Understanding Syria’s Deadly Conflict
To get a handle on the quagmire we’re experiencing in Syria, let’s briefly look at its evolution from (1) a social protest and civil war to (2) a regional religious bloodletting to (3) an international vying which might lead to world war — spurred by Washington’s desperate desire to remain the globe’s lone superpower.
Social Protest and Civil War
In 2011’s early spring, as the Arab Spring uprisings spread through the Middle East, Syria’s conflict began as most revolutions do: a product of citizens’ anger over economic conditions, food shortages, and human rights abuses from government’s violent response to public protests.
In explaining the conflict’s origin, the news agency Al Jazeera reports:
Initially, lack of freedoms and economic woes fuelled resentment of the Syrian government, and public anger was inflamed by the harsh crackdown on protesters. Successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt energised and gave hope to Syrian pro-democracy activists. Many Islamist movements were also strongly opposed to the Assads’ rule…
… A severe drought plagued Syria from 2007-10, spurring as many as 1.5 million people to migrate from the countryside into cities, which exacerbated poverty and social unrest. Although the initial protests were mostly non-sectarian, armed conflict led to the emergence of starker sectarian divisions.
Middle Eastern nations’ populations primarily practice Islam, and it is a holistic religion which often weaves into the entire social fabric, including government, education, and business. The countries’ constitutions are often based on Islamic practice.
When Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad “responded to the protests by killing hundreds of demonstrators and imprisoning many more,” it led to greater protests and army defections. Military defectors formed the Free Syrian Army, vowing to overthrow the Assad regime — the move from social unrest to armed civil war.
Regional Religious Bloodletting
The rebellion then led to a religious division of Muslims – a common ancient opposition of Sunni and Shi’a. As Wikipedia simply explains:
Sunni Islam is a denomination of Islam which holds that the Islamic prophet Muhammad‘s first Caliph was his father-in-law Abu Bakr. Sunni Islam primarily contrasts with Shi’a Islam, which holds that Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib, not Abu Bakr, was his first caliph. Sunni Islam is by far the largest denomination of Islam. As of 2009, Sunni Muslims constituted 87–90% of the world’s Muslim population.
The Muslim struggle quickly expanded the Syrian conflict into a regional religious entanglement. Assad and his regime are Alawites, a division of Shi’a. And who has sided with or opposed him nationally and regionally is marked by the Muslim religious split. Notes Al Jazeera:
The sectarian split is reflected among regional actors’ stances as well. The governments of majority-Shia Iran and Iraq support Assad, as does Lebanon-based Hezbollah; while Sunni-majority states including Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and others staunchly support the rebels.
U.S. Effort at Control
Washington, who has fumbled through 40 years of military mistakes in the Middle East, has done so to try and control Eurasia and world supremacy. We outlined this effort, whose foreign policy has actually stretched as far back as the ’70s and the Carter administration, in our column “Obama Widens Carter’s, Bush’s Global Rule Policies”.
So the U.S. neoconservative effort in Syria is simply a continuation of that ill-advised policy.
In 2011, the U.S. first got involved, supporting the Free Syrian Army with non-lethal supplies.
In 2014, with the rise of the Islamic State (ISIL), and its taking of territory in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. began surveillance of ISIL. Twelve days after President Obama vowed to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIL, on Sept. 22, 2014 Washington began leading military air strikes into Iraq and Syria. Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates reportedly joined in those strikes.
The BBC has reported — based on data from the U.S. Institute for the Study of War, U.S. Central Command — that the air strikes, through March 8, totalled 7,011 in Iraq and 3,429 in Syria.
The U.S. effort eventually led Assad to call on Russia’s aid. And President Vladimir Putin — evidently tired of trying to negotiate with the U.S. over its demand that Assad step down, as well as Washington-led sanctions on Russia in an attempt to ruin its economy — began supporting Damascus with airstrikes against ISIL and Syrian rebels on Sept. 30, 2015, a year after U.S. involvement. Russia has also deployed military advisers to aid Assad’s troops.
It’s here that the quagmire reached its height. Putin asked Washington to join Moscow in coordinating airstrikes on ISIL. Washington refused. Meanwhile, Washington was spending over $500 million to train “moderate rebels” to fight ISIL; the effort failed, with only 60 troops being trained.
Earlier this month, Washington asked Moscow NOT to bomb rebels connected with al-Nusra, i.e. Syrian fighters aligned with U.S. enemy al-Qaeda. That’s a chief symbol of how confusing the ground conflict has become. As Al Jazeera notes:
Rebel groups continue to jockey against one another for power, and frequently fight each other. The Free Syrian Army has weakened as the war has progressed, while explicitly Islamist groups, such as the al-Nusra Front, which has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda, and the Saudi-backed Islamic Front have gained in strength.
The number of warrior groups involved in this conflict is overwhelming. Assad has three separate military forces; eight other Syrian groups are allied with them, according to Wikipedia. Forces opposing Assad have included three different groups aligned with the Islamic Front; three other forces, including al-Nusra, fighting as the Army of Conquest, and two other groups allied with them. Then there’s ISIL, aggressing to create its own caliphate in both Iraq and Syria. Then there is Rojava, or Western Kurdistan, located in northern Syria. It considers itself autonomous, but Assad does not recognize it; so the Kurds there are fighting Assad.
Meanwhile, these countries also have been involved in air attacks against ISIL in either Syria, Iraq, or both: Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Jordan, Morocco, and the United Kingdom.
The Dead and Homeless
Al Jazeera reported on May 24, 2016, and the BBC reports similar figures, based on United Nations analyses.:
Five years since the conflict began, more than 250,000 Syrians have been killed in the fighting, and almost 11 million Syrians – half the country’s prewar population – have been displaced from their homes.
As of March, ISIL slayings accounted for over 4,000 of those 250,000 killed, mostly the murder of civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
As for war crimes, the BBC states:
A UN commission of inquiry has evidence that all parties to the conflict have committed war crimes – including murder, torture, rape and enforced disappearances. They have also been accused of using civilian suffering – such as blocking access to food, water and health services through sieges – as a method of war.
The UN Security Council has demanded all parties end the indiscriminate use of weapons in populated areas, but civilians continue to die in their thousands. Many have been killed by barrel bombs dropped by government aircraft on gatherings in rebel-held areas – attacks which the UN says may constitute massacres…IS has also been accused by the UN of waging a campaign of terror.
Chemical weapons have also been responsible for some killings, with the West blaming Assad, and Assad blaming the rebels.
The Bottom Line
Russia and the U.S. have attempted to lead a truce and negotiations, yet conflict continues.
Meanwhile, the Saudis, the Turks, and U.S. State Department officials are all jockeying politically, wanting Obama to increase assaults in Syria. Russia has warned that, if Riyadh, Istanbul and Washington send troops into Syria, it would begin a world war.
All this while the U.S. is involved in a $1 trillion, 30-year refurbishing of its nuclear weaponry, which has led Russia and China to increase their nuclear arsenals…i.e., a new, broader Cold War.
So, in the U.S., it seems now is a good time to ask yourself this: Who do you want to elect as president, vice president, and to Congress? Big money folks who will deepen this quagmire? Or new thinkers who will find a solution to it?