Intensifying contradictions among imperialist powers and regional powers aligned to them are giving rise to new conflicts and wars in the Middle-east. The situation is growing increasingly complex as new conflicts supervene over and influence the ongoing conflicts.
Turkey has invaded the Afrin enclave controlled by Kurds led forces in Northern Syria on the western border with Turkey. Turkey had earlier occupied an area of Syria along its border including Al-bab thus separating Afrin enclave from the broader north-eastern Syria where Kurds’ YPG and SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) led by them have gained control to the east of Euphrates river and Manbij area to the west of the river. Both US and Russia have their military forces deployed in Syria. While Russia has deployed its Air Force to help Syrian Govt. and controls its air space, US has deployed more than two thousand of its military personnel to aid YPG forces besides providing equipment and ammunition.
The immediate provocation for Turkey’s Afrin offensive is an announcement by US Admn. to arm and equip 30,000 Kurd led forces to control north-eastern Syria and Syrian border with Turkey and Iraq. Trump Admn. has been claiming that it is in Syria only to defeat the ISIS. It has now unveiled its real intentions of staying in Syria even after the defeat of ISIS. US Admn. also made clear its intentions to play a bigger role in political settlement in Syria where Russia, Iran and Turkey had kept it out of their tripartite initiative. US Secretary of State has said that US would keep its troops in Syria to confront Assad Govt. and to contain Iranian influence in Syria.
After Russia militarily intervened in Syrian civil war in support of Basher Assad Govt., the tide of war in Western, Central and Southern parts of Syria turned in favour of Assad Govt. Turkey which had eyed increasing its influence in Syria and had been the main conduit of fighters and weapons brought into Syria thus found its path blocked by Russia. On the other hand, US imperialism’s allies in Syria were none other than Jihadis it was claiming to fight the world over. With the rise of ISIS, these groups could not confront it, most of their fighters joined them. Rise of ISIS which was ‘tolerated’, rather aided, by US in Syria soon ran over vast swathes of Iraq imperiling Baghdad Govt. and posed an increasing danger to Gulf monarchies particularly Saudi rulers where their brand of ideology found an already existing ground support. Left with no credible allies in Syria, US Admn. turned to Kurds. In Kurds they found a reliable ally willing to provide ground troops for their imperialist designs.
Thus declaration of Trump Admn. to fight ISIS was no statement of a principled approach but recasting of its alliances in this volatile region. Kurds have since long been suppressed by Govts. of Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria and their contiguous territory was carved into parts of these countries. Their national aspirations have since long been frustrated. They were shown some glimmer of hope after the fall of Ottoman empire but Sykes-Picot agreement ignored their aspirations and carved up their region into territories among these states. In the US drive for regime change in Syria in the aftermath of Arab Spring and resultant influx of fighters and weapons into Syria, Kurds were forced to defend their territory. They also saw in opportunity to realize their aspirations. With the withdrawal of Syrian Govt. Army and rise of ISIS and its attacks on Kurds and other minority ethnic groups further steeled the resolve of Kurds and other minority ethnic groups to fight against them. US imperialism unable to cobble a fighting force against Assad Govt. from among Jihadis, aligned with Kurds. US imperialists had base among Iraqi Kurds whom they supported in their struggle against Saddam Hussein Govt. of Iraq imposing no fly zone on Kurd areas.
With US imperialism and Russian imperialism both forging alliances against ISIS and its failure and unwillingness to mobilize the people, it lost areas under its control which had once equalled the size of France. ISIS was controlling vast territories in East and North of Syria besides some pockets in other parts. With tide of war turning against them, armies supported by Russia and America contended with each other for greater share of these areas. This led to vast areas bordering Turkey falling under the control of Kurds led forces. This particularly alarmed Turkey which has been conducting a war against Kurds in Southeastern Turkey. They feel that any territory under the control of Kurds will embolden the national aspirations of Kurds in Turkey. Eliminating control of Kurds in the areas in Syria became a top priority of Turkey. And this has brought in confrontation with US Admn.
