Syrian Civil War In A Nutshell
The Syrian Civil War has raged since March 2011. Approximately 250,000-300,000 people are dead, while another 11 million are displaced and continue to migrate to various parts of the Middle East and Europe. All the while, ISIS continues to acquire and hold territory throughout northeastern Syria and northwestern Iraq, realizing their goals of 1) establishing a Caliphate, 2) enforcing 7th-century Sharia law, and 3) initiating the end-of-the-world Apocalypse by fighting a last battle with the Christian armies of Rome in Dabiq, Syria.
Eighteen countries have met in Vienna to attempt to find a way forward, but we should note that although Iran was present, the Syrian government and opposition groups were not. So far, the entrenched and opposed positions of the Saudis and Iranians are making progress difficult. To achieve a basic understanding of the current situation and its inherent complexities, let’s review a few basic facts.
Facts of the Syrian Conflict, Inconvenient but Incontrovertible:
- As shown in the map immediately below, the Syrian Civil War is not a simple two or three-sided dispute. The main parties are 1) The Syrian government regime [under President Bashar Al-Assad], 2) The government Opposition/Rebels [Syrian National Coalition, including a break-away portion of the Syrian Army], and 3) ISIS; but there is also 4) a Kurdish component consisting of Syrian [YPG/PYD], Iraqi [KDP/PUK–KRG], and Turkish [PKK] organizations, 5) Jihadists, including the al-Nusra Front (or al-Qaeda in Syria) and 6) Hezbollah [Lebanese Shia militants loyal to Iran].
- Furthermore, the Opposition Rebels (Syrian National Coalition) are composed of 70-100 separate groups, each with distinct leadership, many who regularly fight among themselves.
- Moreover, as with most Middle East disputes, religion is central to the disagreements. The Assad government is primarily composed of Alewites (a form of Shia Islam, the foundation of Iran), while ISIS and Al-Nusra both align with Wahhabism (the strict and ultra-conservative form of Sunni Islam, the foundation of Saudi Arabia). The Kurds are primarily Sunni but culturally secular, and Hezbollah is Shia.
- While the West supports the Kurds in northern Iraq and northern Syria in their fight against ISIS, the Kurds in eastern Turkey complicate matters as Turkey (a NATO member) has had friction with its 15-20% Kurdish population, fearing they will seek to carve off an eastern part of Turkey to form a United Kurdistan (consisting of Eastern Turkey, Northern Syria, and Northern Iraq).
- Turkey has inadvertently assisted ISIS by bombing the Kurdish PKK, inappropriately making Turkey’s internal Kurdish dispute a priority over the battle with ISIS.
- Finally, each party to the conflict has outside backers providing strategic, tactical, and non-lethal support—setting up a potential proxy war between the major and regional powers. The Syrian regime is supported by: Russia, Iran, North Korea, Iraq, Belarus, Egypt, Cuba, Venezuela, Angola, China, and Algeria. The Opposition Rebels are supported by: Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United States, France, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands. The Kurds are supported by: France, Australia, United Kingdom, United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, and Morocco.
- Russia’s Putin bristles at a World dominated by the U.S., so he is constantly seeking to counter U.S. positions to establish what he perceives as balance.
- Russia has now formally entered the Syrian conflict in firm support of their long-time ally (Government regime), supplying equipment (including 25+ fighter jets), strategy, logistics, and personnel.
- Russia has initially focused on the so-called Opposition/Rebel forces, with only minor engagement with ISIS.
- Russia has repeatedly said that the fate of Bashar Al-Assad is up to the Syrian people.
- Russia’s primary interest is to keep their Russian Naval Facility in Tartus, one of two warm water ports outside the constrained Black Sea (the other is in Vietnam). The survival of Assad is not critical to Russia, but they won’t abandon him without another political foothold to keep their base.
GravitySailor Analysis & Recommendations:
- The Vienna peace talks should focus on a ceasefire between the Government Regime and the Opposition Rebels, while all parties should continue to engage ISIS on all fronts.
- We must respect Syria’s sovereignty and their right to self-determination. Many in the West perceive President Bashar Al-Assad as a war criminal guilty of many atrocities, and there has been evidence presented. However, to prove this fact to the World, we must present evidence that is confirmed by the United Nations (Security Council) or the International Criminal Court. Russia is correct on this point, the U.S. lacks jurisdiction to decide Assad’s fate unilaterally. For the sake of the people, save the Assad issue for later and make a ceasefire the priority!
- Provide incentive for a ceasefire. Because of the accumulated violence and vengeance over the last four years, it will be difficult to broker a ceasefire between the Government and Opposition forces. The solution? Initially give them both what they want—a ceasefire, dialogue, and a fresh political start. Assad has stated repeatedly that only the Syrian people can determine his fate as President, and he is correct.
- Partner with Russia on major issues and stop bickering with them. The U.S. defense budget is larger than the next ten countries’ combined. We have hundreds of thousands of military personnel overseas, with nearly 800 installations across approximately 75 countries, including over 30 non-U.S. major military bases. We have 19 aircraft carriers, including 10 nuclear-powered super carriers. Russia has about 10 military bases outside Russia (most in central Asia) and a single aging aircraft carrier (the Admiral Kuznetsov). Their tiny naval base in Tartus is not a threat to U.S. interests—assure them they can keep it and use them to pressure Iran to call off Hezbollah and support a ceasefire.
- Support all three Kurdish factions, and provide heavy weapons (including howitzers, mortars, rockets, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, grenade-launchers, and anti-tank weapons) to at least the Iraqi [KDP/PUK–KRG]. Ensure that the Turkish, Syrian, and Iraqi Kurds understand that they must work together, as their continued support depends on it.
- Pressure Turkey to stop bombing the Kurdish PKK. We need the Kurds to defeat ISIS, and the Peshmerga are the only reliable ground forces capable of defeating ISIS. They are the proverbial boots on the ground that will ultimately defeat ISIS.
- Include all major parties to the dispute in peace talks. We must engage Assad as well as the Opposition rebels.
- Place a special emphasis on improving the relationship between the Saudis and Iran. The Shia-Sunni dispute originated after Mohammad’s death in 632, and it is safe to say they are not going to resolve all their differences. We must stress that there is room on this planet for both.
- Finally, let’s focus on what we can all agree on—we must eradicate ISIS. Once a ceasefire exists between the Government and the Opposition, we should agree to coordinate with everyone, including Russia and Iran, to fight together to defeat ISIS.
Mark G Capolupo
Sources For This Article:
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- The Guardian (Oct 2015): “They were torturing to kill’: inside Syria’s death machine
- ISW (Institute for The Study of War)
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- President Bashar Al-Assad
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