The April 13 Western strikes did not change the overall balance of power on the ground. The Damascus regime still controls over half of Syrian territory and over 80% of the population, and has continued its offensives and bombing on various areas beyond its control. . . In other words, the Assad regime and its allies can continue the massacres against civilian populations with “conventional weapons”.
April 27, 2018
On April 13, 2018, the US government, in alliance with the United Kingdom and France, launched air strikes in Syriad, officially in response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against the population in the city of Douma, in eastern Ghouta on April 7.
The Assad regime’s chemical attack had killed at least 70 civilians and had wounded several hundred. It led to the forced withdrawal of the fundamentalist Islamic militia Jaysh al-Islam to the north of Syria in an agreement with the regime of Damascus a few days later. Following the conquest of Eastern Ghouta by regime’s forces, some 66,000 persons, mostly civilians, have been forcefully displaced to Idlib and Aleppo governorates. The UN estimates that some 100,000 – 140,000 individuals remain in east Ghouta, among whom 50,000 – 700,000 are estimated to reside in Douma.
The bombings by the three western powers reportedly targeted three sites in Damascus and Homs, where the Syrian regime was accused of developing, fabricating and stockpiling chemical weapons.
These strikes caused no casualties. Most of the installations were evacuated a few days before the attack, thanks to warnings from Russia. The United States, the United Kingdom and France said that the strikes were not aimed at paralyzing the Syrian regime’s defences or provoking a “regime change”. They were aimed solely at trying to dissuade Bashar al-Assad from using chemical weapons. The three allies said the operation was only a “one time shot”. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov also declared that before the US strikes against Syrian targets, Russia had told US authorities which parts of Syria represented “red lines” for Moscow, and that US military action had not crossed over these lines.
The Western strikes were in many ways a “remake” of the Washington bombing operation a year before against a Syrian base (emptied a few hours earlier) in April 2017 following chemical attacks by the Assad regime against the locality of Khan Sheikhoun, in northwestern Syria.
Although the US and Russian speeches were more virulent on the days following the April 13 Western strikes, US President Donald Trump invited his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to the United States during a phone call on Friday, April 20, and said he would be happy to see Putin at the White House.
These strikes did not change the overall balance of power on the ground. The Damascus regime still controls a little over half of Syrian territory and over 80% of the population, and has continued its offensives and bombing on various areas beyond its control. The night after the Western bombings, the Syrian regime’s air force led raids on the Idlib and Hama regions, under the control of various groups of the armed opposition. Syrian military operations and airstrikes continued in various areas since then, including massively targeting notably the Yarmouk camp occupied by Islamic state, but in which between 300 to 1000 civilians still remain. Since April 19, 5,000 of the estimated 6,000 civilians left in Yarmouk when the offensive against IS began have fled to the nearby village of Yalda, according to the United Nations. While they are no longer under fire, they are also in dire need, as Chris Gunness, spokesman for UNRWA, said many of the new arrivals to Yalda are “begging for medicine and are sleeping in the streets”.
In other words, the Assad regime and its allies can continue the massacres against civilian populations with “conventional weapons”.
Doubts about chemical weapons?
Because of restrictions imposed by the Syrian and Russian authorities, a team of experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) were prevented from entering the city of Douma to investigate, until April 21, fully two weeks after the chemical attacks. Several doctors claimed to have been pressured by the Syrian regime, which threatened them with reprisals if they revealed anything to the press or the inspectors and forced them to get rid of all samples taken.
As a reminder, in November 2017, one month after a fact-finding mission led by the OPCW and the UN Security Council, had concluded that Damascus had committed a sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun, in north-west of Syria, which had killed at least 83 people, Russia had blocked the renewal of the investigators’ mandate which had just ended.
Since 2014, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has reportedly investigated 70 cases of gas attacks in Syria, out of a total of 370 reports, almost all of them by the Syrian regime, with some exceptions from the jihadist group of the Islamic State.
Some expressed doubts about the regime’s use of chemical weapons, because of its current military superiority, and said that there was therefore no point in using it. This is to say the least, a quite weak argument. Israel is militarily superior to the Palestinians, but that does not prevent it from using white phosphorus. And what about the United States, which has confirmed that it fired white phosphorus shells in IS-controlled areas in Mosul, Iraq, and possibly in Raqqa, Syria? The main purpose of using chemical weapons is to spread terror among local populations in Syria and elsewhere.
No to all imperial and regional powers!
The military intervention of the Western powers only sought to serve the internal and external national political interests of these ruling elites. The United States, the United Kingdom and France do not care about Syrian civilians or other popular classes in the region. Their previous military interventions in different parts of the world and support for dictatorships in the region testify to the lack of considerations regarding civilians and human rights violations. In the recent past, for example, the invasion and the American and British occupation of Iraq in 2003 caused the death of millions of people. These same states did not massively welcome Syrian refugees and other nationalities. On the contrary, very often they pursued racist and security policies against them. The Mediterranean Sea was transformed into a big cemetery by the European Unions with thousands of people dying, trying to reach European countries by sea.
More generally, we must denounce all the foreign interventions that oppose the aspirations fordemocratic change in Syria, whether in the form of Russia, Iran, Hezbollah’s support for the regime by participating in its violent and deadly war against the Syrian civilians, or in the form of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey claiming to be “friends of the Syrian people” but supporting the most reactionary forces of the opposition, particularly Islamic fundamentalist movements that oppose the original objectives of the popular uprising started in March 2011.
Just as we must denounce the multiple military interventions in Syria: the Turkish led invasion of Afrin and violation of human rights in these areas, especially against Kurdish civilian population; the US led International coalition bombing civilians in Syria and Iraq; the Russian bombing of Idlib and and other areas targeting civilians.
Similarly we should oppose Assad’s military operations which are leading to much suffering, destructions and forced displacement of civilians.
This does not mean that we do not similarly oppose reactionary organisations such as Hay’at Tahrir Sham, Islamic state and other Islamic fundamentalist movements present in some areas outside of regime controlled areas and committing Human Rights violations against civilians as well.
To choose one type of imperialism or authoritarianism over another is to guarantee the stability of the capitalist system and the exploitation and oppression of peoples.
Some say that we should not condemn Russia and Iran in Syria because they are invited by the Assad regime, unlike the United States for example. Let’s be clear about the illegality, from the point of view of international law, of the presence of US forces in Syria to fight IS (and not the Syrian regime) is a reality. But the legality of the presence of Russian (or Iranian) troops – invited by the Assad regime – does not make them more legitimate. For if we accept this logic, the intervention of the Armed Forces of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council in Bahrain should be regarded as legal in order to quell the popular revolt, since it was conducted at the invitation of the Manama regime.
Selective anti-imperialism cannot be a basis for developing a political discourse and practice against all forms of interventions and all international and regional powers. On the contrary, it weakens such a discourse and practice, especially when it is used to deny or obscure the crimes of a dictatorship.
As progressives, we cannot ignore the need to support peoples struggling for their liberation and emancipation, even if they are a minority. We must oppose all foreign imperialist and regional forces and authoritarian groups.
Faced with the crimes of the Assad regime that continue on a daily basis with the silence and the complicity of the international and regional powers that are focused on dividing Syria in regions of influence… we must show our solidarity with the Syrian popular classes!
April 27, 2018
Originally published in