Syria For Dummies

Introduction

Mohamad lives in the Sheikh Maqsoud district of Aleppo, Syria which is controlled by a pro-government Kurdish militia. He lost seven members of his family when his home was struck by an improvised ‘Hamim’ rocket launched by an armed rebel group on 5 April 2016. Those killed included his 18-month-old daughter, his two sons, aged 15 and 10, and an eight-year-old nephew. He and two of his other young nephews sustained shrapnel wounds and were critically injured. His home is 800 meters away from the frontline. Two days earlier Mohamad’s neighbor’s house was hit by a mortar which killed two children. There are no military checkpoints near his house. It’s a residential street and there are even people displaced by fighting living on the same street. Saad, a local pharmacist living in Sheikh Maqsoud braves out the fighting as he counts at least 15 Hamim rockets and more than 100 mortars fall indiscriminately around the city. Children and civilians around Sheik Maqsoud are suffering from shortness of breath, numbness, trouble seeing, and severe coughing fits resulting from a yellow phosphorus chemical attack perpetrated by a terrorist rebel group called Jaysh al-Islam. These stories happened to real people like you. Events like this have been happening for over 5 years and they will continue to happen as long as the Syrian civil war continues to rage on with little end in sight. From the kidnappings in al-Qayartayn where the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants seized the city and abducted over two hundred civilians, to the siege of Dier Ezzor where ISIS terrorists besieged the city and drive vehicles packed with explosives into the neighborhoods to detonate them. And to the women living in rural Idlib waiting to be executed at the hands of rebel militants for breaking one of the many rules of Sharia Law. Acts of terror such as these must end. (These events are real and can be found on Amnesty International’s Syria page)

The Syrian civil war has raged for 5 years, 9 months and 5 days since the day it started on March 15 2011. In this time 470,000 people have been killed Over 7,600,000 internally displaced, and 4,000,000 have been forced to take refuge in a different country.

Background

The Syrian Civil war began on March 15th 2011 during what is called the “Arab Spring” (A revolutionary wave of violent coups, riots, and civil wars in the Arab world). Protesters marched through Damascus (The capital of Syria) demanding President Bashar al-Assad to step down. This was a after a group of men were arrested for spray-painting “The people want the fall of the regime”, around Daraa city. However the protest began to turn into violent riots around Damascus. In response, Syrian police cracked down on the riots and arrested six leaders of the protest. Five days later in Daraa city, on March 20th  2011, rioters stormed a Baath party headquarters including several government buildings in the area and burned them down. In the ensuing chaos, seven police officers and a dozen rioters were killed. President Assad responded by blaming ‘foreign conspirators’ for funding the riots and demonstrations against him. By the 25th of April 2011, dozens of protests had sparked all throughout Syria, and hundreds of rioters and police officers had been killed in clashes. On June 4th  2011, in the city of Jisr al-Shughur, the conflict took a turn for worst when rioters stormed a government building and killed eight police officers holed up inside. The rioters then looted the building of its’ weapons and set it ablaze. During this time, violence escalated throughout the country along with massive waves of desertions among Syrian Government personnel. Fast-forward to September 27th, 2011 wherein the Syrian Army leads an assault against an armed group of defected soldiers calling themselves the ‘Free Syrian Army’ or FSA who seized control of al-Rastan city. The Syrian Army battled them until October 1st and managed to drive out the FSA solders from al-Rastan. The leader of the FSA, Riad Asaad, fled to turkey along with his supporters. At the time, this was the first occurrence of an organized militia and the Syrian Army combatting each other in a major battle. Soon afterward, Turkey began to offer support to the FSA and allowed them to set up a command and headquarters in Southern Turkey to stage attacks in Syria. By the end of October 2011, the Turkish-backed FSA rebels had seized large swaths of territory in the province of Idlib. Syria began to split even more with massive demonstrations both in favor of Assad and against Assad all over the country.

