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Read/Post Comment: 0 Posted by Thomas Omogi

 / 
19.01.2016

Syria at the crossroads. By Thomas Omogi Freelance Journalist 

The current Syrian civil war is likely to continue for some time. However, the regime that is now in place is under increasing pressure from the Syrian public and the world, and likely will not continue to be in charge of the country beyond 2019. Whether the war continues after the regime inevitably topples is anyone's guess at this point. There are far too many fragmented armed opposition groups involved in the conflict to envision a smooth transition to another government once the Bashar regime is toppled. What is more likely to happen is a state of virtual anarchy once Bashar is no longer ruling the country,, and foreign military groups may be forced to move in to maintain some semblance of control in the country. Most foreign intervention will likely be in the form of air strikes, along with humanitarian support. Could foreign governments have done any more to prevent the current conflict? Can they do more in the future to ensure a stable Syria? What toll is the war taking on the inhabitants of the country right now, particular the children? These are some serious questions that need to be explored. The Syrian Civil War: A Background. To understand the Syrian conflict now, it is first necessary to understand its background. The war began in the spring of 2011 as part of the overall Arab Spring protests. Those protests led to protests within Syria itself against the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Bashar's government responded to these protests with violent crackdowns on participants. As the protests continued and the government crackdowns grew worse, the protests eventually became more violent themselves, until they were an actual armed military rebellion against the government. There are now several different armed participant groups involved in the Syrian civil war, each with its own agenda. In addition to Bashar's government forces, the following groups are also participating: The Free Syrian Army (which entered the fray in 2011) The Islamic Front (which started fighting in Syria in 2013) Hezbollah (which joined the fight in 2013 in support of Bashar's government) The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (which gradually began fighting in Syria in 2014 for its own aims) ISIL and the Syrian Conflict Of these groups, the most dangerous is the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). It is a jihadist group that is not affiliated with Syria in any way. It has its own agenda of promoting its particular brand of Islam in a country that is already vulnerable to its military power, being divided into so many factions as it is. ISIL originates from Iraq and has fought in Syria against both the pro and anti-Bashar forces, looking at the war as an opportunity to bring its brand of Islam to the country. By the summer of 2014, ISIL already controlled a third of Syria's territory, including most of its oil and gas production facilities. It is one of the biggest problems in the Syrian civil war as far as foreign governments are concerned, largely due to its economic disruption of the country's gas and oil exports. However, those who live within Syria have larger concerns than just ISIL. Bashar's Government and Religion in the Syrian Conflict. Bashar al-Assad was elected president of Syria in 2000, and initially promised many democratic reforms and an end to religious and cultural persecution...all promises he failed to deliver on, despite the high hopes he inspired among the populace at his election. Religious minorities in the country still complain that their cultural and language rights are being ignored by Bashar's regime. It is these complaints that formed the basis of the initial anti-government protests at the beginning of the war. However, Bashar has a firm control of the nation's military, and their loyalty has been instrumental in his ability to retain power for so long in the midst of such an intense civil war. Bashar's government still controls approximately 30 to 40 percent of the territory of Syria, and 60 percent of the population. He still has forces that are loyal to him, as well as a good portion of the common people. It's not enough to prevent the ongoing conflict, however. Plus, there is a religious component to the conflict within the country, not counting ISIL's outside influence. Within the Syrian opposition groups, the main conflicts are occurring between the mostly Shia government-affiliated groups and the Sunni rebel groups. Discontent between the Sunni groups and the policies of the Shia government contributed a great deal to the origins of the civil war, though they were not the only cause of it. The Socio-Economic Background of the War. It was not only the lack of follow-through on democratic reform promises and continued ethnic and religious discrimination that contributed to the war, though. Economics also played a part in the current conflict, and continues to do so. Conservative Sunnis, who make up a large portion of the poorer districts of Syria, already felt disaffected by Bashar's government policies. This discontent, combined with their abject poverty, was compounded by a drought that hit the areas where these Sunnis lived in 2011. This caused poverty to increase, with no assistance from the government. The free market policies of Bashar contributed to the already crushing poverty of the conservative Sunnis in the country. These policies benefited the service sector, which Sunnis were largely absent from, aside from a few wealthy Sunni merchants. The people getting the most economic benefit from Bashar's policies were those with government connections, the merchant class, and