Hands off Syria! Meeting held in West Midlands by coalition of activists


A meeting was held on Thursday 24 May in central Birmingham to address some of the key imperialist lies which are being spread within the anti-war movement with regards to Syria. The meeting was Chaired in a personal capacity by local NUJ activist and photographer Stalingrad O’Neill. Contributions from the Indian Workers Association (GB), AIWAA (Against imperialist wars in Africa and Asia) and the CPGB-ML will be posted shortly. We urge all anti-war activists and peace campaigners to host similar meetings and ensure that the truth about imperialist intervention in Syria is spread.

Make a start in finding out the truth by reading this excellent article from the latest Lalkar:

The steadfastness of the Syrian people in the face of every effort to divide and undermine them, coupled with the refusal of Russia and China to endorse the economic, diplomatic and military campaigns of aggression, continue to frustrate imperialist plans of conquest in the Middle East.

Whilst it cannot be doubted that Washington will carry on doing all possible to subvert the Annan plan, striving to transform an opportunity for reconciliation and dialogue into just one more cover for bullying and coercion, there is no disguising the humiliating reverse which has already been inflicted upon imperialist pretensions in the region.

What opened up the possibility of a negotiated solution in the beginning of April was the success with which the attempted putsch efforts in Homs, Idlib and elsewhere were faced down by Damascus, exposing for all to see the minimal support from within the country for the armed rebellion and its growing demoralisation. The refusal of China and Russia to allow the UN Security Council to impose sanctions had already created difficulties for the warmongers. Now, with the rebellion clearly on the back foot and even the Arab League growing dubious about the ability of the US to control events, Russia was able to initiate the diplomatic process which was taken under the wing of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

For Syria, and for all who respect her sovereignty and desire a peaceful resolution of the conflict so maliciously cultivated by the West, this initiative was most welcome. However, for those who would wish to demolish her sovereignty, end her support for Palestine and Lebanon, loot her resources and reduce her to a pawn on the geopolitical chessboard, the threat of such an untimely outbreak of peace set alarm bells ringing. Such a peaceful outcome would not only cheat Washington out of its pretext for aggression, but would also redound enormously to the credit of Russia and China, the hostile encirclement of which countries is the strategic aim of imperialism. Such a fillip for the growing diplomatic influence of the BRICS countries, such a slap in the face for imperialist domination, is a nightmare for the West.

The West tries to sabotage the Annan Plan

The obvious solution to the West’s dilemma was to try and subvert the Russian initiative and subsequent Annan plan, transforming the genuine search for a peaceful resolution of the crisis into another stick for imperialism to wield against Syria’s national dignity. Imperialism tried to pull much the same stunt earlier in the year with the farce which played out over the Arab League’s observer mission. That mission had been pushed enthusiastically inside the League by the House of Saud, the King of Bahrain and other such “democratic” friends of America, all eager to send in the monitors. Their real agenda was twofold: to find or manufacture pretexts to justify further imperialist meddling, and to give the hard-pressed rebels a breathing space to consolidate their ragtag forces.

The propaganda end of the mission turned out to be a disaster for imperialism, with the mission’s official report producing damning evidence of rebel atrocities and giving a broadly positive account of the government’s compliance with the provisional requirement to withdraw heavy weaponry from major population centres. Needless to say, the contents of the report received scant coverage in the imperialist media, with all attention lavished instead upon the tantrums of Saudi Arabia and the other US satellites who denounced the report, slandered the Sudanese mission chief who authored it, submitted a fabricated report of their own and sabotaged the continuing mission by unilaterally withdrawing their monitors.

However, although the intended propaganda coup misfired so badly for the West, the mission’s second purpose, to interrupt the momentum of the government’s efforts to defend the country’s sovereignty and give the scattered rebels a chance to regroup, had more success, tragically extending this period of internecine strife and claiming yet more Syrian lives. Now, with the rebellion increasingly revealed to be a spent force within the country, its leadership riven by endless factions and its sole hope of salvation resting upon the West and its proxies (notably Turkey), imperialism sought to turn the Annan plan down the same blind alley. Washington paid lip service to the plan’s peaceful intentions, whilst in practice using it as a cover for the imposition of a series of impossible and ever-shiftingultimata upon the Syrian government.

The agreement to which the parties signed up required both sides to stop fighting, with the anticipation that international efforts would be made to ensure that the process goes forward on the basis of reciprocity. Yet it has throughout been clear from the belligerent tone of US leaders that imperialism is interested in only one outcome: the unilateral disarming of the country’s security forces. Under these circumstances, it would have been suicide for Damascus to completely stand down its forces on 10th April (as was ludicrously demanded) without at the very least guarantees in writing from the rebel bands that they plan to reciprocate. Syria’s entirely reasonable request for such written guarantees to be furnished was, predictably, trumpeted by Washington as a spoiling tactic, as if it were President Assad who sought to derail the process.

