31 Aug 2017
Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, has been reduced to rubble. It has been finally conquered, snatched back from the notorious group, Daesh, after months of merciless bombardment by the US-led war coalition, and a massive ground war.
But ‘victory’ can hardly be the term assigned to this moment. Mosul, once Iraq’s cultural jewel and model of co-existence, is now a ‘city of corpses’, as described by a foreign journalist who walked through the ruins, while shielding his nose from a foul smell.
“You’ve probably heard of thousands killed, the civilian suffering,” Murad Gazdiev said. “What you likely haven’t heard of is the smell. It’s nauseating, repulsive, and it’s everywhere – the smell of rotting bodies.”
Actually, the “smell of rotting bodies” can be found everywhere that Daesh has been defeated. The group that once declared a Caliphate – an Islamic state – in Iraq and Syria in 2014, and was left to freely expand in all directions, is now being hurriedly vanquished.
Such a fact leaves one wondering how a small group, itself a spawn of other equally notorious groups, could have declared, expanded and sustained a ‘state’ for years, in a region rife with foreign armies, militias and the world’s most powerful intelligences?
But should not such a question be rendered irrelevant now, considering that Daesh is finally being routed, in most violent and decisive methods?
Well, this is what almost everyone seems to agree on; even political and military rivals are openly united over this very objective.
Aside from the city of Mosul in Iraq, Daesh has also been defeated in its stronghold in the city of Raqqa, in the east of Syria.
Those who astonishingly survived the battles of Mosul and Raqqa are now holed in Deir ez-Zor, which promises to be their last major battle.
In fact, the war on Daesh is already moving to areas outside large population centers where the militant group had sought safe haven. Yet, Daesh militants are being flushed out of these regions as well, for example, in the western Qalamoun region on the Syria-Lebanon border.
Even the open desert is no longer safe. The Badiya Desert, extending from central Syria to the borders of Iraq and Jordan, is now witnessing heavy fighting, centered in the town of Sukhnah.
Brett McGurk, US special envoy for the ‘Global Coalition to Counter ISIS’, recently returned to the US after spending a few days the region. He talked to CBS television network with palpable confidence.
Daesh forces are “fighting for their life, block-by-block,” he said, reporting that the militant group had lost roughly 78 percent of areas it formerly controlled in Iraq since its peak in 2014, and about 58 percent of its territories in Syria.
Expectedly, US officials and media are mostly emphasizing military gains they attribute to US-led forces and ignore all others, while Russian-led allies are doing just the opposite.
Aside from the numerous humanitarian tragedies associated with these victories, none of the parties involved have taken any responsibility for the rise of Daesh, in the first place.
They have to, and not only as a matter of moral accountability. Without understanding and confronting the reasons behind the rise of Daesh, one is certain that the fall of Daesh will spawn yet another group with an equally nefarious, despairing and violent vision.
Those in mainstream media, who have attempted to deconstruct the roots of Daesh, unwisely confront its ideological influences without paying the slightest heed to the political reality from which the group was incepted.
Whether Daesh, Al-Qaeda or any other, such groups are typically born and reborn in places suffering from the same, chronic ailment: a weak central government, foreign invasion, military occupation and state terror.
Terrorism is the by-product of brutality and humiliation, regardless of the source, but is most pronounced when that source is a foreign one.
If these factors are not genuinely addressed, there can be no ending to terrorism.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that Daesh was molded, and thrived, in countries like Iraq, Syria, Libya and regions like the Sinai Desert. Moreover, many of those who answered Daesh’s call also emerged from communities that suffered the cruelty of merciless Arab regimes, or neglect, hate and alienation in western societies.
The reason that many refuse to acknowledge such a fact – and would fight tooth and nail to discredit such an argument – is that an admission of guilt would make many responsible for the very creation of the terrorism they claim to fight.
