By ANDREW POLLACK
In the last month, all the factors fueling the Syrian civil war have taken on added weight and consequence. These include, on the one hand, massacres by the regime, positioning of imperialist powers for post-Assad influence, and financing by Gulf states of Islamist fighters from abroad; and impressive rebel military successes and continued mass mobilizations, on the other.
All these factors have increased the complexity of the situation and the perils that are involved. And while the war’s unfolding has multiplied the obstacles in the way of a positive outcome, the steadfastness of the revolution against the Bashar al-Assad regime has never been greater.
Western governments and media have dramatically stepped up their propaganda campaign trying to justify intervention, pointing, for instance, to Assad’s alleged use of Scud missiles in civilian areas and plans to use chemical weapons (though without proof). In mid-December, al-Jazeera and other news networks released a report and video of people from the rebel-held area of Homs who appeared to have inhaled some sort of poisonous gas during a government attack—but here too, proof is lacking.
At the same time, and also to justify their own intervention, the U.S. and its Western allies have stepped up their claims of alleged domination of the opposition by non-Syrian Islamist forces. The opposition, in contrast, says that the number and weight of such forces remain in a minority, and that imperialist propaganda on this point is a sign that the U.S. and friends are scared by the revolution’s military advances, and are positioning themselves to intervene at the last moment to put in place a pliable regime once Assad falls.
Washington and other imperialist powers have recognized the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the new bourgeois opposition coalition, as the “legitimate” government of Syria, and they hope the Council will be the leading force in a post-Assad regime.
Meanwhile, that regime, whose military might is increasingly constricted by rebel forces who have scored numerous successes against ground troops, has relied increasingly on attacks by warplanes and artillery—including several times killing dozens or even hundreds of civilians waiting in long lines for bread. This phase too may be ending, as rebels have begun to capture some of the regime’s air bases.
But the regime is still capable of mass slaughter. In fact, as we go to press, news comes of the deadliest day in the war, with Assad killing 399 on Dec. 29, of whom 220 were executed in a field in field in Deir Balbah, according to the Local Coordination Committees (LCCs). On Dec. 16, at least 25 Palestinian refugees were killed by the Assad regime in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, further embittering Palestinians resentful at being used for public relations purposes by the supposed “Resistance” leader Assad.
Still, the tide in the war has turned far enough against Assad that officials of his main foreign backer, Russia, have stated publicly their doubts about his ability to remain in power. On Dec. 28, the Russian government issued a formal invitation to Moscow to the head of the National Coalition (the invitation was rejected, at least for now).
Among the Islamist forces arrayed against Assad is a supposed al-Qaeda affiliate, the al-Nusra Front. Estimates vary wildly over the size and significance of this group. Nonetheless, after Washington denounced it as a terrorist group, the huge weekly Friday rallies in Syria adopted the theme of support for the Front and denunciation of U.S. meddling. (Other recent Friday themes had included opposition to UN and U.S. intervention, with organizers declaring that after months of inaction, rhetoric from Washington against Assad could only be intended to position itself as a player in post-Assad Syria.) But the LCCs, while rejecting U.S. attempts to dictate participation and policy for the revolution, have denounced bombings and other actions by the Front and other forces that have taken civilian lives.
Syrian revolutionaries continue to point to ideological diversity within the Nusra Front and other supposedly Islamist forces, noting statements by various of their leaders and members calling for a tolerant, secular regime after Assad falls. They have also noted that access to arms and training, often not available in Free Syria Army units, continues to swell the ranks of such forces regardless of the personal beliefs of its recruits.
Meanwhile, the unbelievably brave mass unarmed demonstrations continue. For example, the LCCs reported that 291 demonstrations occurred around the country on Friday, Dec. 21. Among the themes chosen were demands that the FSA “commit to its duty to protect civilians,” that the revolution continue until the ouster of the regime (and against settling for a UN-brokered “transition” leaving the bulk of the regime in place), solidarity with Palestinians in the Yarmouk camp, and maintenance of unity of all communities and religions against Assad.
In other encouraging news, in early December, a Dera’a branch of the Revolutionary Left Current was founded in Syria, comprising activists from a variety of Marxist and other left traditions. The RLC’s newspaper also reported on the assumption of power since the ouster of Assad forces of an elected popular council in the city of Duma. That council, in a city of over half a million, has committees constructed on both geographic and technical bases. In addition, “a free forum of the city of Duma has been set up, which meets twice a week on Wednesdays and Sundays for all questions concerning the city.”