those who were already wealthy. The poor were made even more poor, and the standard of living for them decreased even more, while they watched a privileged few rise in economic power and comfort. Prices for commodities were raised to where the poor almost could not afford them (and many times could not at all), while the unemployment rate among the nation's poor youth rose. The disconnect in the standard of living between the upper and lower classes was never more apparent. With Bashar's government seeming to be unwilling to do anything about it, discontent among the lower classes increased, and led to some of the protests that eventually became the civil war. The Humanitarian Toll of the Syrian Civil War The humanitarian toll of the Syrian civil war has been significant. Since it began in 2011, more than 190,000 people (both soldiers and civilians) have been killed in the conflict. There have been massacres as well as smaller battles. Chemical weapons have been deployed by both sides, and government forces, which are responsible for most of the civilian deaths in the conflict, have used bombing as their main tactic. Not only have there been large numbers of casualties, there have also been mass imprisonments of protesters and anti-government activists. Though nothing has been confirmed for certain, there have also been reports of torture being used on the prisoners in this conflict. The conditions in Syria have deteriorated to the point that people are now fleeing the country. Over three million Syrian citizen have left the country to go to neighboring Middle Eastern nations as refugees. Those who have stayed have found themselves in deplorable living conditions, with over 6.5 million Syrian citizens being displaced from their homes, additional millions living with extreme food and water shortages. Syria is raising an entire generation of children who will grow up with the psychological scars of living their childhoods in the midst of a bloody civil war, one that is depriving them of family members as well as the basic necessities of subsistence living. Not only that, some children are being recruited by the various factions involved (particularly ISIL) to be soldiers well before they are physically or psychologically ready for that kind of training. What type of future will these children have, and what will their psychological needs be after experiencing these things at such young ages? What will the Syria they create be like? These are questions that need to be answered when looking at an appropriate response to the current Syrian conflict. It's still going on. Syrian people are being killed in it every day. The world's news outlets may not be reporting on it, but that doesn't mean the conflict has disappeared. It is still there, largely ignored by the rest of the world, but impacting an entire nation in horrible ways that seem destined to end in chaos. Once that chaos comes, the rest of the world will be forced to act, as a destabilized Syria will destabilize the entire region. It seems prudent for international forces to act before it gets to this point, as it will be much more difficult to clean up the Syrian mess after Basher's regime falls than it would be now, with decisive international action toward one side or the other. Humanitarian individuals alone cannot stop such a multi-faceted conflict. International Reaction to the Conflict in Syria While Syria has a number of international supporters, no one nation has stepped up and offered direct military assistance. Russia and China support Bashar's government, and have provided money, training, and weapons for Syrian government forces. These two nations also vetoed a UN resolution that would have imposed sanctions on the Syrian government if it had continued to fight the rebels. The rebels, on the other hand, have the support of the United States, the UK, and France. A U.S. military base in Qatar provides military training for rebels. However, no nation has actually committed its own troops to help fight the battle on either side. Some air strikes have been initiated from Iraq toward Syria by the United States, which have mostly targeted ISIL strongholds. Additionally, President Obama has asked Congress for $500 million to arm moderate rebels and train them for battle within Syria. This lukewarm response from the foreign governments of the world, and from the UN, have done nothing to help end the war. The nations expressing support for each side all have the troops, equipment, and money to make a real difference in this war. The UN could also commit troops to aid in the conflict on either side, but has so far made no move to do so, other than the proposed sanctions that were vetoed by Russia and China. Peace talks between the government and rebel forces have also been proposed by the UN, and both sides have promised to attend if such talks can be arranged. Still, with such a bloody conflict ongoing, with no end to it in sight, and with people from Europe and the United States now traveling to Syria to either offer humanitarian aid on their own or to actually join in the conflict on either side, it seems that the Syrian civil war is becoming more of an international concern than merely a regional one. The beheadings of US and UK journalists and aid workers by ISIL militants should have provoked a greater international response from the nations involved, but other than a failed attempt to rescue hostages on one occasion in 2014 by the United States, nothing substantial has been done. The question remains, how much more blood needs to be shed before Syria becomes a matter of international concern, and not just a minor annoyance to the big government players of the world as it now seems to be?
Submitted by Thomas Omogi
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