The civil war in Syria has degraded further into region-wide sectarian conflict.
This follows the Assad government in Syria retaking the town of Qusair, near the Lebanese border, in early June, with the help of the Lebanese Shia-Islamist militia Hezbollah.
In The Independent on Sunday of 16 June, Robert Fisk reported: “a military decision has been taken in [Shia-Islamist] Iran — even before last week’s presidential election — to send a first contingent of 4,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards to Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad’s forces... Iran is now fully committed to preserving Assad’s regime...”
The day before, Egypt’s [Sunni-Islamist] president Mohammed Morsi had declared to a mass rally in Cairo that his government had cut off diplomatic relations with Assad. “The Egyptian people supports the struggle of the Syrian people, materially and morally, and Egypt, its nation, leadership... and army, will not abandon the Syrian people until it achieves its rights and dignity”.
Morsi, troubled by a petition campaign calling for his resignation which has so far got 15 million signatures, was trying to please the crowd. The Egyptian armed forces are not likely to get involved in Syria. However, the day before, Ahmed Aref, a spokesperson for Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement, said that the Brotherhood backed a call made on Thursday 13 June by ultra-Sunni clerics, in a “Syria solidarity week” organised by the Brotherhood, for a “holy war” (against Shiites) in Syria.
US president Obama has said that the US will move on from training rebels at a camp in Jordan, as it has long done, to supplying arms. Syria expert Joshua Landis comments: Obama’s “new policy of supplying weapons is not really a change of policy at all, but rather a continuation of his previous policy of pushing for a political solution. But [in fact] this... is a recipe for dividing the country along the present battle lines, give or take a bit” — i.e. for partitioning it into Sunni, Kurdish, and Alawite (Shia-allied) sub-states.
The Geneva conference on peace in Syria, sponsored by the US and Russia, is now indefinitely postponed. At the G8 conference on 17-18 June, Russian president Vladimir Putin refused to accept any comment about Assad stepping down in the official communique, and stridently defended Russia’s supply of arms to “the legal government of Syria”.
It seems unlikely that Britain’s push to end the EU’s arms embargo on Syria will be followed any time soon by Britain actually sending arms. But that is secondary. As Fisk comments: “For the first time, all of America’s friends in the region are Sunni Muslims and all of its enemies are Shiites. Breaking all President Barack Obama’s rules of disengagement, the US is now fully engaged on the side of armed groups which include the most extreme Sunni Islamist movements in the Middle East”.
The job of socialists is to warn against the sectarian polarisation, and to support whatever democratic, secular, and working-class forces can sustain a presence in the Syrian cauldron.