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The Internationalist
  May 2016

Imperialist Offensive Threatens Slaughter

Defend Raqqa – Drive U.S./NATO
Imperialists Out of Syria and Iraq!

U.S. special forces commandos sighted May 26 in village of Fatisah, Syria, barely 2 kilometers from the front of fighting with the Islamic State. They are part of U.S.-led offensive against the I.S. “capital” of Raqqa. Drive the imperialists out of Syria and Iraq! (Photo: Delil Souleiman/Agence France-Presse )

MAY 31 – A new stage has opened in the fighting in Syria and Iraq with the launching of offensives against the Islamic State (I.S.) by U.S. imperialism and its allies. On May 24 the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a military front dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), announced the beginning of a drive on the de facto capital of the I.S. in Raqqa. The YPG has had a semi-alliance with the U.S. military, relying on U.S. air strikes since the I.S. siege of the Kurdish city of Kobanê on the Turkish border in late 2014, even as Turkey (a member of the NATO military alliance) has continued to attack the Syrian Kurdish region. But now the Kurdish militias are directly participating in a military operation under U.S. command and together with U.S. special forces at the front.

The League for the Fourth International declared from the outset of U.S. intervention in September 2014 that the imperialist invaders are by far the greatest threat to the working people and oppressed, calling to drive them out of the region and to defeat them with workers action. Today, in the face of the U.S.-led assault, we call to defend Raqqa against the imperialists and the Kurdish and Arab forces serving as their ground troops.

As the LFI has pointed out in previous articles, there are several intertwined and overlapping wars going on simultaneously in Syria: the U.S./NATO bombing, where we call to drive the imperialists out; an inter-communal/sectarian civil war between pro-imperialist Islamist militias, Al Qaeda Islamists, the Syrian government, the Islamic State and now Kurdish militias operating outside the Kurdish enclaves, in which we oppose all sides; additionally there is the right of communal self-defense of all ethnic/religious communities threatened with massacres; and the Kurdish struggle for self-determination. In this complex situation, we noted from the outset that the character of the fighting in Syria could change, depending on U.S. intervention. And we stressed that only the working class throughout the region, fighting on the Trotskyist program of permanent revolution, can cut through the hatreds and oppression fostered by the feuding bourgeois forces.

The current offensive was prepared by a significant increase of U.S. forces in Syria from the reported 50 support personnel last December, deployed at a remote airfield in the rear, to the dispatch of an additional 250 special forces combat troops, ordered by President Obama on April 24. Now these forces have been sighted carrying out operational activities at the front. On May 26, two days after the launching of the drive against Raqqa, a photographer for Agence France-Presse spotted U.S. commandos in full combat gear on vehicles with heavy machine guns and grenade launchers in the village of Fatisah near the town of Ayn Issa north of the I.S. capital. The U.S. forces were in a contested area where offensive operations were underway “less than two kilometers from the area under the control of the jihadists” (“A chance encounter on the Syrian front,” AFP dispatch, 27 May). Several commandos sported shoulder patches of the YPG including, curiously, of the Kurdish women’s militia, the YPJ.

Videos also show other U.S. personnel in a vehicle loaded with communications gear, evidently running the show (“US Commandos Are Fighting the Islamic State on the Frontlines in Syria,” Vice News, 27 May). A U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad sought to downplay the importance of this, saying that the U.S. had been conducting “advise-and-assist operations” with “elements” of the SDF for a number of weeks. However, the liberal Daily Beast (26 May) web site noted: “The U.S. has said that its forces would not be on the front lines but … the photos suggest otherwise as U.S. troops appear to be side-by-side with their local counterparts.”  The AFP photographer said there were at least 20 American personnel present, who refused to talk to him. A Syrian commander said that American “advisers” were “present at all positions along the front” (New York Times, 27 May).

