US role in Syria: the Iraq folly again

The US seeks to divide Syria into zones of influence and destroy the country's territorial integrity.

Syria may be the only country in the world to mount a reconstruction effort before the end of a deadly and devastating war. Unfortunately, there is no Marshall Plan to rebuild Syria, at war since March 2011, as there was for Germany after World War II. While the Syrian army is advancing against Islamic State and other jihadi insurgents, the cash-strapped government struggles to provide the 18 million citizens still in Syria with decent lives and to convince many of the five million refugees to return home by restoring security, electricity, water, roads and other infrastructure.

Syrian families and businesses are rebuilding their homes, shops, factories, and commercial properties. They receive no local or foreign aid but have no choice but to do it themselves if they are to recoup their lives. UN agencies supply humanitarian goods within Syria for displaced people and locations under siege but not to individuals. The trickle of Western NGO funds flows to insurgent-held areas.

Meanwhile, the US, European and Gulf Arab governments -- which continue to support Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and other largely fundamentalist groups -- insist that there can be no infusion of reconstruction money until there is a political settlement involving the removal of President Bashar al-Assad who retains the support of Russia and Iran.  Although Moscow and Tehran have promised to finance reconstruction, the cost will be in the hundreds of billions of dollars, which neither Russia nor Iran can afford.

Before the war, Aleppo was Syria's largest and most populous city, with more than three million inhabitants. Damascus, where the wartime population has trebled, has taken over. Aleppo was also the country's commercial hub and main industrial engine. Fares al-Shehabi, chairman of Aleppo's Chamber of Industry, told the Deccan Herald that three-quarters of the city's 40,000 factories have suffered devastating damage and pillage by the "moderate" Western-backed Free Syrian Army.

Machinery that survived bombardment was looted and transported to Turkey.  Some 10,000 plants in Aleppo's industrial zones have resumed operations and another 8,000 textile and food manufacturers located within city limits are working. Restarting Syria's industries is a major challenge for both the government and factory-owners. Electricity has been only partially restored while water, brought from the Euphrates 100 kilometres away, remains a major problem.

Shehabi said Western sanctions against Syrian banks, companies, and individuals are obstacles to reconstruction and harm Syrian civilians. "Post-war contracts will be given to countries that did not make war on Syria: Russia, Iran, India, China, and Brazil." Syrians blame the US and Europe for supporting insurgent groups which have wreaked death and devastation on the country. Offering companies from these countries lucrative contracts would be highly unpopular with Industrialists and citizens alike, particularly since the powers promoting regime change have not admitted defeat although their proxies have failed to topple Assad, who has emerged stronger from the war.

The US and its allies not only remain committed to punitive sanctions but the US has also used the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia to oust Islamic State from the city of Raqqa, its capital, and to create a Kurdish-run autonomous region in the north. The Sunni majority inhabitants of Raqqa and the province of the same name are certain to resist, perhaps violently.

Protests have already taken place in Kurdish-held towns and villages along the border with Turkey where the Kurds have tried to introduce their language in schools where pupils are Arab. Although claiming to be "democratic", the Kurds are also violating the civil rights of former residents from the region under Kurdish control by denying entry if they cannot prove they were born there. Such misbehaviour of the Kurds towards other ethnic groups -- Arabs, Armenians and Turkmen (ethnic Turks) -- is certain to create resentment and instability.

The US is also deploying the SDF to challenge the Syrian army in Raqqa and Deir al-Zor provinces where Islamic State still holds pockets of territory. The US seeks to halt the army's advance east of the Euphrates River to the border with Iraq. The US claims Iran seeks to establish a corridor between its border across Iraq and Syria to Lebanon where Tehran's ally, Hizbollah, is a power in the region.

The US justification for this policy is nonsensical. These two provinces are vast and Syria has a very long border with Iraq. Therefore, the SDF, a militia of a few thousand men, cannot control the provinces or the frontier. The real purpose of the policy is to divide Syria into zones of influence, thereby destroying the country's territorial integrity. This effort can only prolong conflict in Syria as Damascus, Moscow andTehran are determined to prevent the division of Syria.

The US intervention, even as the campaign against Islamic state winds down, shows that Washington has learned nothing from the 2003 invasion and destruction of Iraq, where the political and military vacuum America created enabled al-Qaeda to fertilise and spawn Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, the radical siblings threatening West Asia, the Indian sub-continent and the rest of the world.

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