By this time, many foreign countries became interested in the conflict and had begun supporting the fight against Assad. The State of Qatar for example, had given nearly three billon US dollars worth of cash to Syrian Rebel fighters within the first two years of the war. Qatar had also given the most weapons to Syrian rebels with an estimated seventy weapons cargo flights into Turkey from between April 2012 and March 2013. It was later revealed that Qatar had been offering about 50,000 US dollars worth of cash per year to defectors and their families. Currently, the country still supports the Syrian rebels and jointly operates a training facility with the CIA to train up to 1,200 rebel soldiers a year on three week courses. Saudi Arabia is also one of the rebels’ biggest supporters. During December of 2012, Saudi Arabia Purchased from Croatia, M79 Ola anti-tank weaponry and recoilless M-60 rifles. Soon after the weapons were delivered to Saudi Arabia, the rebels had posted propaganda footage online of themselves using Yugoslav, Ukrainian, Swiss, and Belgian weaponry. During August of 2013, Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan had been appointed to lead Saudi Arabia’s efforts to topple President Assad. On top of this, the Saudi government began giving their prisoners on death row an opportunity to avoid execution by being sent to fight for the rebels in Syria. Saudi Arabia also delivered around five hundred American made TOW anti-tank missiles to the Syrian rebels in October 2015.

Foreign Support for the Syrian Government has also been significant. Iran for example, is a close ally of the Syrian government and has given to them nearly nine billion US dollars worth of cash. The Syrian Government has been accused by various human rights organizations of using deadly military force in densely populated areas mostly using bombs and artillery. Al-Assad has responded to these allegations by vehemently stating that terrorists are the only targets of the Syrian Army and that civilians die because there is no such thing as a ‘clean war’.

The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) also known by its’ Arabic language acronym ‘Daesh’ is a Salafi jihadist militant group that follows a fundamentalist, Wahhabi doctrine of Sunni Islam. The group has been designated a terrorist organization by the United Nations and many individual countries. ISIS is widely known for its videos of beheadings of both soldiers and civilians, including journalists and aid workers, and its destruction of cultural heritage sites. The United Nations holds ISIS responsible for human rights abuses and war crimes, and Amnesty International has charged the group with ethnic cleansing on a “historic scale” in northern Iraq.

By the start of 2016, between three and eight million people were living under ISIS rule. ISIS compels people in the areas that it controls to live according to its interpretation of sharia law. There are many reports of the group’s use of, torture, mutilation, and death threats to compel conversion to Sunni Islam. There have also been many reports of religious leaders being killed for refusal to pledge allegiance to the so-called ‘Islamic State’. ISIS directs violence against Shia Muslims, Alawites, Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac and Armenian Christians, Yazidis, Druze, Shabaks and Mandeans.

ISIS was first known simply as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) which was a decentralized network associated with al-Qaeda during the Iraqi insurgency. In 2010 the current leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, assumed control of ISI.

The ISI formally expanded into Syria in 2013 when al-Baghdadi announced the formation of ISIS and separated from al-Qaeda. In 2014, ISIS captured the Syrian city of Ar-Raqqa, and in the same month, clashes began in Syria’s Deir ez-Zor Governorate, displacing tens of thousands of civilians. In early 2015, the number of fighters that the group commands in Iraq and Syria was estimated by the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) at 31,000, with foreign fighters accounting for around two thirds, while ISIS leaders claim that they command 40,000 fighters, the majority of them being Iraqi and Syrian nationals. The RDM (Russian Defense Ministry) estimated that there were “25-30,000 foreign terrorist mercenaries are fighting for ISIL” in November 2015.

Jabhat al-Nusra is an army of Jihadists following a Salafist and Wahhabi form of Islam. They are also regarded as the most successful rebel faction fighting against the Syrian government with over fifteen thousand fighters at their disposal. Also known by the name Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, they were officially a branch of al-Qaeda until late 2016 when they broke off in hopes to receive funding from Qatar and Saudi Arabia under the guise of being ‘moderates’. Their goal is to establish a Sunni Islamic state in Syria and their leader, Ahmed Hussein al-Sharaa, has called on his militants to fight the “United States and its’ allies”. Al-Sharaa began his career in al-Qaeda fighting against American troops during the Iraq war. During 2008, he worked alongside al-Baghdadi in the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI).

When the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, al-Sharaa pledged allegiance to al-Baghdadi and formed Jabhat al-Nusra as a front group for the ISI. Despite frictions with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), they often work in conjunction against the Syrian state and the independent Kurdish militias. During the Syrian war, al-Nusra has conducted many indiscriminate attacks on civilians mainly targeting Alawite, Druze, Christian, and Armenian villages. Although al-Nusra is very sectarian, they are also considered ‘equal opportunity terrorists’ because of their multiple bombings all over Syria which had killed hundreds of civilians regardless of ethnicity or faith, and by June 2013 they had claimed responsibility for fifty-seven suicide attacks in total.

