The Syrian Arab Republic has for decades been ruled by the Assad family. Hafiz Assad ruled Syria from 1971-2000. In 2000, his son Bashar Assad succeeded him. The Syrian regime is considered a military regime, and Bashar Assad has continued his father’s autocratic rule. Bashar Assad represents the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party, Ba’ath meaning “resurrection” in Arabic. This is the same party of former dictator Saddam Hussein of Iraq. The Ba’athists hold a pan-Arab ideology which originally sought to unite all Arabs together in a socialist and revolutionary Arab nation, while usually discriminating against non-Arabs like the Kurds, the Jews, etc.
The civil war in Syria began in 2011 after peaceful demonstrations turned violent in Deraa, which is located in southern region. Assad’s forces opened fired on the protestors, which led to mass protests across the country. Protestors, labeled as “terrorists” and “armed criminal gangs” by the Assad regime, were forced to defend themselves. Assad quickly attempted to implement some “reform,” allowing Kurds to be “citizens” of Syria, and removing his nationalist Ba’ath party as the “leader of the state and society.” These changes did nothing to calm the tension, as protestors continued to call for the removal of Assad. Full civil war then erupted.
It is the 8th year of the civil war in Syria. Much of Syria has been reconquered by Assad, with the help of Iran and Russia. Iranian troops, backed by Hezbollah and other foreign Shia militias, have supported Assad throughout the conflict, by providing military advisors, weapons, lines of credit and oil transfers. Russia has provided air cover, and arms and equipment. In 2017, Russia agreed to deals with Assad that will allow Russia to keep its air and naval bases in Syria. Russia has been blamed by many observers for bombing civilians to support Assad. These bombings often include the use of bunker buster bombs, thermobaric bombs, incendiary munitions, and cluster bombs. Russia has also deployed advanced anti-missile systems to Syria – the S-300s in Tartus and the S-400s in Latakia – even though neither is needed to fight the ISIS or al-Qaeda.
The Kurds have been the most moderate forces in Syria. Originally, they forged an alliance with some Sunni Arabs and Christians in the northeast region to set up an autonomous territory, under the name of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) and its military wing, the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF). The U.S. also allied with them, and stationed U.S. troops in their territories. However, after U.S. troops were removed from much of the area, Turkey attacked the SDF, forcing them to ally and accept the authority of Assad.
Turkey has militarily intervened multiple times in Syria, usually aiming to squash Kurdish gains. First it conquered some small border areas. Then it conquered Afrin. Turks killed at least 10,000 Kurds, and drove out 180,000 more, and is replacing them with Sunni Arabs and Turkmen from Syria. 78 Turkish soldiers were killed in Afrin, along with 437 Turkey-aligned Syrian Sunni rebels. The Turks put a jihadist group in charge. The Turks and their allies have been accused of ethnic cleansing and, in some cases, of massacring Christians and Yazidis. Turkey later attacked along the entire border with SDF controlled territory to establish a “safe zone” free of Kurdish fighters about twenty miles wide. This attack has killed and wounded hundreds, and prompted from 180,00 to 300,000 civilians to flee their homes or shelters, including 80,000 children. Turkey claims that 440 Kurdish fighters have been killed since the operation, while the SDF has said 56 of its fighters have died. Turkey also said four of its soldiers were killed, along with 16 allied Syrian fighters. Turkey has relied on the Islamist fighters it controls in Syria, renamed the Syrian National Army, which have been accused of war crimes. Turkey has also fought troops from the Assad regime. Turkey hopes to repopulate this area with Syrian Sunni Arabs who are refugees in Turkey, and to take control of Syrian oil. Turkey has begun to deport Syrian refugees to the areas of Syria it controls. Eventually, Turkey negotiated a cease fire with Russia, splitting control of the safe zone area with the Russians and the Assad regime, with the SDF pushed back from all Turkish border areas. Turkey has demanded that the U.S. turn over the SDF commander, Mazloum Abdi. The Turks have violated the cease fire.
The Assad forces and their allies have been gaining ground against rebel forces in Idlib. The dominant faction is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. Turkey has been supportive of the Idlib rebels, and negotiated a temporary truce between them and Assad. But since the truce ended, more than 860 civilians, more than 1,400 insurgents and over 1,200 pro-regime forces have been killed since April. 400,000 civilians have been displaced.
The year 2020 has seen even greater cooperation between Russia and the Assad Regime, and in turn, an increase in clashes between Russian and American forces in Idlib. Despite a ceasefire that was brokered between Turkey and Russia in January 2020, Russian and Iranian backed Syrian forces have continued to attack Idlib, with Assad vowing less than a month after the most recent ceasefire to retake the last rebel stronghold, which is situated on Syria’s border with Turkey. In October 2019, President Trump and Mark Esper ordered the evacuation of American troops from northern Syria, however after bipartisan concern, about 600 American troops remain in Idlib where they continue to coordinate with the Kurdish YPG, the leading group of the Syrian Defense Forces in the region. Russia’s most recent escalation of the conflict came at the end of May when Russia delivered advanced MiG-29 jet fighters to the Assad regime, which came with requests from Putin to officially expand Russian presence and cooperation with Syrian forces. This move comes as the US plans to increase sanctions and travel restrictions on foreign actors supporting the human rights violations and violence of the Assad regime in the National Defense Authorization Act for the Fiscal Year 2020.
In Aleppo, several Iran and Russia-backed groups who have based military operations out of the city have recently faced challenges from Israel. Various Iranian and Russian backed militia groups, including the Palestinian Liwa al-Quds militia and Hezbollah, have set up security checkpoints throughout the city, pose major threats to Israel, and carry out military action against the SDF. However, throughout May Israeli airstrikes on Iranian targets have destroyed several military facility and weapons factories, causing Iranian nationals to flee Syria.
Assad – Pink | SDF – Yellow | Dark Green – Turkey | Green & White – Idlib | Light Green – U.S. troops in Al Tanf
In 2011, the population of Syria was numbered at 22 million. The civil war has driven some 5.6 million people out of the country and displaced around 6.6 million within its borders. 80% of Syrians are living in poverty, almost 60% are unemployed, and about half the children do not attend school. This great migration has destabilized the Middle East and Europe. Half a million people have been killed; about 85% of the dead were civilians killed by the forces of the Syrian government and its allies. Assad is cracking down in the areas he controls, and he and the Iranians have been brutal to their opponents. They have been also repopulating their areas with Shia Muslims from Iraq and Afghanistan, and even from Lebanon and Iran. The UN estimates that it will cost $400 billion to rebuild Syria. One American citizen has been executed by the Assad forces.
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