Idlib stands on the threshold of liberation

Imperialism desperately seeks to put a spanner in the works to prevent the final rout of the jihadi menace.

The Syrian city of Idlib, whose civilian population of around two million souls has for so long been held hostage by terrorists, is at the time of writing completely surrounded by the liberation forces of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA).

The army controls all routes in and out of the city, with tanks and roadblocks positioned at every key junction. Humanitarian corridors have been opened up to facilitate the evacuation of civilians, with priority being given to women and children.

All is in readiness for a major offensive to retake the city and clear remaining jihadist hold-outs from the province of which it is the capital.

Faced with this imminent rout of anti-government jihadists, imperialism is crying foul, demanding a ceasefire and issuing dark warnings of large-scale military intervention if the government should be found to be engaging in ‘chemical warfare against its own people’.

The US government, helped by its stooges, not least the British and Turkish governments and sundry terrorist groups, has repeatedly fabricated provocations along these lines, each time falsely pointing the finger of blame at Damascus and covering up evidence showing that: a. phoney chemical attacks aimed at putting the Syrian government in the frame have been stage-managed, and b. it is the terrorists who have a history of having and using chemical weapons (unlike the government, which agreed in 2013 to get rid of its chemical arsenal, a task that was completed by 2016).

A false flag operation in the making

When the US national security advisor John Bolton started braying that the US “will respond very strongly” if the Syrian government launches a chemical attack and French president Macron promised airstrikes on the same fictitious pretext, it was clear that the imperialist dog, incapable of learning new tricks, was reduced to endlessly repeating the old ones – a routine stretching all the way back to Saddam Hussein’s imaginary weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and beyond.

As the liberation of Aleppo loomed back in 2016, the imperialist lie machine went into overdrive, and it did so again when the Syrian army was ridding eastern Ghouta of the jihadis who had terrorised civilians in Damascus for so many years.

So it should be no surprise that now, as the struggle to liberate the last sizeable part of Syria controlled by terrorists approaches crunch point, the old ‘chemical weapons’ tale should be trotted out yet again.

Russia has been swift to nip this latest propaganda assault in the bud. This time, instead of waiting for the so-called ‘White Helmets’ to get their act together and cook up a pretext for the US, Britain and France to bomb Syria, Moscow has gone public with evidence that a new provocation is already in the making, giving chapter and verse.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov spelt it out at a joint press conference with Syrian foreign minister Walid Muallem, telling journalists: “A new provocation is being prepared by the west to hamper the anti-terrorist operation in Idlib,” adding: “We have facts on the table and have issued a strong warning to our western partners through our defence ministry and our foreign ministry not to play with fire.” (Russia warns US not to ‘play with fire’ in Syria, RT, 30 August 2018)

Russia’s ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Antonov, met with top US diplomats to relate to them what was known to Russian intelligence about a planned chemical attack on civilians in Idlib being prepared by Tahrir al-Sham (aka al-Nusra Front, aka al-Qaeda in Syria).

Eight canisters of chlorine have been delivered to a village near Jisr al-Shughur city, and a band of mercenaries, trained by Olive, the Blackwater-derived British security company, arrived in the area to be in place to stage a ‘rescue’ of the victims. Antonov added that the plan involved child hostages. (Russia gives US intel on planned chemical weapons provocation in Syria, RT, 30 August 2018)

On 8 September, the Russian military were able to add some more detail, announcing that it had obtained “irrefutable” evidence that all the provocateurs, including Jabhat al-Nusra and the White Helmets, had already met up in Idlib to put the final touches to the planned false flag attacks in the cities of Jisr al-Shughur, Serakab, Taftanaz and Sarmin. (Syrian state YouTube channels ‘terminated’, RT, 9 September 2018)

Since then, Russia has kept the spotlight mercilessly on these squalid plots. On 15 September, it was able to reveal that Tahir al-Sham had delivered chlorine canisters to the village of Bsanqul, and at time of writing, Russia is maintaining a running commentary, sharing its intelligence information with whoever has ears to hear. (‘Chlorine delivered’: Idlib militants ‘readying false flag attack’, RT, 15 September 2018)

Whether or not Russia’s ongoing exposure of these imperialist dirty tricks is able to stop this gruesome provocation in its tracks, either way these revelations cannot but eat further away at US credibility on the world stage.

When US envoy to the UN Nikki Haley tells us that the Syrian government can “continue to go the route of taking over Syria”, but “if there are chemical weapons that are used, we know exactly who is going to use them”, she does nothing to repair that credibility, only inviting the cynical rejoinder: “Of course you know who is going to use chemical weapons – after all, you hired them.” (Psychic Haley knows ‘exactly’ who’s responsible for the next chemical attack in Syria, RT, 6 September)

Astana process sets the diplomatic pace

As regards calls for a ceasefire in Idlib: ceasefires always become a burning issue for the west when the Syrian Arab Army is making progress in the national-liberation struggle, only to be forgotten when the SAA faces setbacks.

The reality is that Syria and Russia, especially since the Astana peace process began, have done detailed reconciliation work on the ground, negotiating local ceasefires wherever possible. This painstaking work is little publicised in the west, whose interest in ceasefires is only pricked, as now, by the fear of decisive action being taken by the SAA to rid Syria of the foreign jihadis once and for all.

