Syria’s civil war has been grinding on for nearly two years now, resulting in the deaths of more than 60,000 people, according to estimates from the office of the U.N. Human Rights Commissioner.
The UN envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi has said Syria’s war has reached “unprecedented levels of horror”. He was speaking after almost 80 men were found shot dead and dumped in a river in the battlefront city of Aleppo yesterday.
More than 500,000 Syrians have sought refuge in neighboring countries, and the U.N. believes that number could top a million in the coming year.
The UN convoy blamed both Syrian president Bashar Assad’s government and the Western-backed opposition forces. “Objectively, they are co-operating to destroy Syria. Syria is being destroyed bit by bit. And in destroying Syria, the region is being pushed into a situation that is extremely bad, and extremely important for the entire world,” he said.
“Syria is descending into hell,” shouted a U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona.
The Obama administration has recognized the main opposition group, the Syrian Opposition Coalition, as the “legitimate representative” of the Syrian people. But why is it dragging its feet in providing weapons to the Syrian opposition? Probably because the situation in Syria is extremely complex.
According to media reports, Syria has many conflicts rolled into one; the center of two regional struggles: a long-running confrontation between Sunni and Shiite factions across the Muslim world and the conflict that pits the U.S., its European allies, Israel, Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) headed by Saudi Arabia, against Iran and its friends Iraq, Alawite Syria, Hezbolla in Lebanen and Hamas in Gaza.
Syria is backed by Russia, which has given Damascus very effective, hypersonic surface-to-surface missiles, and ground-to-air multiple target defense system Pechora 2M, that have the Pentagon worried about the effectiveness of any Syrian no-fly-zone.
A dozen Russian warships from the Northern, Baltic and Black Sea fleets are converging on the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Aden, as part of a large-scale strategic exercise. Russian intentions are obvious, even though it declares this has nothing to do with the situation in Syria.
The U.S. is deploying two Patriot missile batteries in Turkey that are manned by 400 U.S. troops on the pretext of defending Turkey, a NATO member, from Syrian Scud missiles. Analysts believe these missiles are aimed at Iran, and perhaps Russia, rather than Syria.
Inside Syria, the secular opposition backed by the West, is ineffective. Aaron David Miller, a policy analyst at U.S. Advisory Council of Israel Policy Forum, called the opposition “inchoate,” and lacks even a rudimentary armed component. In his New York Times article, he called on the U.S. not to attack Syria.
The opposition’s strongest and most capable fighting force is Jabhat al-Nusra, or Solidarity Front, branded by the U.S. as a “terrorist organization” linked to al-Qaeda. There are other al-Qaeda affiliated groups fighting in Syria, and the country is sometimes called a “paradise for jihadists.” Men from Yemen, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Jordan flock to Syria to fight for an Islamic caliphate.
The jihadists work closely with the military council that commands the Free Syrian Army (FSA, largely supplied by Qatar), helping them with improvised explosive devises (IEDs) and car bombs that cause huge “collateral damage.” As a result, opposition forces are beginning to gain ground. Western media predict the imminent fall of Bashar al-Assad.
Not so fast. Government troops still have a military edge over the rebels, and they are still holding, wholly or in large part, all of Syria’s main cities and townships. The strategy seems to be a major pull back from the countryside backwaters and outlying bases, concentrating troops in cities and towns.
The Syrian tragedy is one of the worst facing the modern world. According to the UN, some 60,000 people have been killed. The West blames Assad’s government. It certainly does not hesitate to use fire power against any buildings rebels may be hiding in. But the rebels are just as ruthless.
What is the issue here? Is it democracy versus dictatorship? The Assad family has ruled Syria since 1970. But the GCC, sometimes known as geologically endowed medieval Gulf monarchies, have long suppressed democratic uprisings in their own countries.
Washington wants Basher al-Assad out to deprive Iran of a key ally. But it obviously does not want to see a balkanized Syria dominated by the jihadists. Will it go along with a post-Assad Syria ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood?
There is a military deadlock between the government and rebels, and a military solution is not yet a viable option. The only way out is a negotiated political settlement, but that won’t happen for a long time to come.
Meanwhile, a fund raising donor’s conference has been convened by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, where it is hoped funds of up to $1.5bn can be raised. Several prominent countries like Ireland, Kuwait and India have already pledged donating a lump sum amount for the war-striken civilians.
The humanitarian situation in Mali is also said to be critical, according to community development organisation Plan Ireland. The body is calling for people to donate what they can to those caught in the crisis.