Those who are content in blaming Islam, a religion that was one of the main contributing factors to the European cultural renaissance, are not simply ignorant; many of them are guided by sinister agendas. But their mindless notion of blaming religion is as stupid as George W. Bush’s ill-defined ‘war on terror.’
Wholesale, uninformed judgements can only prolong conflict.
Moreover, generalized notions prevent us from a narrowed-down attempt at confronting specific, and clearly obvious links, for example, between Al-Qaeda’s advent in Iraq and the US invasion of that country; between the rise of the sectarian-brand of al-Qaeda under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the sectarian division of that country under US administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, and his allies in the Shia-led government in Baghdad.
It should have been clear from the start that Daesh, as notoriously violent as it is, was one of the symptoms, not the cause. After all, Daesh is only 3-years-old. Foreign occupation and war in the region predates its inception by many years.
Although we were told – by Daesh itself, but also media pundits – that Daesh is here to stay, it turned out that the group is but a passing phase in a long, ugly montage, rife with violence and bereft of both morality and the intellectual courage to examine the true roots of violence.
It is likely that the victory over Daesh is short-lived. The group will surely develop a new warfare strategy or will further mutate. History has taught us that much.
It is also likely that those who are proudly taking credit for systematically and efficiently annihilating the group – along with whole cities – will not pause for a moment to think of what they must do differently to prevent a new Daesh from taking form.
Strangely, the ‘US-led Global Coalition to Counter ISIS’ seems to have access to the firepower needed to turn cities into rubble, but not the wisdom to understand that unchecked violence inspires nothing but violence; and that state terror, foreign interventions and collective humiliation of entire nations are all the necessary ingredients to restart the bloodbath all over again.
The Trump administration announced new, unprecedented sanctions against Venezuela on Friday that are designed to cut off financing to Venezuela. The Trump team pretends that the sanctions are only directed at the government. But as any economist knows, this is clearly false. By starving the economy of foreign exchange, this action will harm the private sector, most Venezuelans, the poor, and the vulnerable.
These sanctions will deepen the severe depression that Venezuela’s economy has been in for more than three and a half years, which has already shrunk income per person by more than a third. They will worsen the shortages of food and essential medicines. They will exacerbate the country’s balance of payments crisis, and therefore feed the spiral of inflation (600 percent over the past year) and depreciation of the currency (on the black market) that has been accelerating since late 2012.
And they will further polarize an already divided country. Opposition leaders who support the sanctions, or are associated with them because of their longstanding ties to the US, will be seen as treasonous ― much as Republicans in the Trump administration, including Trump himself, are portrayed by those who believe they collaborated with the Russian government to win the 2016 election.
Trump’s sanctions are also illegal under both US and international law. They violate the charter of the Organization of American States (Chapter 4, Article 19) and other international treaties that the US has signed. To comply with US law, the president also has to lie and say that Americans are suffering from a “national emergency” due to an “unusual and extraordinary threat to national security” posed by Venezuela. This is obviously ridiculous.
The sanctions do their damage primarily by prohibiting Venezuela from borrowing or selling assets in the US financial system. They also prohibit CITGO, the US-based fuel industry company that is owned by the Venezuelan government, from sending dividends or profits back to Venezuela. In addition, if Venezuela wanted to do a debt restructuring, so as to reduce debt service during the current crisis, it would be unable to do this because it wouldn’t be able to issue new bonds. Basically, Trump’s executive order will cut off most sources of potential financing, other than from Russia or China. This would cause imports, which have already fallen by more than 75 percent over the past five years, to fall further. This means more shortages and further economic decline, since much of Venezuela’s domestic production is dependent on imports.
The executive order carries an exemption for oil imports from Venezuela.
Why would Trump do something that even his right-wing allies in Latin America, and most of the Venezuelan opposition did not support when Trump threatened to do this last month? As with many apparently irrational decisions by this president, it’s not that easy to know for sure. But it seems that the strategy is to further destroy the economy to the point where people will rise up and overthrow the government, or perhaps to provoke a military coup.
