Communist Party International Committee BRIEFING December 2015 extended to a non-Arab living on Arab soil provided he “detached himself from any racial grouping”. While Ba’athism used non-racist and non-religious criteria to define Arab citizenship and could thereby appeal to Sunni, Shia, Christian and others alike, the obvious weakness was its lack of appeal to the many minority non-Arab communities living within the Arab world, in particular the very substantial Kurdish population. The Ba’athist version of socialism avoided concepts of class struggle focused on the idealist notion of a culturally based Arab spirit and so was opposed to “materialistic” communism.
SYRIA POPULATION 22,530,746 ETHNIC GROUPS Arab 90%, Kurds 9%, Armenians and others1% RELIGIOUS GROUPS Sunni Muslim 74%, Alawites 12%, other Muslims, Shia Druze etc5%, Christian (various denominations) 9% POLITICAL FORCES PRO-GOVERNMENT National Progressive Front is dominated by the Ba’ath Party. Its subordinate allies are mostly Arab nationalist (such as Nasserist) or Arab socialist parties, ideologically close to the Ba’ath’s pan-Arab vision. It also includes the country’s two communist parties.
SYRIAN COMMMUNISM The split in the Syrian Communist Party in 1986 had the backdrop of perestroika, with the Faisal wing essentially sympathetic and the Bagdash wing opposed. Differences also centred on inner party democracy (the last three general secretaries of the SCP in order have been Khaled Bagdash, his widow Wisal and now his son Ammar). Both parties have expressed criticisms of the ruling Ba’ath (within permitted limits) with the SCP focusing on economic changes and the SCP (U) on political and democratic reform.
Member parties of the government: Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party, Arab Socialist Movement, Arab Socialist Union, Syrian Communist Party, Syrian Communist Party (United), Social Democratic Unionists, Socialist Unionists, Democratic Socialist Unionist Party, Arabic Democratic Unionist Party, National Vow Movement.
ANTI-GOVERNMENT National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces – formed in November 2012 with the Syrian National Council at its core. This was originally organised and funded by the US and its NATO allies, Qatar and Saudi Arabia and until Summer 2013 dominated by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. Summer 2013 saw a major fall-out between Qatar and Saudi Arabia with Qatari MB nominees ousted and replaced by Saudi nominee Al Jarba as President. Summer 2014
BA’ATHISM Ba’athist philosophy, namely that the Arabs belonged to a single nation and needed a single state in which to realise their “eternal mission”. It defined the Arab nation as stretching across all Arabic-speaking areas, including Africa. It supported full citizenship for women and promised to eradicate class distinctions arising from the unjust distribution of wealth. Citizenship could be 1
saw further changes in personnel with the remaining MB supporters ousted and a limited rapprochement between SA and Qatar (which appeared to have reduced its support for MB). Free Syrian Army – an umbrella term used by various militias al-Nusra Front for the People of the Levant – previously the main Syrian affiliate of al-Qaida with heavy funding from Saudi Arabia in 2013 and the best organized military forces at that point. As the war turned against the rebels in 2013 embraced by the SNC and FSA. The US sought to back pro-Western rivals. Kurdish Democratic Union Party – Kurdish nationalist party, linked to Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Strongly opposed to foreign intervention, especially by Turkey. ISIS – Islamic State: the Iraqi affiliate of Al Qaida espousing a far more fundamentalist version of Islam and with a logistics base among the remnants of the Sunni military personnel from the Saddam Hussein Baathist regime. Emerged as a significant military force in Syria only in late 2013. In conflict with all other rebel groups. National Co-ordination Committee for Democratic Change – domestic opposition alliance mostly secular and leftist. Opposed to regime but generally against use of violence and outside intervention. ASSESSMENT The first phase of the war through 2012 and into early 2013 saw the main thrust of the military campaign carried forward by mercenary forces under the general leadership of the Free Syrian Army, largely financed and armed by Qatar (Financial Times 18 May 2013 cited a cost of $3 billion) and politically aligned to the Moslem Brotherhood. Significant areas of territory along the Turkish border and, to the south, along the Jordanian border were captured and major enclaves established in Aleppo
