The Iraqi military said it was in the final stages of capturing the city of Mosul from Isis as Socialist Worker went to press.
Backed by US firepower and British special forces, the Iraqi army began trying to retake the northern city last October.
The “liberation” has displaced hundreds of thousands of refugees. US bombs have levelled buildings, killing hundreds, and there are widespread reports of torture and killings by sectarian Iraqi forces.
Meanwhile in Syria the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia is also pushing onto Isis’s de facto capital Raqqa in Syria.
If it succeeds, that operation will put Kurdish forces in charge of a predominantly Sunni Arab city.
The activist group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently was formed originally to denounce Isis. It now reports the mass killing inflicted by the US-led air raids and says Raqqa has been facing 200 air strikes a day.
Isis, a deeply reactionary and sectarian outfit, seized control of large swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014 as part of a self-declared “Islamic State” or “caliphate”.
Pundits have said the capture of Mosul and Raqqa would mean the end was near for Isis. But the reality is more complex.
The Iraqi government has hailed Mosul’s “final liberation” numerous times in the last year.
Isis is under pressure as different powers turn their fire on it.
He also effectively surrendered much of eastern Syria to Isis in order to focus on crushing the popular revolutionary forces.
Now Assad and his closest ally Russian president Vladimir Putin have gone on the offensive.
Isis also faces internal pressures within its own territories, where its largely military rule relies heavily on the plunder of captured territories.
But that doesn’t mean Isis is finished. It grew out of the misery, chaos and sectarian violence left behind by the West’s war in Iraq that shattered Iraqi society.
After the US invaded Iraq in 2003, it initially faced a united opposition from both Shia and Sunni Muslims. So it turned to divide and rule.
The occupiers built a sectarian Shia state that largely neutralised Shia resistance in the south of Iraq.
For a time it also bought off many of the Sunni groups in the north with promises of a “national unity” government that never materialised. But once they had driven out the forerunner of Isis—Al Qaida in Iraq (AQI)—all talk of national unity was dropped.
This sectarian settlement only helped AQI to regroup, feed on the resentment—and grow again as Isis.
Today even more powers are vying for position in Iraq. None of them offer an alternative.
Having been weakened by defeat in Iraq and by the first phase of the Arab Revolutions, US imperialism is hoping to reassert its control in the Middle East.
Meanwhile Russia is backing the Assad regime partly because it gives it access to strategic assets such as the port of Tartus in the Mediterranean.
The real solution is for the sort of uprisings that swept the region in 2011. They brought masses of people together across the sectarian divide in the fight against the dictators and imperialism.
Tory defence secretary Michael Fallon last week committed to backing future military action by the US against the Syrian regime.
He was responding to claims by Donald Trump’s White House that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad was preparing a chemical weapons attack.
Trump threatened to bomb regime targets. His spokesperson Sean Spicer said that if Assad were to launch chemical weapons, “he and his military will pay a heavy price”.
Ater a similar US retaliation to a chemical attack in April, the heaviest price was paid by the civilians it killed.
Trump’s attack didn’t go ahead this time. His defence secretary James Mattis said that the threat had worked and bombs weren’t needed.
But in case he ever changes his mind, Fallon gave him a blank cheque, backing any future attacks in advance.
“If the Americans take similar action again,” he said, “I want to be very clear, we will support it.”
Israel stepped up its involvement in the war in Syria with at least three air strikes against the regime’s army last week. Israeli politicians claimed the air strikes were in response to shells that landed in territory controlled by Israel.
Defence minister Avigdor Liberman said Israel had “no intention” of entering the war in Syria. But he warned forces in Syria “not to test us” and said the slightest escalation could lead to conflict.
Liberman also said he wanted to see Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Israel’s regional rival Iran, removed.
Israel and other US-backed regional powers are worried that Iran could become more influential in the Middle East if Isis is defeated in Iraq.
Israel and powerful Gulf state Saudi Arabia are trying to form a bloc against Iran.
This dangerous competition between regional powers—backed by the US and Russia on each side—risks spilling over into new and more deadly wars.
Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip could soon have a new, Israeli-friendly, prime minister forced on them.
Talks with Palestinian resistance group Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, could see Egypt opening its border with Gaza, so lifting the siege imposed by Israel.
But Egypt reportedly wants Hamas in return to accept its former bitter rival Mohammed Dahlan as prime minister.
Dahlan was in charge of the US-backed attempt to overthrow the democratically-elected party Hamas in a coup in 2007. He had to flee Gaza after his coup attempt failed.
But after more than a decade under siege, Hamas is looking for deals with regional powers to ease the pressure.
A deal with Egypt could mean an end to the siege that has made life hell for Palestinians living in Gaza.
Hamas would still be allowed to run Gaza’s internal affairs.
But with Dahlan—who is quietly backed by Israel—in charge, it could also effectively end Hamas’s resistance to the occupation.
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