CENTCOM commander General Joseph Votel flew secretly to area near Raqqa, Syria to inspect forces on eve of offensive. 
(Photo: Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

These forces are no more “advisers” than were the initial combat troops U.S. president John F. Kennedy sent into Vietnam in the early 1960s. Not only are U.S. commandos playing a lead role in the military operations against Raqqa, the whole offensive was prepared by the Pentagon and the White House. On May 21, “The head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Joseph Votel, met SDF fighters and U.S. special operations forces in northern Syria … in a rare, unannounced visit to discuss the Raqqa offensive” (Wall Street Journal On-Line, 25 May). Back in January, Brett McGurk, President Obama’s personal envoy met with leaders of the YPG’s political parent, the PYD (Democratic Union Party), in Kobanê. But here was CENTCOM commander Votel inspecting forward positions just days before the offensive began: “Splitting off from the reporters who flew in with him, Votel then visited several other undisclosed locations” (AP dispatch, 22 May).

As part of the operation, warplanes of the U.S.-led “Coalition” dropped leaflets on Raqqa saying “This is the time you have been waiting for. It is time to leave Raqqa” with a cartoon showing fleeing civilians.  While a direct attack on the I.S. “capital” may or may not be imminent, that is clearly the ultimate aim of the current offensive, spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces, under the command of U.S. imperialism. According to the modus operandi of the Yankee imperialists, this will likely be accompanied by horrendous terror bombing (“shock and awe”), and the resulting casualties dismissed as “collateral damage.” With the Pentagon running down its stocks of “smart bombs,” they will likely start using the 500-lb. “dumb bombs,” “bunker busters,” and other weapons of mass destruction in the U.S. arsenal.

Leaflets air-dropped by U.S.-led  “coalition” warplanes calling on the population to flee from Raqqa. Imperialists are preparing slaughter to  “`liberate” the city.  Trotskyists say: Defend Raqqa, defeat the imperialist-led assault!
(Photo: Syria:Direct)

The current fighting is distant from Kurdish ethnic regions, and the population of both Raqqa and Ain Issa (currently occupied by the YPG/SDF) is almost entirely Arab. Moreover, according to the web site Raqqa Is Being Silently Slaughtered (29 May), which is hostile to the I.S. and whose activists have been murdered by the jihadis, the hundreds of thousands of residents of Raqqa see the YPG as a force of would-be conquerors, particularly following the atrocities it committed burning down Arab homes and expelling Arabs in its conquest of Tel Abyad last year.1 In doing so, it was engaging in the same kind of “ethnic cleansing” as the other forces in the communalist civil war wracking Syria. We denounced this at the time:

“The League for the Fourth International has stated that: ‘Proletarian revolutionaries would defend the Kurdish areas against attacks by the Assad regime or the Free Syrian Army and certainly against the Islamic State whose victory would mean wholesale slaughter of Kurds.’ We have also reiterated our call for a socialist republic of united Kurdistan. At the same time, the LFI has consistently stood for revolutionary defeatism on all sides in the communal civil wars wracking Iraq and Syria, while supporting the right of self-defense of threatened communities. As long as the YPG was defending Kobanê and Rojava (Western Kurdistan) it was exercising this right, but as it expands its sway it has joined the all-sided communal/sectarian bloodbath.”
–“Flashpoint Syria: Russian Intervention and Imperialist Aggression” (October 2015), The Internationalist No. 42, January-February 2016

SDF commanders said U.S. “advisers” (shown here) are “present at all positions along the front.” (Photo: Delil Souleiman/Agence France-Presse )

The current military campaign represents a further shift. While the YPG operations last year were aimed at linking up the Kurdish cantons to form its autonomous area of Rojava, including committing atrocities against the Arab population, the SDF offensive this year is an integral part of an imperialist military operation. The League for the Fourth International has from the start called for the defeat of  the imperialists and to drive them from the region, as well as declaring any blows against imperialist intervention and domination, even by ultra-reactionary forces such as the I.S., to be in the interests of the working class and oppressed peoples of the world. But it is now necessary to go beyond that and call for defense of Raqqa against the attack by imperialism and allied forces including the Kurdish-led YPG/SDF.