In the last few weeks, the violent street protests have died down. Most of the opposition leaders have agreed to participate in the long-delayed October regional elections. This is a positive development for those who would like to see a peaceful resolution of the conflict. But for regime-change extremists like Marco Rubio, whom Trump seems to be listening to on Venezuela, peace is bad news, especially for the media strategy of “if it bleeds, it leads.” They may see exacerbating the economic crisis and suffering to their advantage, hoping to bring people back into the streets and away from the negotiations that will be necessary to settle the conflict.
Finally, we cannot discount the possibility that Trump has also issued this order as yet another distraction from his bad political fortunes at home. Distraction has been his modus operandi since his presidential campaign last year. In this case it is particularly dangerous because he has also threatened military action against Venezuela, and US sanctions of this magnitude have often been followed by military attacks.
As Trump’s disgraced presidency continues to putrefy, the urge to rescue it with war will certainly grow. Venezuela is not the best target for public relations purposes because the “security threat” is a tough sell. But Trump and his advisers may see it as less risky than some of the alternatives, such as North Korea, Iran, or Syria.
A strange thing happened the other week. The US president officially ordered the CIA to halt it’s war against Syria. So it wasn’t global warming then, or “Assad” or neoliberalism, it wasn’t even a civil war. The war maker in Syria was the CIA. Of course, the CIA will unofficially continue it’s war against Syria. But we can savour for a moment the truth. And an “official CIA defeat”.
And why only savour? Why not rejoice? Because this momentous “victory” may be the turning point in the century old Western assault on the Muslim people. What many call the “arc of resistance” (Shiite and Secular) has now solidified, while the Western imperial offensive has faltered.
US general Wesley Clark gave the game away years ago when he revealed US intentions in the Middle East after 9/11: seven countries were to be invaded (Iraq, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan and Iran). France’s ex-foreign minister Roland Dumas also gave the game away when he revealed that the British State (a definite CIA asset) was preparing for a war on Syria two years before the start of the Syrian Holocaust in 2011. And the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh gave the game away too in his 2007 New Yorker article: “The Redirection”. In this piece he revealed how the US were hooking up once again with the Saudi/Sunni fundamentalists in and around Syria.
And if all this revelation wasn’t enough – Wikileaks exposed the machinations of the US embassy in Damascus in the first decade of this century. Destabilisation was it’s agenda. CIA “diplomacy” was the rule. In short, Syria was in the cross-hairs of the Empire. In fact it has been so for the last sixty or so years. Plans for mayhem in Syria have been on the imperial table since the 1950s (Operation Straggle).
All this conspiring fused like an atomic bomb over Syria in 2011. However the Syrian resistance to it and eventual “victory” over it isn’t receiving the enormous credit and respect it deserves. Syria took a hit for humanity. And has scored a victory for humanity. And humanity – or at least the Western part of it – chooses to look the other way.
Western “humanitarians” blame Syria for the Syrian Holocaust. The reports of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (both on intimate terms with the US State Department) pour nothing but scorn upon the Syrian Arab Republic. And even some Western radicals blame Syria. From the get-go Noam Chomsky wanted regime change. And “a thousand and one” other leftists honoured the Kurds in northern Syria and other revolutionary illusions rather than say anything good about the Syrian Republic.
In the grotesquely distorted Western account of the war on Syria: the many ways of Western imperialism was and still is missing. The CIA and it’s modus operandi was and still is not being held to account: the buying of informers, traitors, journalists, mercenaries, movies, oscars, etc..
In a classic case of shameless liberalism – when it came to Syria the covert and overt actions of the West were sidelined and one “foreign” individual was highlighted: the Syrian President.
And in a disappointing display of critical thinking a large proportion of the Western left ended up pointing at one “foreigner” too: the Syrian President.
While the right wing Western habit has always been to blame foreigners or strangers. The postmodern (post-revolutionary) Western left have fallen into the same habit. Why this blunt criticism? Why the reluctance to acknowledge the greatest anti-imperialist victory in postmodern times?
