The US is training Syrian “rebels” in Jordan and itself has 20,000 troops there. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are pouring arms into Syria in an attempt to topple the government. The threat of war is real...
Successive British governments from Thatcher on have been warmongers. Thatcher had her war against Argentina. Blair had plenty of wars in Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq. Cameron has had his wars in Libya, Mali and now targets Syria. The real targets, however, are Iran and Russia. Why? Because they do not yield to US/EU control. In Russia’s case it’s because Russia blocks their will at the UN Security Council. Two million marched and protested against Blair’s proposed invasion of Iraq. But there were no protests against the attack on Libya or Syria. Why? Why no outrage? Maybe it’s because workers have discovered that marching does not achieve their objectives.
Damascus, at night: the oldest inhabited city in the world, it used to be the safest city in the Middle East.
Photo: Dudarev Mikhail/shutterstock.com
Let’s have a look at Libya. The Benghazi-based rebels were from the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an al-Qaeda affiliate. US troops in Iraq had previously captured al-Qaeda’s headquarters in Iraq and found lists of foreign fighters in Iraq. Al-Qaeda was apparently a diligent note keeper. The list was handed over to the FBI who discovered that more than 40 per cent of the foreigners fighting for al-Qaeda in Iraq and against the US were from Derne, a city next to Benghazi. Another sizeable number was from Benghazi itself. These were the people Britain, France and the US were arming and fighting for in Libya.
Al-Qaeda is a child of the US, created in Afghanistan to fight the communists in power and draw in the USSR. So we shouldn’t be surprised at the irony of the US, EU and NATO supporting al-Qaeda in Libya or Syria. A Palestinian friend of mine living in Syria remarked to me, when it had become clear that the main fighters against the Syrian government had been identified as the al-Nusra front (an al-Qaeda associate group): “They (US/EU/NATO) brought al-Qaeda into Iraq to destroy the country and that is what they are doing now to Syria.”
A common factor in the Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya wars is the creation by the US/EU of puppet governments from exiles. There was Karzai in Afghanistan, Chalabi, Alawi and Maliki in Iraq and the same sort of people in Libya. This has led to a deeply unpopular and corrupt government in Afghanistan with a return of the Taliban due to be negotiated soon, civil war in Iraq and possibly the break-up of the country, and now a Libya run by Islamist militias with weak central government spreading arms to Syria and Africa. But the oil is flowing.
So who is next? Well there are no prizes for guessing it’s going to be Syria. I’ve worked in Syria since 2006, with Palestinian refugee youth. I can tell you that Damascus is a beautiful, hospitable, cultured and historic city – in fact it’s the oldest inhabited city on the planet. It was, as I told three young women trade unionists when the Northern Region of the TUC asked me to take them as a delegation to the Jafra Palestinian Youth Centre in 2009, the safest city in the Middle East. It was so safe that I left them to live in the Yarmouk Palestinian Refugee Camp, Damascus, on their own for a week.
But let's look at today’s secular Syria in a historical setting. At the end of the First World War, Allied troops captured Istanbul and the Ottoman Empire collapsed. It was partitioned between France, which got Syria, and Britain, which got Iraq, Palestine and Transjordan. There had, of course, been Arab resistance to Ottoman occupation typified by what became known as the Arab Revolt and portrayed in the film Lawrence of Arabia, so the British and French could not expect a docile occupation.
The French could not “pacify” Syria until 1920. They only succeeded in winning the Battle of Maysalun Pass, the key to taking Damascus, when every Syrian soldier had been killed. In 1925 an uprising of Syrians and Druze liberated Damascus for a time only to be ruthlessly retaken. Statues of the leaders of those struggles famously stand in Damascus. Syrians know their history well.
France carved up Syria to make it more governable. It first sliced out the province of Lebanon as a separate entity. They thought that the Christian Maronites would be compliant to French will. Then France handed over the province of Hatay including the historic city of Antioch to Turkey. This was an attempt to buy Turkey’s neutrality in the coming Second World War. Families live on both sides in today’s countries, separated by artificial borders. Then, of course, Israel annexed the Golan after years of occupation.
It’s now 70 years since France was forced to leave Syria. France ruled by using religious leaders to teach submission to French rule. The clan system is entrenched in Syria and clan loyalty is paramount. The main religious leader who enforced French rule through the clan system was Imam Nur-Eddin al Khatib.
Coincidentally, the leader of the “opposition” Syrian National Coalition was until a few weeks ago Imam Mouz al Khatib. He was appointed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia last November. He was the grandson of Nur-Eddin al Khatib. The previous leader of the SNC was Bassma Kodmani, a regular attendee at the secretive Bilderberg conference, an annual coming together of the world’s most important capitalists and politicians. Kodmani was also linked to Goldman Sachs and George Soros. So once again we see a puppet government in waiting put in place by Britain, France, the US, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The Muslim Brotherhood, an extension of Saudi Arabia, is also part of the government in waiting along with al-Qaeda’s own al-Nusra front. The flag of rebels is the old colonial flag.
What are we to make of Qatar and Saudi Arabia? Qatar, in particular, supplied arms to the Libya rebels and took part in the bombing of that country. Now it arms the Islamists in Syria along with Saudi Arabia, which is sending shoulder-held anti -aircraft missiles to them. And then we have Cameron and France’s Hollande, trying to persuade any who will listen to arm the rebels. Now we have allegations of the use of chemical weapons being spouted by Cameron as if it were fact. The evidence is two items of clothing the origin of which is unknown. The UN’s investigator, Carla del Ponte, has said that it’s the rebels who have used chemical weapons.
During the football World Cup 2010, Fidel Castro wrote one of his reflections. As we all had our faces glued to the TV, he told the world that US and Israeli ships and submarines, including an Israeli nuclear submarine, had passed through the Suez Canal on their way to the Persian Gulf. He sent a warning of impending war, even nuclear war.
How very prophetic were his words. There is now an armada of military vessels from NATO, the despotic Gulf States and Israel in the Persian Gulf. Our leaders seem hell bent on a war with Iran, and Syria is a major ally of Iran. The Gulf sheikdoms have been armed to the teeth by the US. Patriot missile batteries are deployed around the Gulf as well as in Turkey and Jordan.
The US is training Syrian “rebels” in Jordan and itself has 20,000 troops there. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are pouring arms into Syria. What about China and Russia – will they stand by Iran? The threat of war is real. And all the time our leaders talk of Iran as if it were the devil incarnate. It is the next target. But Iran has never attacked anyone. It has been the victim of an attack by Iraq at the behest of Saudi Arabia and the US. As far as its nuclear programme is concerned, even the US intelligence services say that Iran abandoned any idea of nuclear weapons in 2002. But it has huge reserves of gas and oil.
Now Syria is also hit by EU and US sanctions with dreadful consequences for Syrians facing shortages of food, medicines, electricity, diesel and petrol. Sanctions are war by alternative means. But in solidarity with the Syrian people, Venezuela sends tankers of diesel and Iran sends medicines. The Northern Region of the TUC and London Unison have successfully donated diesel generators to Palestinian refugee camps in Homs and Dera’a. That’s one practical way to help the Syrian people.
But we all must defend national sovereignty, both of Syria and of Britain, and support independence from imperialism. No arms for the rebels. Invest in Britain and keep our noses out of other nations’ affairs.
Out with the warmongers Hague and Cameron. ■
This article is an edited extract of a speech given in Conway Hall, London, on 11 June by a frequent traveller and worker in Syria. A fuller version of the speech is available as this pdf.