This includes defense against bombing by Russian forces in Syria reportedly seeking to join the U.S.-led “anti-terrorist coalition” in the assault on Raqqa, as Kremlin strong man Putin has wanted to do all along (though with little success), and against Syrian government forces as they “join the race to Raqqa” (Al Masdar News, 31 May). If this assault is successful, the result would be to solidify domination of the region and of the Near East by U.S. imperialism (along with its Turkish Islamist and Arab monarchist allies). Hillary Clinton will applaud, liberal populist Bernie Sanders (who supports the air war on the I.S., and Obama’s murderous drone strikes) will approve, while the reformists tailing him will be complicit. And it will be very bad for the Kurds.

At the outset of U.S. intervention in Syria in 2014, we called to “Defend the Kurds, Defeat U.S./NATO Imperialism!” We warned against the YPG’s attempts to ally with imperialism, saying: “the U.S. and European imperialists will never accept Kurdish independence, or even real autonomy in northern Syria…. That would threaten the Ottoman ambitions of the Islamist Erdoğan and the Turkish nationalism of the [Turkish] army. And NATO Turkey is a linchpin for Western imperialist domination of the Middle East.”2 Again in early 2015, we stated that, “While defending the Syrian Kurds, Assyrians and other minorities under attack by the Islamic State, we have warned against any alliance with imperialism, which would use them as pawns, to be discarded when convenient.”3 If there is any doubt on this, the U.S. State Department spokesman made it clear in a May 23 press briefing:

“We obviously are in close dialogue with Turkey. We understand their concerns regarding Kurdish forces in northern Syria. And we’ve also made it clear to these Kurdish forces as well that they should not seek to create autonomous, semi-autonomous zones, that they should not seek to retain the territory that they liberate….”

Spelling it out, he said the CENTCOM commander’s visit to the region two days earlier was “not to imply any kind of recognition of their sovereignty or whatever.”

Today, again, we denounce any alliance with the imperialists, the biggest mass murderers of all, while continuing to defend the Kurdish areas against attacks by Turkey, the Syrian government, the so-called Free Syrian Army and other Islamist militias and against the Islamic State, whose response to any military setback is invariably to launch indiscriminate terror attacks against the population. In fact, the YPG recently staged pre-dawn raids to round up young men who are seeking to avoid being cannon fodder for the assault on Raqqa, who feared the blowback of an offensive against the Islamic State. As one commented, “I.S. will take revenge on the SDF and the YPG by bombing Kurdish areas and killing Kurds wherever they see them…. The Kurds have no need for this battle. If our young men are thrown into this fight, the results will be disastrous” (Syria:Direct dispatch, 24 May).

Contrary to the latter-day Spartacist tendency (the International Communist League), the Islamic State, which claims Marxists have a fantastical “military side with ISIS when it targets the imperialists and their proxies” (Workers Vanguard, 31 October 2014), we repeat, as we have said before, that even under U.S./NATO attack, the Islamic State “is not seeking to unite the oppressed masses of Iraq and Syria to throw off the imperialist yoke. The immediate targets of the I.S. ‘holy war’ are the Kurdish, Shiite, Yazidi, Syrian and Iraqi Christian populations, as these Sunni jihadis seek to impose the oppressive social norms of an 8th-century nomadic tribal society on modern urban secularized populations” (“For Workers Action to Defeat Barack Obama’s Iraq/Syria War,” October 2014). Internationalist communists stand for defense of the Arab cities controlled by the I.S., whose population is threatened with massacre by the “human rights” imperialists and allied forces, even as we call for bringing down the jihadist caliphate which along with all the Islamist gangs is a mortal threat not only workers revolution but to the democratic rights of all, particularly religious and ethnic minorities.