Because a “dictator” is responsible for it? So? The Republic’s life was on the line! Does that existential point not register in Western heads? Are we blind to the genocidal results of our Western policies when they’re imposed on vulnerable Third World nations? Are we so pure that we can’t acknowledge an alternative political model? Syria’s President could have abandoned ship. But he actually acted like a President. He stayed when it would have been easier to run.
In the West our Presidents give up resisting injustice at the first sign of trouble. In Europe, for example, not one dares to fight the enemies of the people (The European Central Bank and NATO). So we’re unaccustomed to seeing a leader with backbone. When we do see one we think it’s unbelievable. They’re must be something wrong. He must be a “dictator”. When in fact it’s the other way around: Western “capitalist democracy” is the dictatorship – especially when it’s exported to the non-West.
In postmodern times the Western concern or support for “Arab revolution” is fake. It has no basis. Therefore for Westerners to stand on the sidelines and lecture Syria about “revolution” is crass. To put it bluntly: we in the West today have no revolutionary credentials. So what makes us experts on “revolution” anywhere? Indeed why do we see it where it is not? Why is our judgement of Syria based on the highest revolutionary standards when a voracious imperial force is clearly out to destroy it? Why do we project our own desires for change on a people that just want to survive a Holocaust. The self righteous Western criticism of Syria is to say the least misplaced. To say the most: it has been an unwitting victim of a CIA media blitzkrieg.
And the neoliberal nature of Syria? Every country in the world today is more or less neoliberal. But apart from Libya no other country has been torn asunder like Syria. Something else was the cause of the Syrian Holocaust. To explain “Syria” by pointing to the neoliberal breakdown of society therefore is a crass cop out. And the reluctance to point at the CIA as the cause during the last six years has been cowardly.
We know the CIA’s record. Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, Congo, Angola, Vietnam, Indonesia, Laos, etc.. The secret wars and secret destabilisation campaigns are not a secret anymore. So why the innocence when it comes to Syria? In three words: the Arab Spring.
However after six years of horror the “Spring” narrative makes no sense. In Syria’s case its a blindfold. Since when did CIA activities ever amount to being a “Spring”? It has been a well crafted distraction. The great irony though is that today after the “victory” of the Syrian Republic, we’re likely to see a real Syrian Renaissance – a genuine Spring of the Syrian people.
And before someone says “Russian Imperialism” let’s push that idea aside. The fact is that the Russian economy is smaller than California’s. It simply doesn’t have the the economic capacity to be an empire. And to suggest otherwise is farcical. To repeat our main point: the life of the Syrian Republic was on the line during the last few years. Therefore the Republic had every right to use whatever advantage it had. In wars “allies” are a fact of life.
As regards Russia’s “rush” to help Syria – the best analogy is the Cuban rush to help Angola in the 1970s. Cuba’s entry into that CIA war wasn’t “Cuban imperialism” but an act of international solidarity. And it changed the history of modern Africa for the better. It was the beginning of the end of apartheid South Africa.
And that’s precisely the significance of the Syrian victory. By patriotically fighting and by defeating the killing machine of the West the Syrian people have not just saved their country but have saved their region from further destruction. And if this is the case then it is the beginning of the end of apartheid Israel.
Eric Ludlow & Oscar Grenfell
Two recent reports, released over the past month, provide a further glimpse into the deepening social disaster affecting broad layers of the Australian population. The crisis is characterised by declining real incomes, a massive growth of debt and soaring house prices that are out of the reach of most workers and young people.
The annual Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey, produced by the University of Melbourne, found that real median household disposable income declined by a total of over $1,000 between 2009 and 2015.
The figure stood at $77,411 in 2009, before plunging to $73,500 in 2011. It was just over $76,000 in 2015, when the latest data was collected. Between 2014 and 2015, however, median disposable income fell by roughly $600. When “equivalised” in the report, the 2015 median disposable income for a single person was just $46,000, meaning that 50 percent of respondents earn less than that.
