n March 2011 a simple pro-democracy protest rally shook the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. The crude mishandling of a simple protest saw the conflict spiral out of control and turn into a hydra headed monster. Today sectarianism divides the country internally, diverse international and regional forces fight ‘to protect their interests’ in Syria, while a hapless civilian population is are caught in the cross-fire of forces fighting proxy wars for different causes. The Syrian Civil war began as a peaceful protest against the ruling Assad family, Alawites by religion (a little-known liberal branch of Islam) who had been ruling Syria –a country where the majority belong to the Sunni sect of Islam- since 1971.
The uprising during its initial stages was against the failure of the Assad dictatorship,to provide long-promised economic and political reforms. But in April when regime troops opened fire on demonstrators, peaceful protests turned into a full-scale armed conflict. As the conflict progressed, hundreds of civilians lost their lives, thousands of others began to flee the country. By June in response to armed attacks of the state, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) -a combination of local area tribal groups and deserters from the military took shape. The rebels ill-armed and under equipped were brutally hammered by regime forces who indiscriminately attacked unarmed civilians as well.
Soon Jihadists from the Islamic State and al-Queda began joining the FSA. Ill-armed and undermanned, the FSA had little choice but to form a loose coalition with the incoming jihadists. Soon the FSA became a melting pot of genuine Syrian freedom fighters and others with particular Islamist agendas. As the conflict dragged on, the US and a coalition of western states plus Kurdish militias backed the rebels, while Russia,Hezbollah from Palestine and Iran backed the regime.
Today, the Syrian conflict has moved beyond the struggle of the Syrian people and their rulers. It has taken a sectarian turn pitting the majority Sunni Muslims against the Alawite sect. It has drawn in regional and world powers. The rise of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) has added a new dimension to the conflict.
The Islamic State has used the chaos and captured large parts of Syria. Foreign jihadists are involved in a “war within a war” in Syria, battling the FSA, regime forces, Kurdish forces as well as rival jihadists. In 2014, a US-led coalition launched air strikes inside Syria, in support of Syrian rebels. Meanwhile Iran and Russia back the Assad regime. All interventionists keep pouring money, weapons and personnel into different sides of the conflict. Earlier this year (2016) Russia commenced air strikes inside Syria against the regimes foes.
According to UN estimates around 250,000 Syrians have been killed, 4.5 million are refugees, 13.5 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria and more than 50% of the country’s population is displaced. According to the Wall Street Journal four out of five Syrians live in poverty. Two-thirds are unable to secure basic foods and essentials for daily life, and Syria “has become a country of poor people. The number of injured has reached 840,000, while the death toll almost doubled in 2014 and is nearing a quarter-million people—with no end to the conflict in sight…” The latest ceasefire brokered by the Russia and the US in September 2016, broke down when US led coalition forces ‘mistakenly’ bombed Syrian regime forces killing a large number of troops and injuring over a hundred others, while they were under attack from the IS.
Two days later on 23 July the Syrian army announced the start of a new offensive in Syria’s Aleppo. The same day Russia’s Foreign Minister announced “…we cannot allow terrorists to benefit from a stalled ceasefire…” The truth is neither the US nor the Russians or the Iranians, or jihadists, Kurds or Hezbollah are interested in the well-being of the Syrians. They all have their own private agendas and the fate of Syria and Syrians is secondary... if at all. Russia’s only naval base in the Mediterranean -Tartus- is in Syria and regime change will endanger that base.
U.S. government’s main interest in the region which stretches from the eastern Mediterranean to the Arabian Sea is to ensuring that oil flows freely out of the Gulf countries. Syria has at least 2.5 billion barrels of oil in its fields of Deir Ezzor and the Rumeilan region, making it the next largest Middle Eastern oil producer after Iraq. Israel, the US’s only ally in the Middle East, is illegally occupying the Golan Heights on the Syrian border and extracting their resources. The US involvement in Syria is to monopolize its oil assets, while simultaneously beating its competitors – Iran and Russia– in the race for the Syrian black gold.