Turkey’s offensive against Afrin is with the blessing of Russia and with tacit approval of Assad Govt. though Assad Govt. has formally disapproved of Turkish invasion. Russia had military presence in Afrin but they withdrew from the area just before the beginning of invasion by Turkey. Air Force of Turkey bombarded Afrin enclave which could not have been possible without approval of Russia and this has not met with any resistance from Syrian Govt. Turkey’s offensive in Afrin is a sort of trade-off with Idlib which is one of the de-escalation zone envisaged in Astana process. In Idlib, Hyat Tahrir al Sham, result of change of the name of Al Qaeda affiliated Al Nusra, is the main force. Russian Airforce has increased bombardment of this region and Syrian Army has renewed its offensive. Turkey has lodged a protest but did nothing else. It is clear that Turkey is acquiescing in this offensive in return of similar tacit approval of Russia and Govt. of Syria of its Afrin invasion. There is increasing call in Turkey of seeking cooperation with Damascus to contain Kurds. Though Erdogan is still shy of publicly acknowledging it, Govt. of Turkey has established diplomatic contracts with Govt. of Syria.
Turkish invasion of Afrin has led to Kurd organizations boycotting the Syria Dialogue held in Sochi in Russia.
US imperialism is caught in unenviable situation. Turkey is its largest military partner in NATO. On the other hand, Syrian Govt. is now controlling major part of Syria, particularly its populous areas in Central, South and Western regions. With ISIS mostly out of the way, the race for the areas under the control of Kurd led forces is increasing. While Syrian Govt. would like to bring these areas under its control, Turkey wants to dismantle the power of Kurds. US imperialism is hard pressed to help Kurd led forces in defending these areas.
Kurds are also wary of the designs of US imperialism. Iraqi Kurds too had banked on the support of US Admn. when they had held referendum on the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan. But Iraqi Govt. with the help of Iran trained Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) had quickly moved and captured almost all the areas disputed between Regional Govt. in Irbil and Central Govt. of Iraq. Iraqi Kurds have recently opened channels of communication with Iran with whom it shares a long border and Iran is quite influential in Baghdad. Syrian Kurds had also maintained relations with Russia even having an office in Moscow but Russian complicity in Turkey’s invasion has soured their relations. However, Syrian Kurds cannot rely solely on US Admn.
Turkey is bombarding Afrin and has also sent tanks and armoured vehicles into Afrin Enclave. It is meeting strong resistance from Kurd led forces. Turkey has also announced that after capturing Afrin Enclave it would send forces against Manbij area to the west of Euphrates river, the unfinished task of its Operation Euphrates Shield. Turkey also has a larger plan for the area. It wants to settle Syrian refugees currently in Turkey in these areas thus sending refugees back from its territory and changing demography of the region in the process.
The conflict in Syria and larger middle-east is going to be protracted. Many other conflicts in the Middle-East, in Yemen, in Sudan, in Libya are continuing. There is escalation of conflict in Sinai where forces of Egypt and Israel are collaborating in their war against Islamists. Imperialist powers mainly US imperialism and Russian imperialism are behind escalation of ongoing conflicts and eruption of new armed conflicts. Even other imperialist powers are intervening in attempts to increase their influence. Reactionary rulers are collaborating with these imperialist powers to maintain their anti-people rule and diverting the attention of the people from their misrule. In this complex situation, forces of the people are not able to play an independent effective role in defense of the independence of their countries and democratic rights of the people. They are being sand-witched between these rival groups. In this situation, struggle of Palestinians too is suffering as the regional powers with the backing of imperialist powers are trying to retain or expand their influence in the region and the struggle of Palestinians has taken a back seat for them, being viewed from the prism of their immediate interests. Open alliance of Arab monarchies, mainly Saudi Arabia, and military dictatorship in Egypt with Israel has created a minefield which Palestinians have to tread.