Thousands more are likely to die and millions of additional refugees are likely to join those already camped out all over the Middle East because of the continuing U.S. bombing campaign against Syria and because of policies that peace forces say have been wrongheaded from the start.
Already Reuters has reported that U.S. missiles destroyed grain silos in a northern Syrian town, killing civilians but not ISIS fighters. The bombs destroyed mills and grain facilities in the town of Kfar Derian. The U.S. military has countered the reports by saying ISIS vehicles were adjacent to the silos and that there is no evidence civilians were killed.
On Sept. 10, President Obama announced the bombing campaign, which will cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars, against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). ISIS’ militant forces had routed Iraqi army forces and captured a wide swathe of Northwestern Iraq, including the important city of Mosul, the site of as a major hydroelectric dam. Initially, the idea was to rescue members of the minority Yazidi religious community, who were fleeing from the ISIS onslaught. Most of the refugees escaped with the help of militia from the autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq.
But we were later told that U.S. bombing would be targeted also at a shadowy organization called the Khorasan group, which supposedly was planning terrorist attacks against European and U.S. civilian aviation. Since nobody had ever heard of this group (Khorasan is the name of an ancient kingdom), suspicions were raised as to whether it existed or not. It turns out that it is not substantially different from the Al Nusra Front, an Al Qaeda offshoot that has been fighting to overthrow President Bashir al Assad of Syria. How serious the threat against the United States really is remains an unanswered question, but the bombs are falling anyway, with the noted civilian casualties already reported.
The new Iraqi prime minister, Haider al Abadi, is supposedly trying to correct the sectarian mistakes of his predecessor, Nuri al Maliki, whose pro-Shiite partisanship is widely blamed for the inroads made by ISIS. However, reports do not suggest immediate success.
In Syria, for several years the Obama administration has held to the line that it is supporting moderate, non-jihadi armed groups to overthrow Mr. Assad’s regime in Syria. But both the Assad government and others express great doubt that there is such a thing as a moderate opposition that can simultaneously fight against both the Assad government and the radical Islamist forces. Any accretion of strength on the part of the opposition has appeared to be on the part of Al Nusra and other radical forces. The sudden eruption of ISIS seems to vindicate that perception.
There are also questions about the role Turkey, under the leadership of newly-elected President and former Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The left in Turkey suspects him of collusion with ISIS, in part because of the suspicious ease with which that organization just released some Turkish citizens they had captured. The suggestion by the US that a buffer zone be carved out in Syria, to be administered by Turkey, is, besides being a violation of international law and Syrian sovereignty, likely to exacerbate tensions.
More confusion was created by statements of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who has promoted the breaking up of Iraq into three states based on ethnicity and religion, a plan strongly opposed by the Communist Party of Iraq and others. The Republican Party and the U.S. military brass are poking at the situation from another angle, namely to promote “boots on the ground”: The return of U.S. ground troops to the Iraq-Syria area, in a full fledged war that would take years and cost many billions of dollars.
On Tuesday, September 30, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al Moallem announced that his government is basically in support of the Obama administration’s bombing campaign. After all, he said, the Al Qaeda-Al Nusra-ISIS forces are the enemy of all, as demonstrated by the brutality of ISIS in the areas they have overrun.
In other words, the Syrian government sees, in the rise of ISIS, and the US decision to undertake armed action, as a means to achieve a political realignment and neutralize the threat from the U.S., allied with right wing monarchies in the Arabian Gulf region, especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which are participating in the U.S. effort.
For decades, both British and now U.S. imperialism have seen the secular left wing forces in the Middle East as the main enemy to be eliminated, and have been willing to foster right-wing political Islam to that end. From Yemen to Palestine, Iraq and Iran and southward to Sudan. Communists, socialists, and other leftists have been repressed, allowing reactionary political Islam to move forward.
Secondly, the United States and its allies have bypassed United Nations mechanisms for resolving international disputes and have intervened unilaterally to achieve “regime change” first in Iraq, then Libya, now Syria. This has weakened international institutions while destabilizing the whole region.
In the United States, Congress is supposed to have a role to play but all it has done in recent years has been to “play possum.” Now some members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus are trying to make sure that there is a full congressional debate. They include Congresspersons Barbara Lee, D-Calif., Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., Keith Ellison, D-Minn., Alan Grayson, D-Fla., and several others. Their vehicle for pressing for a full debate is House Con. Resolution 114. Moveon.org and Just Foreign Policy are circulating an online petition to gather support for this resolution.
Photo: Map showing the location of some of the U.S. bombings in Syria this month, was released by the U.S. Defense Department.