The figures are among a series from the survey, based on a sample of more than 17,000 people. The data underscored the social reversal which has been imposed by governments and the corporate elite since the 2008 financial crisis, through real wage cuts, widespread sackings and the gutting of social services.
Young people have been among the hardest hit by this agenda. Average weekly earnings for employed university graduates, under 30-years-old, in the year after they completed their studies, plummeted from $1,428 for those who graduated between 2006 and 2009, to $957, for those who completed their course between 2012 and 2013.
The decline has gone hand in hand with the rise of part-time, casual and precarious work, which accounts for up to 40 percent of all employment, and is particularly prevalent among young people.
Full-time employment, for the 2010–2011 university graduate cohort, three years after they received their degree, was just 56.6 percent, compared with 73 percent for those who finished studies between 2006 and 2009. Underscoring the same trend, part-time employment, a year after university, rose from 19 percent for graduates from 2006 to 2009, to over 25 percent for the 2012 to 2013 cohort.
The falls in income documented in the HILDA report tally with other figures, including record low official wage growth, which was just 1.9 percent for the last financial year. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in March this year, found that labour’s share of national gross domestic product has fallen to the lowest level in history, while the proportion going to corporate profits has continued to rise, reaching a high of 24 percent.
The HILDA report pointed to inequality in income growth. The income of the top 10 percent of households grew by 1.91 times the median rate in 2014. This was the fourth time in the five years to 2014 that income rises for this cohort outstripped median growth rates. The report highlighted entrenched inequality, noting that an increase in income stability over the past 15 years indicated that, “people with low incomes … are more likely to have persistently low incomes.”
The fact that much of the real income decline is being registered by the poorest layers of the workforce was underscored by ME Bank’s Financial Comfort Report, released at the end of July.
Based on a survey of 1,500 households, it found that 45 percent of those earning less than $40,000 a year suffered an income decline over the previous six months. Only 22 percent of households in that bracket saw an income rise. Other vulnerable sections of the working class reported stagnant or declining incomes, including 91 percent of unemployed respondents, 80 percent of retirees and 76 percent of students.
By contrast, 46 percent of households earning over $100,000 a year saw income gains, with only 17 percent reporting falls.
The bulk of the respondents reported that the divergence between declining incomes and a rising cost of living was creating increasing financial uncertainty. Some 51 percent said they had no cash left at the end of the month after paying bills and living costs, meaning they are living from pay-cheque to pay-cheque, and could fall into a financial crisis as a result of a job loss, or any unexpected expenses.
The main living expense was housing. Around 48 percent of respondents with a mortgage were spending more than 30 percent of their disposable income on housing, the figure generally used to define “mortgage stress.” Some 10 percent of all respondents reported allocating more than 60 percent of their disposable income to housing, a measure of severe stress.
Average house prices have doubled over the past eight years in Sydney and Melbourne, the centres of the property boom, reaching $1 million in the former, and more than $900,000 in the latter, this year. Over the same period, mortgage stress has grown, currently affecting an estimated 800,000 households, while the national household debt to income ratio has soared to 189 percent, the second highest ratio in the world. The HILDA report found that among young mortgage-holders, housing debt rose from $169,000 in 2002, to $337,000 in 2014.
In line with these trends, the percentage of respondents to the ME Bank survey who said they would not be able to service their minimum debt repayments over the next 6 to 12 months grew to 9 percent, a 4 percent increase in 6 months.
Among those earning less than $40,000 a year, the number of respondents who said they were unlikely to be able to pay their debts was almost 20 percent. Another 33 percent of all respondents across income levels said they would “just manage to make the minimum payments.” The responses underscored the warnings that mounting debt could result in a rush of mortgage defaults, which would threaten the stability of the entire property market, upon which the Australian banks, and the entire economy, are heavily reliant.
