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US war within will continue, intensify

Aug 08,2019 - Last updated at Aug 08,2019

Last weekend's death toll in the war of attrition in Syria's Idlib province was lower than the 31 fatalities in US mass shootings in Ohio and Texas. Through Sunday, there were 251 mass shootings in the US this year, killing 246 and wounding 733.

More than 440 civilians have been slain so far in the latest bout of fighting between the Syrian army, backed by Russia, and Al Qaeda's Hayat Tahrir Al Sham and its allies, supported by Turkey.

The difference between the two countries is stark: Syria has been at war since mid-2011, while the US is beset with gun violence in the absence of a formal state of war with another or other powers. Syria is fighting Daesh, Al Qaeda and its affiliates, the Turkish-sponsored Syrian Free Army, and Turkey. As many commentators have said and written in recent years, the US is "at war with itself".

Syria's war began in 2011 with protesters demanding reform, morphed into a struggle between diverse Syrian armed groups and the government complicated by an invasion by radical fundamentalists and intervention by rival regional and international actors. Turkey has been the region's most hands-on interventionist, while the US and its European allies have played highly destructive roles, risking the fragmentation of Syria; a longstanding goal of Israel.

The US war-with itself began with the colonisation of North America, which involved the massacre and ethnic cleansing of indigenous peoples, and the introduction of African slaves. These developments led to the war of liberation from Britain, the brutal 19th century civil war to prevent southern secession, preserve the federal union and, incidentally, to free slaves. There have been decades of racial and religious discrimination due to the legacy of slavery and the inflow of Irish, Italian, Jewish, Russian, German, Polish and Arab newcomers, as well as immigrants of non-white stock: Hispanics, Japanese, Chinese and Indian.

Since Russia began providing air cover and pro-Iranian fighters took to the field with the Syrian army, Damascus has clawed back territory lost to rebels and radicals. Today, the government holds about 65 per cent of Syria. Idlib and slices of adjacent territory held by Tahrir Al Sham are about 9 per cent. Turkey controls 2 per cent in the north and US-backed Kurds 24 per cent in the north-east and east. Syria as a state remains divided, and Idlib continues to be a strategic base for Al Qaeda and its clones.

US divisions are many and engulf that cross-continental country, and have sharpened since Donald Trump began campaigning for the presidency in 2016. He has deliberately fanned racism against blacks, Hispanics, Muslims and all immigrants in order to appeal to marginalised white folks. Since white supremacists are part and parcel of his electoral "base", he has kept up tweets and taunts to please extremists whose existence and ideology inspired Patrick Crusius, armed with a weapon of war, to drive 1,000 kilometres from his home near Dallas, Texas, to El Paso on the US-Mexican border to kill Hispanics. He opened fire on shoppers buying school supplies for their children, killing 22 and wounding 26.

Thirteen hours later, a second shooter, Connor Betts, who is not a white supremacist, killed nine outside a pub in Dayton, Ohio. He too is part of the US war-within because he planned and carried out a deadly operation against civilians, although his motive remains unknown. Washington has failed to regulate gun ownership and tackle mass assaults, which have killed thousands of civilians since an ex-Marine killed 14 in the initial mass shooting from a university tower in Texas in 1966.

In spite of the war, Syrian civilians do not take up arms against each other. Weapons of war are not commonly held by members of the populace, and before the war only hunting guns were permitted. The warfare within Syria is prosecuted by the army and insurgents as well as outsiders. This conflict has been going on for eight and a half years, not decades like the US war within.

The key difference between Syria and the US is that the Syrian government has fought to reunite the country and regain all its territory. Idlib is the current priority because Damascus cannot permit Al Qaeda to use the province to launch operations in Syria and elsewhere. Although Syrian and Russian air strikes have recently been suspended due to a call for a ceasefire, this did not take place because Tahrir Al Sham has rejected a halt to hostilities and continues to occupy a proposed buffer zone between the opposing sides. Idlib's war of attrition will go on and intensify until Damascus reasserts state sovereignty.

The US government has long failed to deal with racism, discrimination and white supremacy, and has flatly refused to enact gun controls due to pressure from the gun lobby, although 70 per cent of US citizens favour regulation. The US war within will continue and intensify.

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