Syrian civil war

ongoing multi-sided civil war in Syria since 2011

The Syrian civil war, also known as the Syrian uprising (Arabic: الثورة السورية),[112] or Syrian crisis (Arabic: الأزمة السورية),[113] is an ongoing armed conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic. The conflict started in 2011 after the Syrian government violently stopped pro-democracy demonstrations in the city of Daraa, resulting in a deathly struggle between the Syrian regime and multiple opposition groups.[114][115][116] Since then, it has developed to be one of the most internationalized and impactful conflicts in the history of the modern Middle East.[117]

Syrian Civil War
Part of the Arab Spring, the Arab Winter, and the spillover of the Iraqi conflict
Syrian Civil War map.svg
Military situation in April 2019:
     Syrian Arab Republic      Syrian opposition & Turkish occupation      Rojava      Tahrir al-Sham[24]      ISIL
(Full list of combatants, Detailed map, Live interactive map)
Date15 March 2011 (2011-03-15) – present (11 years, 6 months, 2 weeks and 5 days)
Location
Syria (with spillovers in neighboring countries)
Status Ongoing
Territorial
changes
As of 31 March 2020: the Syrian Armed Forces held 63.57% of Syrian territories; SDF 25.57%; rebel groups (incl. HTS) & Turkey 9.72%; ISIL 1.14%[25]
Main belligerents
InfoboxHez.PNG Hezbollah
 Iran
 Russia (2015–present)
Support:

 Turkey[b] (2016–present)

Support:

Salvation Government (Tahrir al-Sham)[d][e]

Support:
Support:
Flag of Rojava.svg Rojava (SDF) (2012–present)
Support:

CJTF–OIR
(2014–present)
Commanders and leaders

Killed in action:

Killed in action:
Killed in action:

Killed in action:
Units involved
See order See order See order See order
Strength

Syrian Armed Forces: 180,000[67]
General Security Directorate: 8,000[68]
National Defense Force: 80,000[69]
Ba'ath Brigades: 7,000 Hezbollah: 6,000–8,000[70]
Liwa Al-Quds: 4,000–8,000
Russia: 4,000 troops[71] & 1,000 contractors[72]
Iran: 3,000–5,000[70][73]

Other allied groups: 20,000+

Free Syrian Army: 20,000–32,000[74] (2013)
Islamic Front: 40,000–70,000[75][76] (2014)
Other groups: 12,500[77] (2015)
Turkish Armed Forces: 4,000–8,000[78][79]


Ahrar al-Sham: 18,000–20,000+[80][81] (March 2017)


Tahrir al-Sham: 31,000[82]
15,000–20,000 (per U.S., late 2016)[83]

SDF: 60,000–75,000 (2017 est.)[84]

  • YPG & YPJ: 20,000–30,000 (2017 est.)[85]
  • Syriac Military Council (MFS): 1,000 (2017 est.)[86]
  • Al-Sanadid Forces: 2,000–4,000 (2017 est.)[86]
  • SDF Military Councils: 10,000+[87][88][89]
Casualties and losses

Syrian Arab Republic:
65,187–100,187 soldiers killed[90][91]
50,484–64,484 militiamen killed[90][91]
4,700 soldiers/militiamen & 2,000 supporters captured[90]
InfoboxHez.PNG Hezbollah:
1,677–2,000 killed[90][92]
Russia Russia:
116 soldiers[93] & 186–280 PMCs killed[94]

Other non-Syrian fighters:
8,109 killed[90] (2,300–3,500+ IRGC-led)[95][96]

Syrian opposition 132,824–173,824 killed[f][90][91]


Turkey Turkey:
182 killed (2016–19 incursions)[97][98][99]
28,532+ killed (per SOHR)[100]
20,711+ killed (per YPG & SAA)[101][102]

Flag of Syrian Democratic Forces.svg SDF:
11,600–12,586+ killed[103][104]


CJTF–OIR:
11 killed[105]

112,623[90]–117,377[106] civilian deaths documented by opposition
100 other foreign soldiers killed (Lebanon 60, Turkey 17 (pre-'16), Iraq 16, Jordan 7)


Total killed: 371,222–570,000 (per SOHR)[90]