The primarily Kurdish militia called the People’s Protection Units (YPG) have been very successful in capturing land in Northern Syria. Made up of about fifty thousand fighters, they have secured huge swaths of territory from ISIS and al-Nusra militants. It’s unknown when the YPG was first founded, but they first gained power in Syria during July 2012 when they successfully negotiated with the Syrian government to be given control of large areas around Kobanî (North central Syria), Amuda (Northeast Syria), and Afrin (Northwest Syria). In return for these areas, they would not attack the Syrian Army, although small skirmishes still sparked between the two.

The first operation involving the YPG was in November 2012 during the Battle of Ras al-Ayn, located in Northeast Syria. During this battle, al-Nusra and their allied militias attacked the YPG hoping to drive them out of Northern Syria, but their plan backfired because while many rebel groups fought against the YPG, Jihadi groups such as ISIS and al-Nusra did so most frequently. In doing so, the YPG became the only Kurdish militia able to effectively defeat the jihadi extremists. While the YPG fought for the safety of Kurdish villages and cities, they were able to prevent the emergence of rival Kurdish militias and forced existing ones to cooperate with or join the YPG forces on its terms. This was how the Islamist attacks enabled the YPG to unite the Syrian Kurds under its banner and caused it to become the most powerful faction of the Syrian Kurds.

Although the YPG has been fighting to protect Kurdish civilians, there is also a dark side of their army which involves forced displacement In October 2015, Amnesty International reported that the YPG had driven out at least 100 families from northern Syria and that it found cases of YPG fighters using fire and bulldozers to raze homes and other structures in the villages of Asaylem and Husseiniya.

US/Western Policy

Many Mainstream media sources have not been truthful regarding their coverage of The Syrian Civil War. Many of them are eager to make Russia and its’ allies look like evil incarnate. Some others say little to nothing at all. The background section of this article has laid out the clear facts which will be handy for the following arguments.

Take a look at the United States Government’s current policy regarding the Syrian Civil war. The Pentagon and the CIA are funding the so called ‘moderate opposition’. Fair enough, so who are these proclaimed ‘moderate opposition’ fighters? Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki or just ‘al-Zenki’ for short, is one of these select rebel factions that receive financial aid and arms from the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). One look into the history of al-Zenki however, makes one question if the CIA were under the influence when deciding to vet this group. Why was funding al-Zenki a bad decision? Because in November 2015 during the Vienna Syrian peace talks, the country of Jordan listed al-Zenki as a terrorist group. Amnesty International probed them on July 6th 2016 and found that they had been involved in the abduction and torture of journalists and humanitarian workers in rebel-held Aleppo and Idlib during 2014 and 2015. The investigation also linked them to the al-Nusra terrorist group. One political activist who remained anonymous spoke to Amnesty International and said “I was taken to the torture room. They placed me in the shabeh position, hanging me from the ceiling from my wrists so that my toes were off the ground. Then they started beating me with cables all over my body”. The fact that the US Government did nothing even after these events were brought to light is deplorable. However, the story of al-Zenki gets worse. July 19 2016, al-Zenki fighters filmed themselves beheading a twelve year old boy named Abdullah Tayseer al-Issa in Aleppo city. After the video went viral, the issue was brought up to the US State Department during a press conference. Their response: “we’re investigating it”. Now obviously the US government needs some immediate change. When a rebel group can kidnap and torture journalists as well as behead a child and still receive funding from the US government, something is out of whack.

War crimes committed by the rebels is unfortunately a common occurrence and even more unfortunate is the fact that many governments are standing by and watching it happen. There is a town called Kessab located in the Latakia governorate that had been attacked by several rebel groups including al-Nusra. The attack occurred on March 21 2014, and according to Mehmet Ali Ediboğlu, MP of Turkish CHP party, the rebels who attacked it had poured in from the thousands straight from the Turkish border. Once the town was under rebel control, they forced out about six hundred seventy Armenian families, defaced the Armenian churches, and looted the homes. When the Syrian Army counterattacked and liberated Kessab on June 14 2014, about two hundred fifty Armenian families returned to their homes on that very day. The US government’s silence when it comes to war crimes committed by the rebels is deafening and should be addressed in an honest manner. On May 12th 2016, terrorists from al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham attacked an Alawite village of al-Zara located in the Hama Governorate. During the attack, they executed forty two children, kidnapped seventy, and burned many of the houses in the village. The only western country to condemn the attack was France.

Advertisements