The HILDA report also made clear the housing boom has “priced” broad sections of the population out of the market.
Home ownership rates among under 40-year-olds fell from 29.2 percent in 2002, to less than 20 percent in 2014. The decline has been most marked in Sydney, where youth ownership rates plummeted from 31 percent to 20 percent in the space of just two years, between 2012 and 2014. As a result, by 2015, 60 percent of men, and 48 percent of women, between 22 and 25 years of age, live with their parents. These are increases of around 20 percent since 2001.
Working-class families have been severely affected. Among 18- to 39-year-olds with children, home ownership fell from 56 percent, to 39 percent, between 2002 and 2014.
The historic reversal in ownership rates was a factor in the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute labelling 1.3 million households as being in a state of “housing need” this month. The term describes those who have been locked out of home ownership, or who are suffering rental stress.
The deepening social crisis around housing is a consequence of the decimation of public housing stocks by successive Labor and Liberal-National governments, and the assault on the jobs, wages and conditions of workers they have overseen over the past three decades.
At the same time, the frenzy of speculation in the property market is a result of a raft of incentives put in place for the major investors, and the deepening crisis of the economy. Unable to make sufficient profit from productive investments, the financial elite has poured money into real estate.
It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. The same might apply to a graph. One such case is a striking graphic, published in the Financial Times this week, showing a downturn in the wealth of the world’s top-ten billionaires in the financial crisis of 2008, and then roaring back, at an even greater rate than in the past, to reach new heights.
As the brief article noted, the net worth of the world’s “very wealthiest people took a hit during the financial crisis as the stock market tumbled—but that pause would be short lived.” The crisis proved to be but a “temporary setback.”
The graphic serves to underscore the real meaning of the word “recovery,” which is so frequently bandied about by the heads of the world’s major economic institutions to describe the state of the world economy.
In fact, it has nothing to do with economic reality. On the contrary, it reveals the state of the world’s ultra-wealthy, in contrast to the situation confronting hundreds of millions of working people in the major economies, where real incomes remain below their level before the 2008 crisis, and wealth has contracted.
While the world’s working class continues to battle with the ongoing effects of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, the ultra-wealthy have powered ahead to the extent that, as the Oxfam agency reports, eight billionaires now hold wealth equal to that of more than half the world’s population combined.
The main reason for the soaring wealth of the super-rich have been the policies of the Fed and the other major central banks in pumping trillions of dollars into the global financial system. The top ten central banks now hold an estimated $21 trillion worth of financial assets on their balance sheets.
A graph of the rise of the major US stock market index, the S&P 500, for example, shows that its continuous upturn since the low point of March 2009 tracks almost exactly the increase in financial assets held by the US Federal Reserve, which has expanded its holdings from around $800 billion before the crisis to some $4.5 trillion today.
The ultra-wealthy have not only benefited from the rise in asset prices. Because of the accompanying low interest rate regime, they have been able to increase their wealth through financial leveraging.
A simple arithmetical example makes this process clear. If $100 is invested in a financial asset, which then increases over the year by $6, then the rate of return for capital invested will be 6 percent. But if money is borrowed at 3 percent and used to finance, say, 90 percent of the purchase price ($90), then, after paying back the loan ($90) and interest ($2.70) at the end of the process, the return on the $10 investment will be $33. That is, a rate of return of 33 percent for every $10 invested.
Of course, the sums involved in such operations run into billions of dollars and such money is only available to those already in possession of vast amounts. Truly, to him that hath, shall be given.
One of the main ways companies leverage their operations is by using funds to finance share buybacks. Apple and other tech giants are some of the main beneficiaries of this process.
The fastest area of the growth of wealth is in tech companies. According to the rich list compiled by Forbes, the total worth of the world’s richest tech billionaires has exceeded $1 trillion this year, for the first time ever. It represents a rise in wealth for this group of around 21 percent in the past 12 months.