Estimated ≥7,600,000 internally displaced & ≥5,116,097 refugees (July 2015/2017)[107]

a Since early 2013, the FSA has been decentralized with its name being arbitrarily used by various rebels.
b Turkey provided arms support to rebels since 2011 & since Aug. 2016 fought alongside the TFSA in the Aleppo governorate vs. the SDF, ISIL & Syrian gov.
c Sep.–Nov. 2016: U.S. fought with the TFSA in Aleppo governorate solely against ISIL.[108][109] In 2017–18, the U.S. purposely attacked the Syrian gov. 10 times, while in Sep. 2016 it accidentally hit a Syrian base, killing ≥100 SAA soldiers. Syria maintains this was intentional.[110]
d Predecessors of HTS (al-Nusra Front) & ISIL (ISI) were allied al-Qaeda branches until April 2013. Al-Nusra Front rejected an ISI-proposed merger into ISIL & al-Qaeda cut all affiliation with ISIL in Feb. 2014.
e Ahrir al-Sham's predecessor, Syrian Liberation Front, and Tahrir al-Sham's predecessor, al-Nusra Front, were allied under the Army of Conquest from March 2015 to January 2017.
f Number includes Kurdish & ISIL fighters, whose deaths are also listed in their separate columns.[111][90]

g Iraq's involvement in Syria is limited to airstrikes against ISIL & are coordinated with the Syrian gov.[1]

BackgroundEdit

Since 1970, Syria has been ruled by the Ba'ath Party. The Alawi general Hafez al-Assad took control in the country that year wiith a coup and became president. He has ruled the country for the next 30 years until his passing. In 2000, his son Bashar al-Assad followed him as Syria's president. Hafez al-Assad's regime was supposedly a secular regime, although coming from an Alawi family himself. The Alawis are a Shi'i Muslim minority in Syria.[116] It is estimated that around 10% of the Syrian population belongs to the Alawi community. Even though they belong to the broader Shi'i Islam, they have a secretive and exclusive community. Their doctrine and theology is kept between the scholars of the community.[118] Allthough most power resides within the Alawi minority, the Syrian population is actually very diverse. The Syrian population consists of Christians, Druzes, Yazedis and other minorities, but the biggest religious community of the country is the Sunni Islam community.[119]

The Syrian Civil War started on the 15th of March 2011 with demonstrations in Deraa, demanding the Ba'ath government to resign and stop Assad's authoritarian rule.[115][120] These demonstrations were the result of rising discontent among Syrian citizens regarding what Syria had become under the regime of president Bashar al-Assad.[114] Most importantly, Syrian citizens were mad about the political repression by Assad's regime.[114][121] The fact that the since 1971 ruling Assad family was Shia muslim, while the majority of Syrians were Sunni Muslim worsened this discontent.[121][121][122] Furthermore, economically Syria was not doing well in the years before the outbreak of the civil war; inequality was high, unemployment rates had increased and a heavy drought had made food and water scarce.[121][123] Because of this heavy drought between 2006 and 2011, almost 85% of the livestock, taking away the source of income for many agrarian Syrians. Most villagers moved to the big cities, but could not find work there, which led to high unemployment rates and rising discontent.[124][125]

The Syrian uprising that followed can be seen in the bigger perspective of the Arab spring. In other Arab countries before 2011, discontent was also rising about the current political and economic environment. In December 2010, a Tunisian man named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire after being repeatedly mistreated by government officials. This led to considerable civil unrest in the country and eventually to mass demonstrations. The Tunisian president, Ben Ali, eventually resigned and fled. Surrounding Arab countries followed and in many countries, the people started demonstrating, demanding political change. It did not take long for the Syrian people to follow these examples.[126]

BeginningEdit

In March 2011, a group of children between the ages of 10 and 15 wrote antiregime graffiti on a wall. The regime quickly arrested these children and tortured them in prison. Consequently, demonstrations started to erupt in Daraa, demanding the immediate release of these children. The demonstrations in Daraa escalated after Syrian security forces reacted extremely violent, using water cannons, tear gas and live fire.[127] The Syrian regime responded with increasingly more violence.[128] Consequently, demonstrations spread across the country, resulting in the killing and detention of hundreds of protestors.[129][130] This resulted in the beginning of an armed insurgency, starting with the formation of the Free Syrian Army in July 2011, consisting of defected army soldiers and civilian volunteers.[131] Battles took place in many towns and cities across the country.[132] As the military opposition became increasingly stronger and more organized, the United Nations officially declared the Syrian uprising a civil war in December of 2011.[133]

