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John Riddell: Democracy in Lenin's Comintern

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Richard Atkinson: Death and the Bedroom Tax

Dave Renton: Who Was Blair Peach?

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Bunny La Roche: Nasty Little Nigel gets a rude welcome to Kent

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Bunny La Roche: Nasty Little Nigel gets a rude welcome to Kent

Financial Appeal

We're up and running! An appeal for funds to kickstart the IS Network

Financial Appeal

Peering into the faultlines: a response to 'New faultlines in the Middle East: ISIS in a regional context' - III

This leads me on to the part of Andy’s article that deals directly with Syria, which similar to his analysis of Iraq, suffers from a tendency to over-simplify the current circumstances and the condition of the forces contained within. It’s completely true that Daesh has gone from strength to strength in Syria, with it now holding by far the largest area of land of all the non-Baathist forces; however, the actualities of how this occurred are of the utmost importance here. The best we get from Andy in this regard is the usual attempts at nudge, nudge, wink, wink ‘gotcha’ irony, the kind that those of us who have supported the Syrian revolution since the beginning have become all too accustomed to hearing from some of our comrades, such as his contention that in Syria, some fighters supported by Britain, France and the US as ‘moderate Islamists’ (he uses the ‘scare quotes’ that have become so beloved of many leftists when discussing the Syrian rebels, the implication being that there were never any moderates to begin with) are now voluntarily pledging allegiance to ISIS’.

Inasmuch as this is true, Andy never explicates on the main reason why rebels might defect to Daesh, namely because, and this is quite difficult to swallow for those who wield ‘anti-imperialism’ as an all-consuming dogma that necessarily relies on simplicity, distortions and, in the case of the Syrian opposition, slander and innuendo (I’m not talking about Andy here), the Syrian rebels, the moderate ones, to grudgingly utilise the clichéd language, have not received enough ‘support’ from Britain, France, the US or whoever else might be willing to give it. It takes a truly almighty level of incoherence to imagine that those who might have defected from Free Army brigades and the Islamic Front (IF), both of which are at war with Daesh, have done so because of too much support or, as some would have it, interference from the West. Whether we like it or not, the opposite is actually the truth.

Against an enemy that is not only supported by Russian imperialism, but also directly aided by the regional superpower Iran and its various proxies, most notably Hezbollah, combined with the counter-revolutionary threat of Daesh, which has spent more time attacking the rebels than the Assad regime, the Syrian rebels achieving a straightforward military victory would have always been an uphill struggle, even in the best of circumstances. However, in circumstances in which the US has not only refused appeals from the rebels to arm them with the quality and quantity of arms necessary to penetrate the Baathist lines and counter Daesh, it has also blocked other forces from doing so. The results have been devastating.

Not only has the lack of anti-aircraft Manpads allowed Assad’s air force, carrying the finest Iranian-made barrel bombs, to be able to keep up the ethnic cleansing of Sunni areas as part of his counter-insurgency, but it has also led to a bloody stalemate in which Daesh have grown supreme. Everything here is an interrelated catastrophe - Assad’s targeting of Sunni Muslims has led to the battle taking on an existential quality for that community, which has laid the groundwork for Daesh, with its state-building enterprises providing some kind of security and its simplistic, Manichean worldview appealing reassuringly to the sectarian aspect of the war. Furthermore, thanks to its centralised structure, the battle-hardened experience of its core fighters and its independence in terms of arms and funding, it is seen as an attractive prospect by some of those living and fighting through this nightmare.

However, despite all this, and this is not something that you would infer from Andy’s analysis, Daesh still remains numerically smaller than its adversaries in the Free Army brigades and the Islamic Front, not to mention Jabhat al-Nusra. The problem is primarily a material one, not an ideological one. Assad’s propaganda about the Syrian revolution being primarily about takfirism is no more plausible now than it was three years ago. The only real difference is that the moderate rebels are now stretched between two different forms of fascism: that of the Baathist regime and its allies and that of Daesh. The Syrian rebels simply do not have the resources to fight a war on two fronts. 

