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Syria: Proxy war, not civil war

More than 4 years have passed since the Syrian people took to the streets demanding freedom, dignity, and social justice- simply their basic human rights. The regime’s response towards the uprising has been incomprehensible and horrific, and to date has resulted in the killing of more than 200 thousand human lives, the displacement of more than 8 million, and the destruction of the country’s history and infrastructure.

It is undeniable that the conflict in Syria has escalated to a war; a war, however, that is not a civil war nor one driven by the Syrians. The conflict in Syria is a multi-proxy war in which international, competing interests carry out their battles in Syria, demolishing the country’s hope of establishing a democratic state free of dictatorship.

Months after the revolution sparked, the government’s only reaction was to kill and detain protesters, promoting the motto of “Assad forever”. The rebel population, along with defectors from the government forces, managed to create small armed groups to protect themselves.

As a result of the regime violence and ongoing conflict in Syria, several regional and international powers were compelled to intervene, directly and indirectly. The international community’s response, however, failed to demonstrate clear intention nor unified strategy.

Iran-Hezbollah vs GCC, US

The Assad regime managed to survive this country’s internal conflict by aligning itself with a strong power- Iran. Iran has been able to stand against Western pressure, and could offer the Assad regime the support needed to maintain its position in Syria, despite national and international threats. Under Nejad and then Rouhani rule, Iran aided the regime in Damascus by all means, including logistical, military, and financial support. Recently, Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops were reportedly fighting and advising in Syria.

Iran has also aided Assad by way of neighboring militants from Lebanon and Iraq such as Hezbollah, a terrorist organization based in Lebanon and funded primarily by Iran, and considered to be the most highly-trained and strongest armed Shia power outside of Iran. In May 2013, Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah confirmed that his forces intervened in Syria to support the Assad regime; however, their presence in Syria was largely noticed in early 2012.

On the other hand, the United States played a role in supporting rebel groups and the opposition political body as well, along with Saudi and Qatar. The support to armed rebels has been insufficient throughout the entirety of war, given that the moderate rebels are fighting three fronts: Assad, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS. Moreover, the US strategy has been unclear and noncommittal, causing more harm to help at times.

Iran has provided many reasons to explain its alignment with the Ba’athist regime in Syria. The country’s disputes with Saudi Arabia have made for a history of struggle for domination and influence in the region, particularly in Lebanon, Bahrain, and Yemen. For Iran, Syria is an important strategic location for its interest in the Arab world. Consequently, Saudi Arabia has supported the downfall of the Assad regime and put its support behind Islamists rebel groups.

On a strategic level, Iran has used the war in Syria as an instrument to advance its nuclear negotiations with the US and the West. The US has engaged in a long and complex diplomacy process with Iran over its nuclear programs; the process has been further complicated by the US desire for retracted Iranian involvement in Syria, an interest that would protect its Israeli ally.

Russia vs US

Russia has its own unique role as an ally of the Assad regime. Since the 1950s, Russia has managed to maintain a strong relationship with the Ba’ath party in the region. In recent decades, ties with the regime of Bashar al-Assad have strengthened, as Russia became Syria’s main source of arms and ammunition.

Russia has also provided significant support for Assad during the current war. It has used its right to veto in the UN Security Council, along with China, on four consecutive occasions to protect the Assad government from international intervention. The flow of arms and ammunition from Russia to Syria has remained entirely uninterrupted, despite significant international pressure on Moscow to disengage.

Russia also has an interest to weaken Islamist groups in Syria, particularly ones with ties groups Russia has battled in Chechnya, for example.

Tense relations between the US and Russia have played out in the arena of the Syrian war, and the US has been clear that it is determined to prevent Russia from determining the fate of such an important region.

Turkey vs Kurds

The Kurdish armed groups in Syria have been in dialogue with Turkey, accusing the country of “supporting” ISIS. Turkey has declared a fight with the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in northern Syria, which Turkey viewed as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a terrorist group it has been in conflict with for 30 years.

With an apparent strained relationship with the Kurds, Turkey has struggled to agree on a strategy in Syria with the U.S., especially in light of the U.S. recent support of the PYD. It is possible that US interest in establishing a Kurdish state has been the reason why a no-fly zone agreement has not been made. Recently, both countries have finally came agreed to a program for training Syrian rebels, yet remain uncertain on how to protect the forces.

The war in Syria has reached its peak, and an end needs to be found. The United Nations has recently accused the international powers of failing the victims of the conflict, condemning the way that nations have dealt with the crisis by putting their own interests ahead of the safety of the Syrian people. The UN chief spokesperson has called on the international community to unite in order to shape a political solution that could end the war.

The international community must promote a solution that quickly and effectively puts an end to the war. In order to a smooth transition of power, the solution must support the moderate rebels to be able to fight terrorism, and maintain and govern territory. This condition is essential to create an environment in which Syrians can form and shape their policies and implement a Geneva-Communique-based agreement that ensures stability and sustainability of post-war Syria.

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