|Daily News Updates|
After more than two years of struggle, the civil war in Syria increasinlgy resembles the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s, the bloodly struggle that provided a preview of the larger war the came in 1939. In Spain, Facist forces were backed by Italy and Germany, pitted against leftist forces backed by the Soviet Union. In Syria, Shia Iran is backing the Alawite [quasi co-religionist] Assad regime, while Sunni monarchies - Saudi Arabia and Qatar - are backing some opposition militias. The situation is far more complex, but this framework is a good place to start.
Syria's government said it will call for a cease-fire at a proposed United Nations-backed peace conference aimed at ending the country's civil war. Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil told The Guardian September 20, 2013 the conflict has reached a stalemate, saying neither the government nor the rebels are strong enough to defeat each other. He told the British paper the Syrian government would also propose an "end to external intervention" and the start of a "peaceful political process" at the long-delayed conference in Geneva. The United States and Russia have been trying for months to bring together members of Syria's government and rebel forces to the so-called Geneva Two talks.
Red lines are not enough to prevent developments. The alleged chemical attack on August 21 that killed more than 1,400 people - including 426 children - in areas outside Damascus populated by opposition supporters crossed an international, global red line. In an interview with CBS television, Assad denied he had ordered the August 21 attack and said evidence was not conclusive it had even taken place. He said he is concerned that an air strike on Syria would degrade his military and tip the balance in the conflict. German intelligence in reporting that Syrian brigade and division commanders had been asking the Syrian presidency to allow them to use chemical weapons for more than four months, but permission had always been denied. German intelligence officers suggested that could mean Assad may not have personally approved the attack.
On 22 July 2013 General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, outlined five options for using American force in Syria, while cautioning about the costs and potential consequences of direct involvement in the country's crisis. Detailedin a letter to Congress, they ranged from training opposition forces to destroying Syria's chemical weapons stockpile. He said such intervention would likely help the opposition and place more pressure on President Bashar al-Assad's government. However, he said the unintended results could include empowering extremists and "unleashing the very chemical weapons we seek to control."
The Course of Combat
By the end of August 2013, more than 110,000 people had been killed, and millions of people have either been displaced or become refugees in neighboring countries. The Syrian conflict devolved from peaceful protests seeking political reform to a confrontation between ethnic and religious groups. The Syrian conflict has been marked by a continuous but unequal escalation of armed violence throughout the country. Levels of violence have varied geographically due to the interplay of a number of factors: the strategic importance of a particular area, the deployment and strength of Government forces, the sectarian composition of the local population and anti-Government armed groups’ organisation and access to logistical support.
The Government, with affiliated militia, adopted a “contraction” of forces strategy in facing the mounting insurgency. While focusing on holding major cities, Government forces also besieged restive towns with layers of security. Towns under armed group control suffered intensified artillery and aerial shelling. Other, mostly rural, areas were abandoned completely by Government forces, but continued to be shelled. Besides conventional ammunition, other types of ammunition were used, including cluster aerial bombs and artillery shells.
Violence increased dramatically in and around major cities, in particular Damascus and Aleppo, where anti-Government fighters advanced to neighborhoods close to the cities’ centers. Mounting tensions led to armed clashes between different armed groups along a sectarian divide. Such incidents took place in mixed communities or where armed groups had attempted to take hold of areas predominantly inhabited by pro-Government minority communities. Some minority communities, notably the Alawites and Christians, formed armed self-defence groups to protect their neighbourhoods from anti-Government fighters by establishing checkpoints around these areas. Some of those local groups, known as Popular Committees, are said to have participated alongside Government forces in military operations.
The conflict in Syria has evolved into a war of attrition that increasingly put civilians at risk. Anti-Government armed groups conduct their operations from within densely populated civilian areas, putting civilians in the line of fire and causing them to flee their homes. By using civilian objects, such as schools for military purposes, anti-Government armed groups subject civilians to the dangers of war. Government forces conduct their military operations in flagrant disregard of the distinction between civilians and persons directly participating in hostilities.
Public order is breaking down in rebel-held areas of Syria, with widespread looting, crime running rampant and rebel factions fighting among themselves, according to refugees escaping to Lebanon. The refugees painted a bleak picture of mounting violence and lawlessness as civilians scramble to overcome shortages of food, water and fuel. The looting and infighting among rebel units is adding to the misery of civilians who managed to survive during two years of civil war.
The conflict continued to be waged by both Government forces and anti-Government armed groups with insufficient respect for the protection of the civilian population, in clear violation of international humanitarian law. The Government continues its indiscriminate shelling and aerial bombardment of civilian areas, while in several instances anti-Government armed groups have located military objectives within or near densely populated areas.
Syria may be heading toward a break-up that would see the formation of at least three new mini-states. One such mini-state would be an enclave for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government in the west and northwest that would be populated by members of the Alawi sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam, Shiites and Christians. Another would be a Sunni-majority state in the center and south of the country and the third would be a separate entity in the northeast for Syria’s two million Kurds.
In 2012 Syria’s Orthodox Christian Church claimed that Islamist rebels were carrying out “ethnic cleansing of Christians” in Homs. The Vatican news agency, Fides, said most of the 50,000 Christians living in the city left when Islamists went door to door in the neighborhoods of Hamidiya and Bustan al-Diwan telling Christians they would be shot if they did not leave. Militants Islamists have sometimes used the slogan, “the Alawites to the grave and the Christians to Beirut.”
By mid-2013, as Syria continued its sectarian civil war, some argued that state-based nationalism was declining and something larger and older was taking over. The Syrian war seemed to mark the beginning of the end for the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which divided the Ottoman Empire after World War I and created the modern Middle East. Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese army general and now the director of a political think tank in Beirut, believes the likely outcome of the civil war is the breakup of Syria. He foresees Alawites, members of an offshoot sect of Shia Islam, and Christians cleaving together along Syria’s coast, and Kurds and Sunni Muslims establishing separate states of their own.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|