The Syrian Civil War
Table of Contents
The Syrian civil war began as anti-government protests but soon escalated into a full scale civil war. More than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives while another 11million have been forced to flee their homes due to the violence of the war. The war which began around four years ago pits armed forces loyal to president Bashar al-Assad against armed forces opposed to his rule. To complicate matters, there are jihadists militants from a group called Islamic State who also want to rule Syria (Rodger et al).
Genesis of the War
In March 2011, pro-democracy protests began in the southern city of Deera. These protests were as a result of the arrest and torture of some teenagers who had been caught painting revolutionary slogans. In a bid to quell these protests security forces opened fire on the demonstrators. Several demonstrators were killed in these protests. This led to even more people pouring into the streets to protest these new killings. These protests grew and soon there were nationwide demonstrations which demanded the resignation of President Assad. The government used force in a bid to defeat these protests but this simply increased the protestors resolve and by July 2011 more than 100,000 Syrians were taking part in the protests country wide. Gradually, the supporters of the opposition took arms to defend themselves against the government forces. However, these armed supports soon began expelling the government security forces from their areas (Jazeera).
Before the protests began in Syria, economic hardship and the lack of freedoms had many Syrians resenting their government. The use of excessive force in cracking down the protests inflamed public anger leading to national wide demonstrations. Furthermore, the successful uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia gave lots of hope to the pro-democracy activists in Syria. There were also several Islamic movements who were opposed to Presidents Assad’s’ Rule. This is because they held a grudge against the Assad’s family since President Bashar’s father had killed over 40,000 people in a military crackdown carried out in 1982 against the Muslim Brotherhood based in Hama. The initial protests that began in 2011 were mainly non-sectarian. However, the armed conflict led to the emergence of even more deeply divided sects with the minority religious sects supporting the government while the majority who were composed mostly of Sunni Muslims fighting the government. Although most Syrians are Sunni Muslims, President Assad and most of the security personnel belong to the Alawite sect (Dorell and Kwider).
Descent into the Deadliest Civil war of the 21st Century
The Syrian civil war has gradually evolved from being Syrians’ protests against their government and escalated into being the most devastating civil war of the 21st century. Rebel groups formed brigades that have incessantly battled the government forces for the control of Syrian’s towns, cities and the countryside. By 2012 the fighting had reached Damascus, the capital city of Syria. According to the United Nations, the violence had claimed more than 90,000 by June 2013. The number of people killed in the Syrian civil war has continued to rise unabated and as of August 2015, the United Nations puts the number of dead people at 250,000. The Syrian conflict has developed into more than just a battle to oust President Assad. The war now pits the country’s Sunni majority against the Shia Alawite sect. It has also seen the rise of a jihadist group the Islamic State which has further complicated the war. The regional and world’s superpowers have also been drawn into the war (David).
Elements of the War
The Syrian civil war has seen a number of human rights violations perpetrated by parties on both sides. A United Nations commission of inquiry has evidence that war crimes have been committed by all parties involved in the war. These crimes range from murder, rape, torture and enforced disappearances. Furthermore, both warring parties have been accused of perpetrating other crimes that involve civilian suffering such as blocking access to water, food and medical care as a method of waging war. The United Nations Security Council has ordered both sides to stop the use of weapons indiscriminately in areas with civilian populations. Thousands of people have been killed by barrel bombs that have been used against gatherings held in rebel controlled areas. Such attacks are deemed as massacres by the United Nations. Furthermore, the Islamic State group has been accused by the United Nations of terrorizing innocent people. It metes out punishment to civilians who refuse to uphold its archaic rules and has killed hundreds of people through public executions and amputations. It has also carried out indiscriminate killing of people belonging to rival groups and beheaded hostages (Dorell and Kwider).
The civil war has also seen the use of chemical weapons in various occasions. In one instance, in August 2013 hundreds of people died after several rockets that carried nerve agent sarin were fired at suburbs in Damascus. The warring parties blamed each other for the nerve gas attacks. Following this incident, President Assad agreed to destroy Syrians Chemical weapons stockpile after United States threatened to use military intervention. Despite Syria destroying its chemical weapons arsenal, there has been reported use of toxic chemicals such as chlorine which have been used in the systematic and repeated attacks on several rebel-held areas between the months of April and July 2014. Furthermore, the Islamic State has also been accused of using homemade bombs that use chemicals such as sulphur mustard to attack civilian populations (David).