and some areas north of Damascus. By early 2013 a military stalemate had been reached and over the following six months many of these gains were lost. This was the result of conflicts among the rebel groupings in the context of a major regional split between supporters and opponents of the Moslem Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia, Jordon and most of the Gulf states opposed the ‘modernising’ Islamic MB. Turkey and Qatar suppored. In July-August 2013 pro-Qatari MB office holders were displaced from the leadership of the armed rebel umbrella group, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, and replaced by Saudi nominees led by Ahmed Jarba. Fighting broke out on the ground between the Qatari-financed Ahfad Al Rasoul brigade and Saudi-backed al-Nusra. In 2014 both groups came under attack from the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq. Conflict also erupted between Kurdish forces and ISIS. For a period in late 2013 and early 2014 the National Coalition re-entered the UN brokered peace negotiations with the Syrian government led by Lakhdar Brahimi – as also did the internal, non-armed opposition, the National Coordination Committee. These talks broke down in March 2014. By summer 2014 ISIS had taken over much of the territory in northern Iraq previously held by both MB aligned groups mainly along the Turkish border supply routes and the Saudifinanced militias further south. US policy has vacillated in face of conflicts between its own ostensible allies on the ground (Turkey, Qatar and MB Egypt as against Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States). In summer 2013 it was preparing for armed intervention to salvage the waning military fortunes of the (then MB and Qatarialigned) National Coalition – and to drive back Al Qaeda forces using Turkey as a base. This met opposition in Europe, Russia and China. Then, over the summer the Moslem Brotherhood lost control of Egypt and in Syria of the National Coalition. At the same time Iran, the Syrian government’s main military supplier, initiated moves to resolve differences 2
with the US. This resulted in an interim agreement in November – angering both Saudi Arabia and Israel. On the same day, the US negotiator Kerry also announced the full resumption of arms supplies to post-coup Egypt. In 2014 the military gains of ISIS, first in Iraq and then in Syria, forced the US into closer (though largely tacit) alignment with Iran to salvage control of Iraq. In September 2014 the US initiated its bombing campaign against ISIS in Syria. In September 2015 the Syrian government called on Russia for military assistance. Russia initiated bombing raids on ISIS military supply routes – which quickly exposed the reliance of ISIS on Turkey. In November Turkey shot down a Russian bomber over Syria. Two days later Cameron initiated his call for British intervention. See timeline. TIMELINE 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement between Britain and France agrees on share of Ottoman Empire provinces 1918 Ottoman Empire collapses after WW1 defeat; Arab Revolt sees proclamation of the first independent Arab government in Damascus 1920, General Syrian Congress declares a United Kingdom of Syria, covering undivided Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. 1919-1921 Alawite uprising 1923 Treaty of Lausanne confirms French rule over SyriaLebanon territories 1925-27 Great Syria Revolt against French rule 1943 Syria and Lebanon become separate states 1944 Syrian Muslim Brotherhood founded 1946 French colonial rule ends 1947 Arab Ba’ath Party founded in Damascus 1948 Partition of Palestine, creation of Israel, First Arab-Israeli War 1949 Three different military coups. Adib alShishakli eventually takes power 1952 Arab Ba’ath Party merges with Arab Socialist Party to form Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party.
