In ‘war on ISIS,’ the main enemy is at home

The Turkish government decided Oct. 12 to permit U.S. fighter-bombers to launch attacks on Syrian targets from Incirlik Air Force Base near the Turkish-Syrian border. This decision marked the latest escalation of the U.S.-led “war on ISIS.” It is a further step toward a major U.S. invasion into Syria and Iraq.

Meanwhile, two key battles are raging, with the Islamic State (also called ISIS or ISIL) forces on the offensive.

In Syria, Kurdish guerrillas in the Kurdish-majority town of Kobani at the Turkish border are defending the town against ISIS. The Pentagon announced that the U.S. carried out a half-dozen air strikes on Oct. 12, mainly against ISIS’ heavy armor. ISIS has captured most of its weapons from U.S.-backed forces in the first place.

In Anbar province and at the Baghdad Airport in Iraq, the Iraqi army has been yielding ground despite heavy U.S., Dutch and other air support.

These wars involve a confusing array of state and guerrilla forces in battle against each other. With alliances, all temporary, changing so quickly, only a Marxist evaluation of the forces can even begin to make sense of them.

U.S. imperialism is main threat

The most important concept is that the gravest threat to the people of the region comes from U.S. imperialism, which is the lynchpin of world imperialism and the killer of millions in Iraq alone. No one should expect that U.S. intervention will liberate the region from ISIS or any other reactionary force.

The Turkish state is a regional capitalist power, a NATO member and an oppressor state. Besides exploiting its own working class and peasantry, the Turkish ruling class oppresses the Kurdish people and nation within Turkey’s borders. It thus considers the PKK (Workers Party of Kurdistan) its main enemy. Turkey’s regime has supported the opponents of the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria, including ISIS.

The Arab monarchies — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and the other Gulf states — are ideological soulmates of ISIS, and their ruling classes have funded and armed ISIS in the past. Now these oppressive tyrannies — which all depend on U.S. imperialism — have given lip service to joining the U.S. “coalition.” Qatar and the UAE have flown a few bombing sorties into Iraq.

The recent change of government in Iraq still left the regime a client of U.S. imperialism. Its army and some of the militias have oppressed Sunni regions of the country and killed more civilians than ISIS has. Thus, many of the tribal fighters — not to speak of the guerrillas who were once officers in former President Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist army and have been resisting the U.S. client regime — consider the Baghdad government a more dangerous enemy than ISIS.

Who battles ISIS on the ground?

Syria and Iran — capitalist nations with exploited working classes — are both combating ISIS. But world imperialism has targeted these two states through military threats and economic sanctions while demonizing them. The two governments have fought back to survive and their resistance deserves internationalist solidarity.

The PKK and its sister party in Syria (YPG — People’s Protection Units) are liberation organizations of the Kurdish nation. Both directly fight ISIS on the ground.  So, too, do the Hezbollah guerrillas from Lebanon, who have successfully resisted Israeli invasions of their country in the past. However, the imperialists define all three groups as “terrorist.”

The best way for anti-imperialists in the West to show solidarity with these fighters is to demand  the U.S. State Department and the European Union stop defining them as “terrorist” groups. A demonstration of tens of thousands of people, mainly Kurdish immigrants, in Dusseldorf, Germany, on Oct. 11 raised this as a main demand, along with freeing PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan after 15 years of imprisonment in Turkey.

Washington, to serve its own ends, has manipulated al-Qaida and other groups similar to ISIS in the past — most notably in Afghanistan and partially in Libya and Syria. But such groups created instability across North Africa, upended Libya and took over the Syrian opposition from U.S. puppets. Starting this June, ISIS threatened to drive the U.S. and its clients out of Iraq.

Despite its current clash with U.S. imperialism and its client states from West Africa to Pakistan, ISIS plays a thoroughly reactionary role throughout the region. Its reactionary — even medieval — viciously anti-woman and virulently sectarian program prevents and disrupts the development of an anti-imperialist front that would cross ethnic and sectarian lines. Only such unity can prevent imperialism from exploiting differences among the peoples and using them to divide and conquer.

The general secretary of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, has called for such a united front of the peoples and nations of the region to fight ISIS and similar forces, which he considers dangerous enemies of the peoples. But, he said, they should not join President Barack Obama’s imperialist “coalition,” which he rightly considers a threat to the region and the world. (, Sept. 23)

For anti-imperialists in the West and especially in the United States, the most important thing is to oppose U.S. intervention in Iraq and Syria, even if the present manifestation of that intervention is to bomb ISIS targets. Senator John McCain has demanded ground troops. This could quickly become a U.S. ground war against Iraq and Syria.

In this confusing war, many are saying, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” For anti-imperialists it is better to apply the Leninist slogan: “The main enemy is at home.”