cc_story.html?pushid=596fab4ff1dad71d00000034&tid=notifi_push_breaking-news&utm_term=.58fbca7ff62e
(7) Ryan Browne: US tells local Syrian allies they must only fight ISIS and not Assad, prompting exit of allied group, CNN, July 26, 2017, http://edition.cnn.com/2017/07/26/politics/us-syrian-allies-isis-assad/index.html
(8) Gardiner Harris: U.S., Russia and Jordan Reach Deal for Cease-Fire in Part of Syria. New York Times, July 7, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/07/us/politics/syria-ceasefire-agreement.html
(9) Syria truce crumbles as air raids hit Eastern Ghouta, 2017-07-23, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/07/syria-ceasefire-eastern-ghouta-170723081809128.html; #FSA Military Council: “not consulted on deescalation & considers it one-side deal that regime will not comply with”, 22. Juli 2017, https://twitter.com/GIIMedia/status/888787845472813060
(10) See e.g. A new statement by HTS rejecting the Astana deal and claiming that certain factions are trying to help foreign forces get into the areas which were captured by the efforts of the honest “mujahideen” and that they will try stopping/preventing this, https://syria.liveuamap.com/en/2017/9-may-a-new-statement-by-hts-rejecting-the-astana-deal-and; Ahmad Abazeid: The Battle for Idlib, May 16, 2017, http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/syriasource/the-battle-for-idlib
(11) See on this e.g. Amberin Zaman: Turkish-YPG clashes rage around critical sites in northern Syria, July 17, 2017, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/07/turkey-increases-ypg-attacks.html#ixzz4nBifuCvZ
(12) See on this e.g. Al Jazeera: Hayat Tahrir al-Sham take control of Syria’s Idlib, 2017-07-24, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/07/hayat-tahrir-al-sham-control-syria-idlib-170723215932668.html; Suleiman Al-Khalidi: Jihadist group cements control of Syria’s Idlib province: rebels, Reuters, July 23, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-raqqa-idUSKBN1A80DE; Ahrar al-Sham carries out a new withdrawal at the border with Iskenderun and Hayyaat Tahrir al-Sham attack Ahrar al-Sham in one of their strongholds in Jisr Al-Shughur, 24/07/2017, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=70421; Violent Clashes In Idlib Between Ahrar al-Sham and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, 20.07.2017, https://maps.southfront.org/violent-clashes-in-idlib-between-ahrar-al-sham-and-hayat-tahrir-al-sham/ 19 Armed Groups Defected from Ahrar Al Sham During Tensions With Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, 23.07.2017, https://southfront.org/19-armed-groups-defected-from-ahrar-al-sham-during-tensions-with-hayat-tahrir-al-sham/; Nour e-Din a-Zinki defects from HTS, citing unwillingness to end rebel infighting, Jul. 20, 2017, http://syriadirect.org/news/nour-e-din-a-zinki-defects-from-hts-citing-unwillingness-to-end-rebel-infighting/; HTS vs Ahrar: Was it Allowed Islamically? OGN News, July 25, 2017, http://ogn.news/hv2/
(13) See on this e.g. Syria in Last 24 Hours: Ahrar Al-Sham Retreating from Idlib to Speed up Turkey’s Military Invasion of Syria, July 23, 2017, http://en.zdr.ir/News/syria-in-last-24-hours-ahrar-al-sham-retreating-from-idlib-to-speed-up-turkeys-military-invasion-of-syria/
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For the RCIT’s analysis of the Arab Revolution in general and the Syrian Revolution in particular, we refer readers to our numerous articles and documents which can be accessed from the Africa and Middle East section of our website: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/. In particular we refer readers to the following documents:
RCIT: Syria: Condemn the Reactionary Astana Deal! The so-called “De-Escalation Zones” are a First Step towards the Partition of Syria and a Conspiracy by the Great Powers to Defeat the Revolution, 7 May 2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/astana-deal/
Michael Pröbsting: Is the Syrian Revolution at its End? Is Third Camp Abstentionism Justified? An essay on the organs of popular power in the liberated area of Syria, on the character of the different sectors of the Syrian rebels, and on the failure of those leftists who deserted the Syrian Revolution, 5 April 2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/syrian-revolution-not-dead/
Johannes Moraga: Syria: Was the Chemical Attack a “False Flag” Operation? Let’s make Syria the graveyard for Assad, Putin and Trump! Victory to the Revolution! 14 April 2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/syria-false-flag/
RCIT: Syria: No to Trump’s Missiles Strike! Drive all Great Powers out of Syria! Victory to the Syrian Revolution! 7 April 2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/us-air-strike-in-syria/
RKO BEFREIUNG: Press Conference on Assad’s Chemical Weapons Attack and the US Air Strike, Report (with video) on a press conference of the Syrian Community and the Austrian Section of the RCIT on 7 April 2017 in Vienna, https://www.thecommunists.net/rcit/press-conference-syria-7-4-2017/
Yossi Schwartz: Raqqa: Defeat the US Imperialist Offensive! An assessment of the US/SDF/YPG war against Daesh, April 2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/us-offensive-in-raqqa/
RCIT: Down with the Assad Tyranny! Victory to the Syrian Revolution! For a Workers and Peasants Republic! Draft Platform of Syrian Revolutionaries in Political Solidarity with the RCIT, April 2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/draft-syria-platform/
RCIT: Defeat the Imperialist Invasion in Syria – Victory to the Revolution! Down with the American and Russian interventions! No to the imperialist plan to divide Syria! Down with the butcher Assad and his imperialist allies! 13.03.2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/imperialist-invasion-in-syria/
RCIT: World Perspectives 2017: The Struggle against the Reactionary Offensive in the Era of Trumpism, Theses on the World Situation, the Perspectives for Class Struggle and the Tasks of Revolutionaries, 18 December 2016, Chapter IV. The Middle East and the State of the Arab Revolution, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-perspectives-2017/part-4/
RCIT: Revolution and Counterrevolution in the Arab World: An Acid Test for Revolutionaries, 31 May 2015, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/theses-arab-revolution/
Map of US Military Bases in North Syria