BelligerentsEdit

Syrian actorsEdit

Firstly, the most important actor in the Syrian Civil War is the Syrian Armed Forces, under the control of the Syrian government. The Syrian Armed Forces are fighting in support of Assad's regime and against the armed opposition forces. Both the United Nations Human Rights Council and the Syrian Network for Human Rights have concluded that the Syrian Armed Forces are guilty of the most and worst human rights abuses.[134] Following huge amounts of defections, the Syrian Armed Forces have since late 2015 depended largely on hired militias and volunteers from outside of Syria.[135]

Secondly, the opposition forces consist of a big number of factions, with the Free Syrian Army as an important coalition of several of these militias. The Free Syrian Army was founded by defecting Syrian Army officers with the goal to protect civilians and bring down the Syrian government.[131] It claimed to be "the military wing of the Syrian opposition".[136] Between 2011 and 2015, the Free Syrian Army lost most of its influence because of a lack of funding, fighting and rival Islamist groups.[137] After the Turkish military intervention in 2016, most of the Free Syrian Army became the Syrian National Army, also known as the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army.[138] The Syrian National Army became a coalition of opposition forces, coordinated and funded by Turkey.[139] The goals of the Syrian National Army are to counter Syrian government forces, the Syrian Democratic Forces and Islamist extremist forces, such as the Islamic State and Hay'at-Tahrir al-Sham.[140][141][142]

Thirdly, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is a military alliance governing the self-declared Autonomous Administration in North and East Syria.[143] The main goal is to establish a democratic and non-religious system in Syria. Therefore, they have mostly been fighting ISIL together with Western countries.[143] Furthermore, they are opposed to the Syrian National Army, as the Turkish forces consider the Kurdish leadership of the SDF a terrorist organization and actively fight them.[144][145]

Fourthly, numerous Islamist groups have been active in the Syrian Civil War. For example, in late 2011 the Islamist group al-Nusra Front began to have a bigger role in the forces. However, the most influential and effective Islamist group has been the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They emerged in April of 2013 and As of 2014, they effectively were in control of 30% of Syria and 40% of Iraq.[146][147] In July of 2014 they changed their name to simply Islamic State. ISIL has been fought by the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army, the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Syrian government forces and a US-led coalition of Western states.[148] Consequently, by 2017 it had lost 95% of its territory and in 2018 it was declared officially defeated by the United States.[147][149] This seems not to be entirely true, as more recent news has shown that IS is making a comeback. In 2022, already several attacks claimed by the Islamic State have been documented.[150] ISIL has been widely known for its terroristic regime, including many human rights abuses, such as mass public executions and torture.[151] The group attracted many young people from all over the world due to their anti-western and strongly Islamic attitude. Consequently, they have also done terrorist attacks in the West, which is why the West has been so focused on actively fighting IS.[116]

Foreign involvementEdit

While the Syrian civil war started out as a civilian uprising, foreign actors quickly became involved. Currently, the Syrian Civil War cannot simply be described as a domestic two-sided war, but must be described as several overlapping proxy wars.[152][153][154] The first one of these is between the United States and Russia.[152][154] Since 2015, Russia has been backing the Syrian government.[154] The main reason for this is that stability in the region will make it easier for Russia to exert its influence.[152] Furthermore, it is a perfect opportunity to display Russia's military capabilities.[152] On the other hand, the United States and NATO are involved in the Syrian Civil War in part to counter this Russian influence in the MENA region.[152]

The second proxy war is between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran has supported the Syrian government since the start of the conflict. Reasons for this are that Iran and Syria have long been allies and the survival of the Syrian regime is essential for Iran's geopolitical interests.[155]  Iran has supported the Syrian regime by providing military supplies, helping pro-Assad militias and sending Hezbollah troops.[155] Saudi Arabia on the other hand has since 2012 been funding and arming the rebels, together with Qatar.[156][157]  The main reason for this is to counter Iranian power and achieve regional dominance.[152]