According to the Forbes list, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is at the top of the pile with $84.5 billion, slightly ahead of Amazon chief Jeff Bezos with $81.7 billion. Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder of Facebook, comes in third with $69.6 billion. His wealth has increased by almost $16 billion in the space of just a year.
Bezos was another fast climber up the rich list. His fortune expanded by $15.5 billion as a result of a 25 percent increase in the value of Amazon stock. At one point he even became, for a brief period, the richest man in the world.
Balzac, the great 19th century French novelist, once noted that behind every great fortune lies a great crime. In the 21st century, one could add to this: new forms of exploitation. One of the major factors behind the rise and rise of Amazon, along with the fortunes of Bezos, has been the development of new and ever more intensive forms of exploitation based on the use of hi-tech systems.
The Amazon business model is only one expression of the changes in the nature of employment and the more intensive extraction of profit. The development of the so-called gig economy, in which workers are employed on zero hours contracts, with no benefits, able to hired and fired at will, is becoming an ever larger component of the labour market in all the major advanced economies, providing a significant boost to the bottom line.
This has been coupled with the growth of part-time and casual work, to such an extent that more than 90 percent of all the new jobs created in the US under the Obama administration are estimated to have fallen into this category.
The rich list continues to be dominated by Americans, but others are making a move up the scale. The third and fourth biggest gainers on the tech rich list are Chinese. Tencent CEO Ma Huateng increased his wealth by $14.7 billion to $36.7 billion, while Alibaba founder and executive chairman, Jack Ma, the richest man in Asia, has lifted his fortune to $37.4 billion, an increase of $11.6 billion in the year.
Some $1.3 billion of this increase came in just one day, when, earlier this month, the company announced its quarterly earnings results, showing a 58 percent increase in revenue over the previous year. Ma ranks as the 17th richest person on the planet.
The process of wealth accumulation is not the result of any kind of economic “recovery,” nor the supposed “entrepreneurship” of its beneficiaries. Rather, it is the outcome of a system characterised, as Marx put it, by the accumulation of fabulous wealth at one pole and poverty and misery at the other.
Bill Van Auken
The Pentagon has rejected an urgent call by United Nations officials for a humanitarian pause in the US-led siege of Raqqa to allow the up to 25,000 civilians trapped in the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)-controlled Syrian city to escape the intensifying bloodshed.
“Going slower only delays the liberation and subsequently costs more civilians their lives,” Col. Joe Scrocca, director of public affairs for the command of Operation Inherent Resolve, as the Pentagon has dubbed the US military offensive in Iraq and Syria, told the website Middle East Eye. “The only way to save the people is to liberate them from ISIS. The longer this takes, the more the people will suffer under ISIS.”
The nearly three-month old offensive has already devastated the city, driving out some 270,000 of its inhabitants and leaving much of it in rubble. Those left behind lack access to food, water, electricity and medical attention. Residents have reportedly been reduced to eating leaves and grass to stay alive. At least half of those trapped in the city are children.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians have been killed by US bombs, rockets and artillery shells. The London-based monitoring group Airwars gave a conservative estimate at the end of last week of at least 725 such deaths since the siege began in June. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, another monitoring group based in the UK, gave the figure of 773 civilians killed by US strikes, including 197 children and 119 women.
US proxy ground troops organized in the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces, which is dominated by the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia and operates under the direction of US special operations troops, have reportedly captured up to 60 percent of the city, leaving what remains of the population trapped in heavily populated urban areas.
The top advisor to the UN Special Envoy for Syria told the media in Geneva recently that he could not imagine a “worse place on earth” than five densely populated central Raqqa neighborhoods in which the majority of the city’s civilian population has been subjected to relentless bombardment.
Calling for a pause in the siege, Egeland stated: “This is the time to try anything to allow the safe escape. At the moment few people leave, because they are afraid for their lives. There is heavy shelling from the surrounding and encircling forces, and there (are) constant air raids from the coalition. So the civilian casualties are large. There seem to be no escape for these civilians.”
