Syrian Civil War: An Overview

Syrian Civil war
Syrian Civil war

Syrian Civil War has been going on for seven years. Already five hundred thousand people have been killed, more than another five hundred thousand people have been wounded, and half of the population has been forced to leave the country. When everyone gave up in an endless war, a solution seemed to be near at hand. This hope was generated by the support of Russia, Iran, and China; but again American, French and British air and missile strikes have intensified the crisis.

On the one side of the bloody civil war in Syria, there is the Ba’ath Party led by the ruling Alawites. On the other side of the conflict there are Free Syrian Army, Kurds, ISIS, Al Nusra and some other rebel forces. In international context, it has been seen that Russia and China have been in favor of Basar al-Assad in all matters and they vetoed against sanctions and proposals by the United States, Britain, and French in the Security Council. Arab world’s main platform Arab League was in favor of the rebels from the beginning. The Arab League has already canceled the Syrian government’s membership in the League.

As we know, 69% of the Syrian population is Sunni, 9% of which are Kurd and 60% are Arabian in ethnicity. 12.8% of Alawites are Arab, 13% Christian, 9% Orthodox and 4% Armenian, Druze Arabian 3.2% and Ismaili Shia 3%.

In December 2010, with the arrival of the Arab Spring, the whole of Arabia was in turmoil, Syria was roughly calm. Many researchers thought that the Arab Spring would not affect Syria, because the Ba’ath Party currently under Bashar al-Assad’s leadership has maintained strong control over its population for the past 40 years. Besides, there was also the support of many Sunni Muslims to Bashar al-Assad as he has established a secular state to prevent Shia-Sunni division.

However, protests began in Syria over a minor incident. The middle of March 2011, the government forces arrested and tortured 10 to 12 boys for writing anti-government slogans in walls. A protest took place against alleged torturing and demanded the release of those boys. However, Security forces fired heavily in the protest which killed and wounded hundreds of people. This time protests spread throughout the country. Bashar al-Assad’s forces took a very aggressive role. As a result, the protests spread further and in April, Assad brought the army and its loyal secret service to the cities across the country. Those forces carried out nation-wide operations with tanks, artilleries and helicopter gunships. In just three months about 16,000 protesters were killed by government forces.

Then the incident became so complex that it was difficult to keep accurate track of it. About five hundred thousand rebel guerrillas, innocent people, government soldiers and government supporters have been killed in the last seven years of the bloody civil war.

Although the protesters were initially unorganized and inexperienced, they gradually organized with support from Turkey and Saudi Arabia and they mobilized themselves against the government troops. Among the opposition, there are about 120 groups and subgroups. There have been many conflicts and fighting among themselves but afterward, rebels have formed an organized force called the Free Syrian Army.

In July 2011, people who have left and resigned the Syrian military announced the formation of the Free Syrian Army. Their main goal was to overthrow the Assad regime. The civil war started in Syria through the announcement of this rebellion. Although in 2011 there were mostly non-communal protests, within a short time the armed conflict took terrible communal riots. Most of the people of Syria are Sunnis but the country has been ruled by the Alawite community for a long time, and Bashar al-Assad is a member of that community. As a result, the Sunni tribes joined the Free Syrian Army. 

In 1982, Bashar’s father ordered a military operation against the Syrian branch of Muslim Brotherhood. He killed thousands of people. Hence, the Brotherhood’s supporters and activists also joined the Free Syrian Army. Even global warming played a role in the context of the 2011 rebellion. From 2007 to 2010, Syria was suffering from severe drought. About one and a half million people moved from rural areas to cities, which accelerated poverty and social unrest. As a consequence, poor people also joined the Free Syrian Army.

In December 2016, after rebuilding the army, Assad achieved his biggest victory over the rebels in Aleppo. Since then, the FSA has controlled a limited area in northwestern Syria.

Initially, FSA started the war with light weaponry such as machine gun and mortar or other similar weapons. By September 2011, the Free Syrian Army received direct support from Turkey. In October 2011, with the help of tanks and helicopters, rebels heavily attacked the government forces and capture the town of Al-Kum. Since then, the Free Syrian Army has occupied many parts of the country.

Foreign support and nude intervention played a major role in the Syrian Civil War. Russia entered the conflict in 2015 and the Assad regime is its main ally since then. Shia majority Iran, Iraq and Lebanese Hezbollah have also supported Bashar al-Assad. On the other hand, Sunni majority countries such as Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia have supported anti-Assad groups. The United States initially cooperated with anti-Assad rebel groups with arms and money. Since 2014, the United States has been fighting the ISIS in Syria. Some people believe that the United States itself has trained and armed ISIS to depose Bashar al-Assad.

In 2013, CIA launched a secret program to provide the rebel group with arms, funds, and training but after the leak out the program was stopped. CIA has spent $ 500 million on this program.

In September 2015, Russia designated the Free Syrian Army and ISIL a “terrorist group” and launched a massive bombing campaign against them.
United Nations and various parties tried to bring the warring parties to the negotiation table. Most of the initiatives were failed due to a huge difference in opinion and ideology.

“The attempts to find a solution to the Syrian conflict and bringing stability to the Middle East began in late 2011, when the Arab League launched two initiatives, but without much success. Russia in January 2012 and in November 2013 suggested talks in Moscow between the Syrian government and opposition. In March-May 2012, hopes were on a United Nations/Arab League plan coordinated by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In January and February 2014, the Geneva II Conference on Syria took place, organised by the then-UN envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi. On 30 October 2015, further talks started in Vienna involving officials from the U.S., the EU, Russia, China and various regional actors such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and, for the first time, Iran. Peace talks with rebel leadership continued in Astana, Kazakhstan in 2017.[2] The Kazakh officials are offering Astana as a neutral venue and “a natural home” for peace negotiations on Syria” –Wikipedia,

This civil war has been going on for almost 7 years. People have been leaving Syria as there is no end in sight. As of February 2014, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has registered more than 5.5 million refugees in Syria. An estimated 6.5 million people have been internally displaced.
Lebanon, Germany, Iran, and Turkey have provided shelter to Syrian refugees. Many of them are going to Europe for a better life. However, sixty-six thousand refugees returned to Syria in 2017.

Russian direct involvement in Syria has dramatically changed the situation on the ground. Syria is the only Russian ally in the Middle East. Russian footprint in the Middle East will be wiped out if Assad falls in the hand of the opposition forces. So, Moscow does not want to lose Syria. Putin used every available tool to prop up the regime. Again, Iran thought that with the defeat and overthrow of Bashar al-Assad, it will also lose an important ally.

In this context, due to the direct participation of Iran and Russia in the war, US and Turkey backed rebels have begun to retreat and Assad has established control over many cities and towns. The United States-led coalition suffered terribly after the fall of Aleppo in last December.

Now, all the parties have realized that the Syrian crisis will not be resolved militarily. To resolve the crisis conflicting parties need to sit in a negotiation table. But what will be the basis of peace talks? During the Arab Spring, Assad was quite cornered. It was thought that Damascus might fall at any time. He was ready to accept any terms at that time. But Barack Obama was not in favor of negotiation. Obama said, “Assad must go.”

With each passing day, Assad’s strength has increased. Now, he is quite strong. Meanwhile, Russia is trying to use the opportunity to increase its presence in Syria. Moscow has signed several treaties with the Syrian government to bolster its influence. Iran also seeks to increase its influence in Syria and in the greater Middle East. On the other hand, Turkey has changed its policy; currently, it is supporting the Assad regime. But at the start of the war, Turkey was extremely anti-Syrian. Putin’s good understanding with Erdogan has changed Turkish policy and orientation towards Russia as well as Syria.