Moreover, Turkey is an essential foreign actor in the Syrian Civil War. Turkey's main aim is to prevent the Syrian Democratic Forces from successfully create an autonomous state. As the leadership of the SDF, the Peoples Defense Unit (YPG), is largely Kurdish, the creation of an autonomous state would set an example for Kurds in Turkey.[145][152] This would threaten Turkey's territorial integrity.[152]  Furthermore, Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist organization.[158] Throughout the war, Turkey has been a dominant force in Northern Syria, providing the opposition with military aid, building governance institutions and funding infrastructure projects.[159]

The United Kingdom and France have also been significant actors in the conflict, as they have been providing aid to several moderate opposition forces.[160][161] Both Turkey and Iran are also claimed to have recruited Pakistani mercenaries to fight for opposing sides, which could have also resulted them in fighting each other.[162][163][164]

Course of the warEdit

Critics argue the Western intervention at the time had used too much of an optimistic approach from the beginning. Most Western politicians thought that president Bashar al-Assad and his regime would fall within a year. They completely underestimated the strength of his regime. This is why the West did not intervene early on in the conflict. Only when the Islamic State made its come up did the West become more actively engaged in the conflict, because this threatened their own national security. However, there was never a defined plan, only the wish for removing the president and his current regime at the time from power. Russia and China on the other hand were always more actively engaged in the conflict, supporting the Syrian regime.[116]

By July 2013, the Syrian government controlled approximately 30–40 percent of the country's territory and 60 percent of the Syrian population.[165] In the beginning of 2022, the Assad regime is back to controlling more than 63% of Syrian territory, while the opposition forces control about 11% and the Syrian Democratic forces around 26%.[166]

Human rightsEdit

Throughout the conflict, several institutions have documented a multitude of grave human rights violations, among which are the Human Rights Watch, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Syrian Network for Human Rights. International organizations accused both government and opposition forces of violating human rights.[167] The UN said most of the abuses were carried out by the Syrian government.[168][169][170][171][172] According to the United Nations, as of 2022 more than 12 million Syrians will be living in food insecurity and more than 14.6 million Syrians will be in need of humanitarian assistance.[173] Millions of citizens are still short of electricity, food and drinking water. This is worsened by Russia's invasion of Ukraine in March of 2022, as this hinders essential food imports.[153] Of the 14.6 million Syrians that are in need of humanitarian assistance, 1.48 million people are in catastrophic need, claims the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.[174]  Above all that, the economic toll of the war has resulted in 90% of Syrians living under the poverty line as of 2022.[174]

According to the latest data of the Syrian Network for Human Rights (2022), well over 225 000 civilians have died since the start of the conflict, among which are around 30 000 children.[175] For around 200 000 of these civilian deaths are the Syrian regime forces to blame.[134] According to the UN Human Rights Council, the total death toll of the Syrian civil war is around 350 000, although this is almost certainly an undercount of the actual death toll.[176] The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has claimed to have documented a much higher death toll, arguing that 610 000 people died since the start of the conflict, of which they have already identified and documented 500 000.[177]  Furthermore, the UN Refugee Agency claims that 6.6 million Syrians have fled the country since 2011 and 6.7 million people are internally displaced.[178]

Furthermore, both the opposition and the government forces are guilty of committing acts that amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.[174]  The Syrian-Russian alliance is guilty of most human rights violations, especially through indiscriminate attacks on civilian infrastructure.[174] However, the US-led coalition is also guilty of using indiscriminate weapons, though in much smaller numbers.[134] Also, Syrian government forces and militias continue to arbitrarily detain, torture, execute and make disappear Syrian civilians.[174] Since the beginning of the war, almost 15 000 Syrians have died of torture, and 100 000 Syrians are still missing.[175] Also, in 2013 the Syrian regime allegedly used chemical weapons, a nerve agent called sarin. This drew attention from the international community.[179] The government reportedly surrendered their chemical weapons in 2014. Eventhough the blueprint of the Sarin leads back to the Syrian government, there is not enough evidence to prove that it was the Syrian government that deployed it.[180]

The United Nations claim the humanitarian crisis is still getting worse in 2022 and a peace agreement is far from being reached.[181] However, at the Brussels conference in 2022, international donors have agreed to provide Syria 6.7 billion USD for support and reconstruction.[182]

Related pagesEdit

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