At the recent summit meeting in the Iranian capital Tehran of Russia, Turkey and Iran, the three guarantors of the Astana process (ongoing peace talks hosted in Kazakhstan), Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded a ceasefire, clearly hoping to take the heat off his own ‘Free Syrian Army’ (FSA) puppets.

Russian president Vladimir Putin explained that this was not possible in the absence of opposing parties at the table. Despite this knock-back, President Erdogan stuck with the summit, cooperating with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and President Putin over last-ditch efforts to separate dyed-in-the-wool terrorists from wavering armed oppositionists.

What the Turkish government in Ankara can really hope to achieve in trying to untangle its favoured band of ‘moderate’ cut-throats in the FSA from the more ‘extreme’ cut-throats of their rival jihadists in Tahrir al-Sham is dubious. What is significant, though, is that Ankara chooses to frame its efforts in the context of the Astana process (as opposed to the imperialist-sponsored talks in Geneva) – suggesting that, for the moment at least, its mistrust of Moscow and Tehran continues to be outpaced by its loathing for the US’s collaboration with the mainly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Indeed, the steady deterioration of US-Turkish relations across the board, due to a series of measures taken by the Trump administration that have severely impacted on the Turkish economy, can only serve to widen the gulf between Turkey on the one hand and the USA and the other Nato imperialist powers on the other, and lead Ankara to seek progressively closer relations with Moscow, Tehran and Beijng.

Erdogan pointed out: “As the world keeps its eyes on Idlib … under a pretext of fighting Daesh (aka Islamic State, aka Isis), some foreign forces have directed their troops into a different direction. We are incredibly concerned with the US continuing to support a terrorist organisation [referring to the SDF]. Although Daesh is no longer posing a threat, America sent several thousand planes with arms. This is illustrative of how they ‘support’ the region.” (Three things the Tehran summit exposed about Russia, Turkey, Iran ‘alliance’ by Maxim A Suchkov, al-Monitor, 9 September 2018)

Turkey also undertook to put pressure on its FSA proteges to cease drone attacks on Russia’s airbase at Hmeimim, near Latakia in western Syria. And, despite its long years of bankrolling and facilitating the self-same terrorists now being routed, Turkey also remained on-side for the joint final communique, which included the call for all armed groups in Idlib to lay down their arms.

Military build-up

Erdogan was not exaggerating when he spoke of Washington sending “thousands of planes with arms” to Syria. US battleship USS The Sullivans has been sent to the Persian Gulf; two other battleships, USS Ross and the USS Bulkeley, have been dispatched to the Mediterranean, and a B-1B Lancer strategic bomber has arrived in Qatar.

US marines have been busy too: when Russia warned that it would be conducting anti-terrorist operations in an area close to the illegal US airbase at al-Tanf (located on the Syria-Iraq border and within miles of the Jordanian border) – a warning which complied with agreed protocols aimed at avoiding accidental clashes – the US sent more than a hundred trigger-happy marines off in helicopter gunships to the airbase and proceeded to simulate air assaults and artillery barrages, using live fire.

This military escalation, and the accompanying escalation in the ‘false flag’ propaganda war, is now being matched in the Twittersphere. On 8 September, the YouTube channels belonging to President Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian defence ministry and Syria’s SANA news all went dark, with messages variously announcing that the accounts had been “terminated due to a legal complaint” or “terminated for a violation of YouTube’s Terms of Service”. (Syrian state YouTube channels ‘terminated’, RT, 9 September 2018)

Faced with intensifying threats of airstrikes against Syria, using for pretext an invented chemical attack by the Syrian army, Russia is wisely preparing for all eventualities. The first week in September saw extensive Russian exercises in the Mediterranean, with helicopters, fast-attack craft and armoured vehicles landing on the coast of Latakia from amphibious ships.

Dozens of battleships launched anti-ship missiles and fired high-calibre guns. Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov confirmed that the exercises were partly in connection with the Idlib situation.

It is imperialism in crisis that has plunged the world into such extreme dangers, necessitating this firm response, and it is those forces which stand in resolute opposition to imperialism that offer the best and only guarantee of future peace and progress in the world.

As the hate campaign against Russia gathers pace and the arena of imperialist war extends, it is more than ever urgent for workers to be clear about who are their friends and who are their enemies. Right now, as the liberation of Idlib draws near, victory for the Syrian Arab Army must be seen for what it is – as a victory for every anti-imperialist on the planet.

Hands off Syria!
Victory to the Syrian Arab Army!
Onward to the liberation of Idlib!

Postscript

On 17 September, following lengthy talks with Turkish president Recep Erdogan, Russian president Vladimir Putin announced that a demilitarised zone would be established in Idlib by 15 October, explaining that the “zone will be 15-20 km wide, with full withdrawal of hardline militants from there, including the Jabhat al-Nusra”. The zone is to be patrolled by Russian and Turkish troops.

President Putin added that by the end of 2018 the roads connecting Aleppo (in the north east) with Hama (to the south) and Latakia (to the south west) must be reopened for normal traffic. (Putin and Erdogan agree Idlib buffer zone to avert new Syria crisis, RT, 17 September 2018)

Motivated on the Russian side by the desire to minimise the humanitarian cost in the course of the liberation, this agreement appears also to be designed to give Erdogan a last window of opportunity to call off his FSA hounds and help isolate Jabhat al-Nusra from the general population.