Foreign Governments Involvement in the War
The Syrian civil war has seen the involvement and intervention of several foreign countries as the international community searches for an end to the violence. The United States has been leading an international coalition that seeks to end the Syrian civil war. Since 2014, this coalition has repeatedly bombed targets that are believed to belong or are associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant also known as ISIS. Although the United States has openly opposed the Assad government, it has not taken any concrete action nor involved itself in any military intervention. Even though President Obama stated that the United States government would intervene in the conflict after the Assad government used chemical weapons on civilian population, so far no military intervention has occurred. However, on April 7 the United States launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian air force base which was believed to be the operations base from where the chemical attacks were launched from. This constituted the first direct military action by the United States in its involvement in the war. Other actions by the United States include the scrapping of a controversial program that was designed to train Syrian rebels. This was after it was discovered that despite spending $500 million only 60 rebel soldiers had been trained. Furthermore, in February 2017 it was reported that the CIA had frozen all support and funding of rebel groups that were based in northern Syria. These reports have been disputed by the Free Syrian Army which insists that the funding has been restored (Rodger et al).
The Russians have also been involved in the Syria Civil war on several fronts. In September 2015 Russia began a bombing campaign against what it perceived as terrorist groups in Syria. These groups included ISIL as well as some factions that were allied and supported by western states. Russia has also supported government Assad’s defenses by deploying military advisers into Syria. The United Nations Security Council is deeply divided on several issues that concern the war in Syria. Both China and Russia have blocked several western-backed resolutions on Syria. Arab states have also involved themselves in the Syrian civil war with Iraq and Iran whose governments are mostly made up of Shia supporting President Assad’s government. On the other hand, Arab states such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar with Sunni-majority governments support the rebel groups. In August 2016, Turkish forces in collaboration with Free Syria Army launched an operation dubbed “Euphrates Shield” against ISIL with an aim of liberating the Syrian city of Jarablus. This was in an attempt to stop the advance of Kurdish fighters at its borders. Although the government of Turkey ended the operation in March 2017, it has further stated that there could be more similar cross border operations in future (Jazeera).
Rise of Rebel Groups
There has been a significant evolution of the Syrian civil war since it began. Currently the Jihadists and Islamists outnumber the secular moderates and their brutal tactics have caused a worldwide indignation. The Islamic State faction has taken advantage of the chaos created by the war and taken control of large parts of Syria and Iraq. In June 2014 the Islamic State declared the creation of a caliphate. This group whose fighters are mainly foreigners battle other rival jihadists as well the Kurdish forces and the Syrian government forces. The US led coalition has launched several air strikes with an aim of destroying the Islamic State while Russian military forces have led campaigns against perceived terrorist groups in Syria (Dorell and Kwider).
On the political front, the opposition is deeply divided with rival groups battling for supremacy. The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces is the most prominent party. Although it has the backing of the Gulf Arab States as well as the support of most of the western countries, this exile group has negligible influence in Syria and most opponents of the government reject it. Since the formation of Free Syrian Army in 2011, many rebel groups including ISIL, Iran backed Hezbollah, the Syrian Democratic Forces and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham have all joined the fighting in Syria (David).
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The War has seen several rounds of peace talks take place in a bid to put an end to the violence. These peace talks ended in failure and the warring parties have instead agreed on evacuation deals. The evacuation deals allow opposition fighters to leave government controlled cities and towns safely and head to Northern Syria where the opposition rules. The opposition rebels fight each other frequently as they jostle for supremacy. Furthermore, the war in Syria has often spilled into the neighboring Lebanon leading to even more political polarization of the already volatile country (Dorell and Kwider).
Humanitarian Crisis Due to the War
The Syrian civil war continues to cause and create deep effects that are felt beyond its borders. The violence has resulted in large numbers of refugee who have spilled into Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Furthermore, the Syrian refugees in these countries have tried to journey further into Europe in search of better living conditions. With the homeland in ruins, most of the Syrians have fled abroad and those left behind are deeply traumatized by the effects of the war. It is estimated that more than 4.5 million people have fled Syria since the civil war began. Most of the fleeing population is made up of women and children. While Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have borne the brunt of harboring these refugees, it is estimated that at least ten percent of the Syrian refugees have made their way into Europe. Another 6.5 million Syrians are internally displaced with 1.2 million of these having been driven out of their homes in 2015 alone (Rodger et al).