1954 Democratic revolution overthrows Adib al-Shishakli dictatorship. Elections see first Communist MP in Arab world 1958 Nasser oversees creation of Egyptian dominated United Arab Republic (UAR) comprising Egypt and Syria. Communist opposition leads to repression of CPS 1961 UAR breaks up acrimoniously 1963 Ba’athists take power first in Iraq and then on March 8 in Syria. 1964 Muslim Brotherhood supporters launch armed uprising in city of Hama, quickly crushed. 1967 “Six Day War” Surprise Israeli attacks see Israel take parts of Syria’s Golan Heights, Egypt’s Sinai, and Palestinian West Bank and Gaza. 1966 Radical Ba’athist leader Salah Jadeed takes power, turns Ba’ath regime sharply to left. SCP emerges from underground 1970 Hafez Assad leader of the Ba’ath centrists takes power from the Ba’ath left 1972 Ba’ath creates the National Progressive Front, SCP joins. 1973 Arab-Israeli War Egypt and Syria attack Israel to regain lost territories. Syria loses larger area of Golan Heights. 1979 Armed Islamist group Fighting Vanguard massacres military cadets in Aleppo, begins terrorist campaign of bombings and assassinations 1982 Syrian army crushes Islamist rising in Hama. Thousands killed. 1986 Syrian CP splits. Both wings initially keep SCP name. Respective leaders are Yusuf Faisal and Khaled Bagdash 1991 First Gulf War Syria opposes Iraq; Faisal SCP unites with other groups to form SCP (United) 2000 Hafez Assad dies, power passes to his son Bashar 2000-2001 “Damascus Spring” Brief period of open debate and dialogue 2011 Popular protests over legitimate grievances met with violence from government 2012-2013 Armed conflict erupts 2013 August 30th Westminster votes down proposal for military intervention in Syria; Obama abandons plans for military intervention 2013 November US-Iran relations restored 2014 2014 March-May UN brokered peace talks in Geneva fail; Brahimi resigns 3
2014 August ISIS advance overruns eastern Syrian oilfields, threatens Baghdad; captures town in Lebanon. 2014 September 22 US initiates bombing campaign in Syria 2014 September 25 Westminster votes for British intervention against ISIS in Iraq but not in Syria. Labour argues that without UN sanction action in Syria would be illegal while that in Iraq has been requested by the Iraqi government. 2015 September Russia agrees to intervene in Syria at the request of the Syrian government – with the explicit remit of attacking IS and Al Qaeda affiliates. Over the two months to November Russian military forces reported airstrikes hitting 32 oil complexes, 11 refineries, 23 oil pumping stations and destroyed 1,080 trucks carrying oil products. It estimated that this had cut the scale of the oil trade on Syrian territory by 50 per cent. During the same period Russian recognizance reported that up to 2,000 fighters, 120 tons of ammunition and 250 vehicles have been delivered to Islamic State and Al-Nusra militants from Turkish territory. 13 November IS Paris attack 20 November UN Resolution 24 November Nato-supplied F16 Turkish fighter plane shoots down Russian bomber over Syrian territory. One pilot killed as lands in Syria by Turkmen paramilitaries led by officer who identified himself as a member of the Turkish fascist organisation, the Grey Wolves 26 November Cameron goes to Commons to put case for British intervention to bomb Syria. His claim that Britain would be in tactical support of the ‘70,000 strong’ militias aligned to the Free Syrian Army indicated that ‘regime change’ remained the key objective of British (and US) policy. 2 December House of Commons votes 397 to 223 in favour of military action. 153 Labour MPs voted against.
the sanction of the Syrian government. The Briefing Paper reads: “There is no UN Security Council Resolution clearly authorising the use of force in Syria. UN Security Council Resolution 2249 (2015) on ISIS/Daesh in Syria and Iraq, whilst using some language familiar from other resolutions on the use of force, seems intended to have more political than legal impact. It is a significant display of unanimity that had previously been notably lacking; but its careful wording implicitly supports states’ existing military actions against specific terrorist groups in those countries without either explicitly accepting or rejecting the various justifications or clearly providing a new stand-alone legal basis or authorisation for those actions: it determines that ISIS/Daesh is ‘a global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security’, and calls for (not authorises) ‘all necessary measures’in compliance with international law to ‘redouble and coordinate’ existing efforts against ISIS/Daesh, Al-Nusrah Front (ANF), Al-Qaeda and other designated terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq, and ‘to eradicate the safe haven they have established’ in Iraq and Syria. This means that the UK and other states will continue relying on the varying legal bases they have been using up until now, despite the dispute between Russia and other states. International law allows states to use force in other states as individual or collective self-defence against an actual or imminent armed attack, as long as the force to be used is necessary and proportionate to the threat faced.”
Casualties: deaths in the civil war in Syria far exceed 160,000; there are 1.5m refugees mainly in Jordan and Lebanon.
House of Commons Briefing Paper makes clear that November 2015 UN resolution does not itself authorise military action. British military action is taking place without 4