On 9 April, on the eve of the 10 April deadline, skirmishes were reported on the border between Syria and Turkey. BBC news that afternoon and evening headlined this skirmish as spectacular breaking news. Government forces, we were told, had opened fire on a refugee camp across the border in Turkey, slaughtering a number of refugees and wounding many others. In the context-free environment of BBC journalism, this was clearly intended to stack up as proof positive of the supposed bad faith and bloodthirsty disposition of the Syrian government, and ample reason for a Turkish government spokesman to strangle the Annan process at birth, declaring it “void”.

Yet even the BBC report could not avoid letting slip a “rumour” that armed rebels had somehow been involved. The RT news service was more forthcoming, reporting how armed Free Syrian Army thugs cross to and fro across the border without impediment from Turkish border guards. And it fell to Reuters to report on the account given by local Turkish officials on the ground, presumably before the official Ankara line had been handed down. Yusuf Odabas, the governor of Kilis province where the camp is situated, said simply that“The injuries are a result of clashes between Syrian soldiers and rebels. The bullets reached the camp.” Reuters reported that the stray bullets which hit the camp originated“from clashes between Syrian soldiers and rebel fighters”, and that the “gun battles occurred just inside Syria.” (9 April, ‘Fire from Syria border clashes hits refugee camp in Turkey, report says.’)

As one report followed another, often mutually contradictory (Three died, or two? They died in the camp or running to the border? They were refugees or armed rebels?), it became possible to piece together a much more plausible sequence of events. Imperialism, by doing its best to plunge Syria into civil war, has created a humanitarian nightmare on the country’s borders, with panicked civilians mistakenly crediting Turkish promises of a “safe haven” from the fighting. Instead of enjoying safety, they have found themselves used as pawns in a cynical game concocted by imperialism and played out by its Ottoman stooges. Reports suggesting that the gun battle was sparked as FSA thugs “helped refugees escape to Turkey” reinforce the suspicion that what was really at issue was the hot pursuit of terrorists towards the border, and the tragic consequences of the FSA using the refugees as camouflage for the continued subversion of the country.

Less well reported was the surrender to government forces in Idlib of at least 227 armed men at around the same time. With great magnanimity these terrorists were allowed to go free once they had given up their weapons and promised not to attack the government or their fellow citizens, hardly the action of the bloodthirsty tyranny portrayed in the West. Nor was this a one-off incident: back in November last year Syria offered amnesty to those who gave up their weapons. Victoria Nuland of the State Department then demonstrated her commitment to the cause of peace by encouraging the gangs to hang on to their guns and spurn the amnesty (Press TV: ‘Hundreds of armed men surrender to Syrian army in Idlib’, 9 April). From this we may judge who are the real peace lovers and whose hands are stained with the blood of innocents.

The West tries to torpedo the Annan Plan

Despite the worst efforts of the West, the Annan plan was not strangled at birth in mid-April, thanks in very large measure to the refusal of Damascus to abandon the ceasefire although under enormous provocation.

Whilst the imperialist media put itself entirely at the disposal of the rebels, maintaining a constant barrage of unsubstantiated allegations against the security forces, the routine counter-revolutionary violence on the ground was ramped up, supplemented now by a dirty war of assassinations of leading patriots, all with the clear intention of torpedoing the Annan plan. In the eastern province of Deir al-Zour assassins murdered Lieutenant Colonel Youssef Saqqe; in the central province of Hama terrorists slew Major Moussa Youssef and kidnapped Colonel Mohammad Eid. To demonstrate their respect for religion, the rebels shot Sayyed Nasser al-Allawi, the imam and preacher of al-Hossayniya Scientific Hawza on his own doorstep, in a suburb of Damascus.

It seems that his “crime” was to have helped in relief efforts to help refugees uprooted from their homes by civil strife. And to demonstrate their respect for democracy, the self-styled “battalions of Mohammed” went onto YouTube to broadcast their intention to kill anybody who stands for office in the 7 May parliamentary elections (to be held in accord with the overwhelming mandate delivered in the February referendum). That such threats are to be taken seriously was underlined by the fate of one such candidate, Mohammad Ismail al-Ahmed, whose home in Idlib was stormed by an armed gang which dragged him off to an unknown destination. Even on the very day that the ceasefire was due to kick in, as if deliberately to sharpen the provocation and induce Damascus to walk away from the Annan plan, officials including a brigadier general in the Damascus suburb of Jaramana, a first lieutenant in the northern province of Aleppo, and the secretary of al-Baath Party’s office in al-Mazareeb town of the southern Daraa province were killed, and dozens of officers were wounded.

Thieves fall out as Syria stands firm

As frustration mounted in the West at the failure of all its stage-managed provocations to abort the peace process, the headlines screamed ever more incontinently about Syria’s “monstrous” government. Yet for the overwhelming majority of Syrians, including those raising legitimate demands for reform, the attempted demonization of President Assad and the progressive, secular coalition which he leads simply beggars belief.

