A Stop the War protestor outside Downing Street. Photo: Jim Aindow A Stop the War protestor outside Downing Street. Photo: Jim Aindow

The great powers are using Syria as a battlefield to advance their own interests, argues Andrew Murray

Syria’s agony worsens from one day to the next. The news that two hospitals have apparently been hit by bombs is the latest crime against Syria’s beleaguered civilian population.

It is unclear who was responsible, although it seems most likely it was Russian bombers or the Assad regime’s own air force. Whoever it was, Stop the War condemns the atrocity, just as we did the US bombing of an MSF hospital in Afghanistan last year.

Syrian women, men and children are the main victims of the continuing war in the country. Up to 400,000 may have died over the last five years, and millions have been displaced.

And the war could be about to get worse. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are talking about deploying land forces into Syria and Turkey, in particular, is talking up a military confrontation with Russia.

Turkey is already shelling Kurdish-controlled areas over the border, notwithstanding that Kurdish fighters are closely allied with the US at present. It is believed that Moscow is now giving additional support to the Kurds in Syria and, possibly, in Turkey itself. Some Islamist groups continue to get Saudi and Turkish support, while other opposition forces are now just instruments of the western powers.

The ceasefire announced at the weekend looks unlikely to take hold. It is far from clear who or what it is meant to apply to, and still more unclear who will pay it any heed.

The idea that any of the powers presently involved are really focussed on fighting Islamic State is laughable. They are using Syria as a battlefield to advance their own interests in the region, sectarian, commercial or strategic.

Nor should public opinion in Britain be diverted into thinking that Russia is the main problem in Syria. Western intervention is longer-lasting, deeper-rooted and just as malign in its effects. Cameron, Hollande and Obama are in no position to point a finger at Putin.

The warnings from the anti-war movement, made at the time of the war vote in parliament, that Britain was being led deeper into a quagmire, seem to be coming true. Rather than being a voice for peace, Britain has preferred to bomb its way to the top table where Syria’s future will be carved up, with scant reference to the views of the Syrian people themselves. This is what George Osborne has called “getting our mojo back.”

He and Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond want to prove to the US that they are reliable allies in war-mongering, after the setback when the Commons voted against attacking Syria in 2013, and to be sure that Britain is in on the ground floor in any new “Sykes-Picot” carve-up of Syria, Iraq and the wider region.

Britain’s renewed “mojo” will be scant consolation to the tens of thousands of refugees pouring out of Syria to face an uncertain future in refugee camps or an even more dangerous trek across the Mediterranean. The racism unleashed against them when they leave their bombed-out homeland goes hand-in-hand with the casual way one power after another arrogates to itself the right to determine its future.

Hammond’s protests at Russian behaviour should be taken with a lorry-load of salt. His concern for civilian lives can be measured in his full-throated support for the Saudi war against the people of Yemen.

Armed to the teeth by the British government and briefed by British military advisers, the Saudi aggression is leading to a humanitarian calamity scarcely lesser than the Syrian. The Saudi atrocities have been denounced as violations of international law by a UN panel of experts, and British arms sales to the aggressors have been labelled as a further probable breach. The UN Secretary-General has denounced the Saudi use of cluster bombs as a potential war crime.

None of this has made any impact on the British government, for whom oil and arms sales override all other considerations in its relations with the reactionary Saudi regime.

Britain also bears some of the blame for the prolongation of Syria’s agony. For years the Foreign Office echoed Washington’s dictat that “Assad must go” as a precondition for any peace talks to bring to an end what was then still mainly a civil war.

Unsurprisingly, this only had the effect of prolonging the conflict. It is also wrong in principle – the Syrian people themselves should choose their government, without having a pre-veto exercised by the big powers.

Rather than manipulating all parties in Syria, the big powers should cease intervening and above all cease their various bombing missions. Allied to a ceasefire on the ground, this is the pre-requisite for allowing the Syrian people to determine their own future, for giving hope to the refugees and for giving Syrians a chance to start rebuilding their shattered country.

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