Egeland specifically called for an end to US attacks on boats carrying civilians attempting to flee Raqqa by crossing the Euphrates River.
Earlier this summer, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the commander of the US forces in Iraq and Syria, announced that the US military would “shoot every boat we find.”
In addition to scores of daily air strikes, US Marine units have provided support to the advance of the Kurdish militia by shelling the city with Howitzers firing 155 mm shells and GPS-directed 227 mm mortars. In a recent report, Amnesty International condemned the use of these weapons, “which have a wide impact radius and which cannot be accurately pinpointed at specific targets,” and noted that their use against “civilian neighborhoods has exacted a significant toll on civilians.”
Their use, the report suggested, constituted “not only disproportionate but also indiscriminate attacks,” i.e., a war crime. The Pentagon has also used white phosphorous shells in Raqqa, a chemical weapon that burns flesh to the bone and has been banned under the Geneva Conventions for use in populated areas.
On Wednesday, US-led command reported that it had conducted 51 airstrikes in Syria the previous day--46 of them against targets in Raqqa--involving 84 separate “engagements.”
On the ground, Raqqa is being Slaughtered Silently, a monitoring group originally formed to expose the crimes of ISIS within the city, reported on its Twitter account Wednesday that there had been 140 airstrikes over the previous 48 hours, including one that destroyed the city’s Almoasa hospital.
Washington is reprising in Raqqa the criminal slaughter it directed against the civilian population of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, where estimates of the number of civilians killed during a US-led, nine-month-long siege range as high as 40,000.
In both cities, the Pentagon has pursued what the US defense secretary, recently retired Marine Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis, described in May as “annihilation tactics” that have entailed indiscriminate violence against heavily populated areas.
The slaughter in both Mosul and Raqqa has been largely passed over in silence by the same US and Western media that relentlessly denounced both the Syrian government and its ally Russia for war crimes in the retaking of eastern Aleppo from Al Qaeda-linked militias, an operation whose civilian toll pales in comparison to that inflicted by the US-led sieges.
The US rejection of the UN call for a pause in the siege against Raqqa is driven not by any desire to save human lives or “liberate” civilians from the clutches of ISIS. Rather, Washington is determined to wage an uninterrupted offensive with the aim of seizing control of strategically vital territory in eastern Syria and western Iraq held previously by ISIS and thereby denying it to Syrian government forces backed by Iran and Russia.
While the US and its proxy forces have laid siege to Raqqa, the Syrian army has largely driven ISIS forces out of the central desert region, advancing east into Deir Ezzor province to within 40 miles of its capital, where government forces and an estimated 200,000 civilians have endured an ISIS siege since 2015.
The area is the center of the Syrian oil industry and borders Iraq. Washington aims to seize control of the border area to counter Iranian influence in the region and interrupt a land route linking Iran through Iraq to Syria, Lebanon and its ally, Hizbollah the powerful Lebanese Shia political movement and militia. To that end, US and British forces have established a base in southeastern Syria, training “rebels” that it hopes to employ in seizing territory from ISIS and denying it to Damascus.
The threat of this scramble for eastern Syria escalating into a wider regional war has been fueled by the aggressively anti-Iranian posture adopted by the Trump administration, which appears determined to smash up the 2015 nuclear agreement reached by Tehran with the so-called P5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States—plus Germany).
Meanwhile, the US intervention has been further complicated by armed clashes between US troops and a Turkish-backed militia in northern Syria near the city of Manbij, which was seized by the US-backed and Kurdish-dominated SDF last year. Turkey has opposed the consolidation of an autonomous Kurdish-controlled entity on its border.
“Our forces did receive fire and return fire and then moved to a secure location,” Pentagon spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon said Wednesday, adding that the US told Turkey to make clear to the forces it backs in Syria that that firing on US forces “is not acceptable.” These same “rebels” were previously armed and supported by the CIA.