The most grim example of this came in January 2014, when after a series of incidents involving Daesh attacking and taking over Free Army territory and capturing and executing a popular rebel commander, coupled with fairly large protests by residents across the Aleppo governorate urging some sort of action against Daesh, the Free Army, in collaboration with the IF and Jaysh al-Mujahideen, eventually hit back and launched an offensive against Daesh. While the results of this operation were mixed, with the Free Army and IF gaining ground and forcing the withdrawal of ISIS in the Deir ez-Zor, Latakia and Idlib governorate, but losing out in Ar-Raqqa, the entire operation was a major victory in terms of showing the Syrian people and the world that the two main rebel forces, the FSA and IF, were willing to take on Daesh at the behest of civilian demands. Unfortunately, what was a victory for the resistance against this counter-revolutionary foe, also rapidly became a victory for the Assad regime. In March, it pounced upon the opportunity presented to it by the IF and Free Army’s diverted attention and resources towards Daesh, and launched a successful offensive backed up by Hezbollah and Iraqi Shia militias, to capture the city of Yabroud.

Andy, for whatever reason, takes none of this into account. After rightfully inviting debate on whether the preponderance of Daesh has ‘changed the nature of the uprising’, he then goes on to pose what is a quite unfortunate conclusion dressed up as question, asking, ‘can we unconditionally but critically support a Syrian Uprising when it’s victory would put ISIS in control of a territory stretching from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates?’ The obvious answer to this question is ‘no’, but why all of a sudden has supporting the Syrian rebels, who want to overthrow Assad and defeat Daesh, suddenly become synonymous with supporting Daesh uber alles? The problem with Andy’s question is that it suggests erroneously and dangerously that Daesh and the Syrian rebels are one hand, while also casting the Assad regime as a lesser evil.

The connotations of Andy’s question, perhaps unthinkingly, not only echo Assad regime propaganda, which would have us believe that barrel bombs in civilian areas of the rebel-held Free Aleppo, maiming and murdering indiscriminately, are somehow combating Daesh, but they also come very close, rather ironically, to the current imperialist Realpolitik arguments being made by establishment figures about some kind of unholy alliance with Assad against Daesh. The Assad regime isn’t waging a war against ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’, it is carrying out a genocidal war to maintain its own power and destroy those forces who have risen up against it – this is the point that should never be forgotten. Not only has the Assad regime all too often tactically ignored Daesh in favour of bombarding rebel-held territories, but it is also the single greatest cause of it maintaining a presence in Syria. Those who think that they can choose the Assad regime over Daesh, one brutal fascism over another, on the basis that there are no ‘moderate rebels’, as they’d have it, will actually be endorsing an argument that would see those real forces who are opposed to both Daesh and the far greater evil of Assad crushed once and for all.

The logic of Daesh is provided most forcefully by the continued sectarian slaughter being carried out by the Assad regime and its allies, while the logic of the Assad regime, with its appropriation of the ‘war on terror’, is provided most forcefully by Daesh. There is a third alternative, but it is delicate and precious. It is this alternative that, as I write this, faces the twin evils of Daesh and the Assad regime marching towards it in Free Aleppo; that faces bombardment, beheading and besiegement on an unprecedented scale. Yet still it fights on, despite being, as Barack Obama rather sneeringly put it when rubbishing the claims that his administration made a mistake by not providing more arms to the rebels, made up of ‘farmers and pharmacists’. It’s this alternative that risks everything to rise up against Daesh in Deir ez-Zor, while also resisting a regime that is doing everything in its power to brutalise and exterminate them. The people of Syria and their revolution against Baathist tyranny and now also the theocratic tyranny of Daesh are still alive. This is the force that demands our unconditional support and solidarity, however much it’s worth, now more than ever.