In the fighting that continues throughout most of Syria between competing communalist and sectarian forces, proletarian revolutionaries have no side, including where the I.S. clashes with Syrian government forces or the competing Islamist militias, whether of  the al Nusra Front (Al Qaeda), Ahrar al-Sham or those that call themselves the Free Syrian Army, who are supported by much of the left even as they sell their services to the imperialists.

The situation in Iraq, meanwhile, is not the same as in Syria. The International New York Times (30 May) reported:

“American commandos are on the front lines in Syria in a new push toward the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Raqqa, but in Iraq it is an entirely different story….
“The United States has thousands of military personnel in Iraq and has trained Iraqi security forces for nearly two years, yet is largely on the sidelines in the battle to retake Falluja…. [I]t worries that an assault on the city could backfire – inflaming the same sectarian sentiments that have allowed the Islamic State to flourish there.
“Already, as the army and militiamen battled last week in outlying areas, taking some villages and the center of the city of Karma, to the northeast, the fight has taken on sectarian overtones.”

Of course, U.S. claims to oppose inflaming religious sentiments are utterly hypocritical, as the Yankee imperialists installed the Shiite Islamists in power when they invaded Iraq in 2003 and have propped up that virulently sectarian regime ever since. Meanwhile, in northern Iraq, under the control of the Kurdish regional government, U.S. forces are preparing for an eventual attack on Mosul, an overwhelmingly Arab city. While attacks by the I.S. on American forces there, like the one on a U.S. base in Makhmour last March, are a blow against imperialism, a full-scale U.S.-led assault on this largest population center controlled by the Islamic State, may be a ways off. But when it comes, it will be just as bloody and sectarian as the one on Falluja.

The battle of Falluja is already seeing sectarian slaughter of many of the 50,000 or more Sunni Arab residents. The Times article quoted Aws al-Khafaji, the head of the Abu Fadhil al-Abbas militia, from a widely viewed video: “There are no patriots, no real religious people in Falluja. It’s our chance to clear Iraq by eradicating the cancer of Falluja.” Another source quoted from the same video: “There are no civilians in Fallujah, there is a tumor [that] should be removed from Iraq, those are infidels and must be exterminated.” But what is the response of the Islamic State? According to an article in the London Guardian (31 May):

“Isis [another acronym for the I.S.] responded to the offensive by dispatching suicide bombers in and around Baghdad. Three attacks targeted the populous Sadr City suburb and the Shaab neighbourhood, as well as the area of Tarmiya north of the capital, killing more than 20 people in the largely Shia districts. Isis claimed responsibility for the attacks in statements circulated online.” 

Against this all-sided sectarian slaughter, Trotskyists call for defeat of the attackers and defend Falluja’s right to communal self-defense while not diminishing one bit our opposition to the I.S.

More than anywhere else on the planet, in the Middle East today it is only by fighting for internationalist workers revolution, to drive out and defeat imperialism as well as to uphold democratic rights and smash all the bourgeois regimes and feuding Islamists, militarists and Zionists, that it will be possible to unite the exploited and oppressed of the myriad ethnic/religious communities, peoples and nations. That means fighting for a socialist federation that can make this crossroads of civilizations flourish in all its diversity. As everywhere, the key is forging a revolutionary leadership, and that is the task the League for the Fourth International seeks to resolve. ■

  1. 1. As we noted then: “reports are now surfacing about Kurdish atrocities against Arabs and Turkomans in recently conquered areas. Residents of ten villages and towns under the Kurdish Autonomous Administration were driven from their homes, their property destroyed or confiscated and in some cases their houses were burned and bulldozed (Amnesty International, We Had Nowhere Else to Go, October 2015).”
  2. 2.For Workers Action to Defeat  Barack Obama’s Iraq/Syria War” (October 2014), in The Internationalist No. 38, November-December 2014.
  3. 3. “International Perspectives of the League for the Fourth International” (April 2015), in The Internationalist No. 40, Summer 2015.