The United Nations estimate that it will need about 3.2 billion dollars to help around 13 million people in need of some sort of humanitarian assistance inside Syria. Furthermore, around 70% are need of clean drinking water while four out of five Syrians live in poverty. The Warring parties have refused to grant the civilians in besieged towns and cities access to humanitarian agencies. This further compounds a situation that is already dire. The rebuilding of war torn Syria will be an extremely long and difficult process (Dorell and Kwider).
Current Situation of the Civil War
Currently, both warring parties continue to use violence and human rights violations are the order of the day. In some instances chemical weapons are used to attack civilians with the killing of about 80 civilians in the Idlib town held by the opposition being the latest reported case where government forces have used chemical weapons on civilians. However, President Assad has refuted such claims and has instead accused the United States of fabricating such stories so as to justify the need of a US military intervention. Although sarin nerve gas and all its precursors were destroyed in Syria, new incidents that involve the use of chemical weapons are reported frequently. Furthermore, there have been attacks that have targeted evacuation convoys. Such an incident occurred recently where over 110 people were killed after an attack on a convoy that was transporting opposition fighters from the besieged towns of Foua and Kefraya in Idlib. In March, the rebel forces sprung a surprise attack on the northern parts of Damascus. This has intensified the fighting in and around the city and this new conflict has cut off over 300,000 people who were in dire need of humanitarian assistance. The Syrian government controls Aleppo, Damascus and parts of southern Syria while the rebel groups composed of ISIL and Kurdish forces control the rest of Syria (Wikipedia).
Efforts to end the Civil War
A political solution to the Syrian Civil War is the only viable option since neither of the warring parties can exert a decisive defeat on the other. Therefore, the international community led by the United Nations Security Council has demanded for the implementation of the 2012 Geneva Communiqué. This communiqué calls for the creation of a transitional government that is formed out of mutual consent and has full executive powers. In 2014 peace talks known as Geneva II held with an aim of ending the Syrian Civil war broke down after only two rounds of talks. The UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi blamed the Syrian government for the talks’ failure since they refused to discuss the opposition’s demands. Staffan de Mistura who took over from Mr. Brahimi focused on creating a series of local ceasefires. His plan for creating a “free zone” in Aleppo was rejected. However, he was able to bring to an end the three year long siege of Homs suburb of al-Wair. The entry of Islam State into the Syrian civil war saw the need for a political solution gain more momentum. In January 2016 America and Russia led efforts to have both the opposition and the Syrian government representatives sit down in Geneva for “proximity talks” and discuss a road map to peace that included a ceasefire as well as a transitional government. This road map was endorsed by the United Nations Security Council (Jazeera).
What began as protests against human rights violations has ended up being one of the worst Civil wars of the 21st century. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have lost their lives and millions have fled their homes due to the senseless violence. Several rebel groups have joined in the war and some of the rebel groups like the Islam State have taken advantage of the chaos and have ruthlessly and brutally attacked the Syrian civilians and created a caliphate where they have violently enforced their archaic rules. The humanitarian crisis that has followed the war is of gigantic proportions. War crimes have been committed with abandon and even chemical weapons have been employed. The only way out of the civil war is through political negotiations. Therefore, it is up to the international community to put their ideological differences aside and come up with a roadmap to peace that is acceptable to all warring parties.
- Lucy Rodgers, David Gritten, James Offer, and Patrick Asare. “Syria: The Story of the Conflict.” BBC News. BBC, 11 Mar. 2016. Web. 17 Apr. 2017
- Jazeera, Al. “Syria’s Civil War Explained from the Beginning.” News | Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera, 14 Apr. 2017. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.
- “Syrian Civil War.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Apr. 2017. Web. 17 Apr. 2017
- Oren Dorell, and Ahmed Kwider. “Sunni and Shi‘ite Muslims Clash in Syrian Civil War.” The Christian Century. Christian Century, 06 June 201. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.
- Sorenson, David. “Syria.” Encyclopedia of Military Science (2013): n. page. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.