Even in the West, despite all the efforts to downplay the thousands-strong pro-Assad demonstrations (all held at the point of a gun, we are assured), reality has a habit of breaking through from time to time. Thus it was that no less than The Telegraph ran a piece on 9 March by Matthew Schofield, gloomily entitled “U.S. officials: Assad could survive Syria revolt” in which it is revealed that “Months after the United States sided with rebels against Syrian President Bashar Assad, senior U.S. intelligence officials acknowledged Friday that not only could Assad survive the uprising, but also that they couldn’t say with confidence that the opposition represents a majority of the Syrian people.” The officials gave the lie to the repeated assertion that the governing coalition is driven by Alawite sectarianism, not only identifying support for President Assad amongst Christians, Kurds and Druze, but also admitting with puzzlement that, whilst most Syrian soldiers are from the Sunni majority, “Yet the military remains cohesive”. One official speaks truer than he knows when he says of the Syrian military, “This was an army built for a ground war with Israel. They have approached that level of commitment.” An army consisting of mercenaries rented by Doha and Riyadh is no match for the army of a progressive and independent nation committed to fighting Zionism and imperialism.

And whilst the Syrian military holds firm and the Syrian masses continue to rally behind the government, the rebel forces continue to split and buckle under the weight of their own treachery. The Telegraph quotes one member of the West-backed Syrian National Council bemoaning the fact that “There are internal divisions within the SNC… The main problem is SNC has gotten … bigger each and every day. We started with 80 people, now we are 340 people, and every high-ranking official defecting from the Syrian regime wants to have a big role” (Matthew Schofield, “U.S. officials: Assad could survive Syria revolt”, 9 March).

Whilst Syria’s strength and cohesion may remain a mystery to Telegraph readers, they pose no such conundrum to the millions of Syrian patriots for whom national pride, and pride in the nation’s anti-imperialist tradition, loom larger than any confessional or ethnic divisions.

Bahrain: a different story

A mystery that the capitalist media never does seem able to fully account for is why Hillary Clinton and David Cameron are not pestering the UN to pass resolutions imposing sanctions and threats of military intervention against the unelected feudal relics ruling over the population of Bahrain with teargas, sound bombs, birdshot and worse, calling in the Saudi army to murder demonstrators last year and celebrating the return of Formula One by shooting a protestor dead. Where are the diatribes against the bloodthirsty dictator killing his own people? Where is the international community’s outburst of moral indignation as Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, serving a life sentence for saying Bahrain should be a republic, slowly starves to death on hunger strike?

Yet the difference is not hard to grasp. Syria is a progressive, anti-imperialist country, and therefore deserving of the same campaign of calumny previously lavished upon other such countries, most recently Libya. Bahrain is an oil well with a flag, franchised out by imperialism to unelected local comprador stooges to run as a private fiefdom. In exchange, the US gets to park its Fifth Fleet there, ready to challenge any perceived threat to its exploitation interests. So really it is no mystery that the “Arab Spring”, invented and promoted by the West in Libya and Syria, must carve for itself in Bahrain. It will prosper the better without such “friends”.

Even the Mail on Sunday, in a rare burst of candour on 8 April, felt moved to comment as follows on the company which British imperialism’s own entirely bourgeoisified reigning monarch likes to keep (Katie Nicholl and Jonathan Petre, ‘Ruler of Bahrain’s bloody regime set for Windsor Castle’):

“The Queen has risked an international outcry by inviting the King of Bahrain to a Diamond Jubilee banquet despite widespread criticism of his bloody and repressive regime… He is also thought to be among those invited to a champagne dinner given by Prince Charles the same evening at Buckingham Palace… The king’s son, the Crown Prince of Bahrain, was last year invited to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton but pulled out at the last minute… In January, the Countess of Wessex came under pressure to return lavish jewels given to her by the Bahrain royal family… The crown prince gave her a silver and pearl cup and her husband, the Earl of Wessex, received a silk rug…”

For good measure the Mail on Sunday recalls that in 2011, “At the height of the killings, David Cameron greeted the crown prince at No 10, and between July and September 2011 the Coalition reportedly authorised the sale of £2.2million of arms to the regime.”

Vain hopes that bringing Formula One back to Bahrain would help convince the world that everything had blown over were spectacularly dashed. Instead, two things were demonstrated: that the fascistic character of the state repression had in no wise abated; and that the revolt which began over a year ago is not over by a long chalk.

Syria is a working class issue

Trotskyites and revisionists of course will have no such trouble supporting in words the popular revolt in Bahrain – but only in order then to muddle up the anti-imperialist essence of the Bahraini revolt with the pro-imperialist essence of the armed Islamic rebellion in Syria. Such muddle must be uprooted in the labour movement.

Without a doubt Washington and its stooges will continue to take every opportunity to sabotage the Annan plan and regain the warmongering initiative, and we cannot underestimate the threat to Syria’s sovereignty that still exists.

Crucially, workers need to understand that it is the anti-imperialist steadfastness of the Syrian nation and its leadership which has opened up the possibility of a peaceful resolution to the conflict. By contrast, those on the “left” who have joined in with the demonization of Assad and the progressive coalition government which he leads, however much they may protest their opposition to military intervention in Syria’s affairs, have done more than most to grease the wheels for precisely such an outcome. Now more than ever it is time for workers to give heartfelt support to the Syrian nation in its struggle against imperialist meddling.

Victory to Assad!

Long live the Syrian people!

Down with imperialism and its Arab stooges!

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