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Syrian Balkanization



By the end of July 2013, more than 100,000 people had been killed, and millions of people have either been displaced or become refugees in neighbouring countries. Officials said 13 June 2013 that the United States was proceeding with a plan to arm Syrian rebels, a move that prompted a positive early reaction from U.S. allies in Europe. The decision came after White House officials said an intelligence report found conclusive evidence that Damascus used chemical weapons on a small scale, including deadly sarin gas, against Syrian rebels during the past year. U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said President Obama decided to authorize direct military support to the opposition. U.S. officials acknowledged this support would include weapons and ammunition. But the White House still does not support sending U.S. troops to Syria, and that no decision has been made on other military options, such as the enforcement of a no-fly zone.

The two days after former President Bill Clinton criticized Obama for acting timid. “My view is that we shouldn’t over-learn the lessons of the past,” Clinton said, according to a report in Politico. “I don’t think Syria is necessarily Iraq or Afghanistan — no one has asked us to send any soldiers in there... “If you refuse to act and you cause a calamity, the one thing you cannot say when all the eggs have been broken, is that, ‘Oh my God, two years ago there was a poll that said 80 percent of you were against it.’ Right?” he continued. “You’d look like a total fool.”

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi called on world powers to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria (as NATO did during the Libyan uprising against Muammar Gaddafi) during an Islamist-organised conference on 15 June 2013, which was held in support of the Syrian uprising. He also announced the end of diplomatic ties with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's regime. In his speech at the rally, though, the Egyptian leader gave no indication his government would send arms, let alone military personnel, to Syria, calling instead for talks.

US President Barack Obama expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of a potential no-fly zone over Syria. In a television interview broadcast June 17, 2013, Obama said if there was a move to restrict flights by the Syrian air force, that "may not be actually solving the problem." The president also said he will "preserve every option" available to him, and that the U.S. will be involved in a "careful, calibrated way." The White House has not completely ruled out a no-fly zone as a tool to help bring an end to the Syrian conflict. Syrian ally Russia says it would not permit enforced restrictions of Syrian airspace. US Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder told Reuters that neither the alliance nor the United States is considering a no-fly zone over Syria at this time.

More than 90,000 people had been killed by June 2013 in the two-year civil war. Thousands more are missing, and between four and five million have been left homeless inside Syria or refugees in neighboring countries. The Syrian conflict devolved from peaceful protests seeking political reform to a confrontation between ethnic and religious groups. The Syrian conflict has been marked by a continuous but unequal escalation of armed violence throughout the country. Levels of violence have varied geographically due to the interplay of a number of factors: the strategic importance of a particular area, the deployment and strength of Government forces, the sectarian composition of the local population and anti-Government armed groups’ organisation and access to logistical support.

The Government, with affiliated militia, adopted a “contraction” of forces strategy in facing the mounting insurgency. While focusing on holding major cities, Government forces also besieged restive towns with layers of security. Towns under armed group control suffered intensified artillery and aerial shelling. Other, mostly rural, areas were abandoned completely by Government forces, but continued to be shelled. Besides conventional ammunition, other types of ammunition were used, including cluster aerial bombs and artillery shells.

Despite its persistent divisions, the insurgency continued to mature into a fighting force increasingly able to challenge Government control of the country and to strike at strategic targets, such as oil fields and airports. In the northern and central provinces, these groups extended their control over increasing swathes of territory, while struggling in the southern and coastal governorates.

As a bulwark against encroaching violence, local residents in some areas have formed ‘Popular Committees’, reportedly to protect their neighbourhoods against anti-Government armed groups and criminal gangs. Some appear to have been trained and armed by the Government. According to defectors, the ranks of Popular Committees mirror the ethnic, religious and class composition of the neighbourhoods they protect. There are reports that some Popular Committees have supported Government forces during military operations as an auxiliary militia. Their presence has been documented across Syria, where at times they are alleged to be participating in house-to-house searches, identity checks, mass arrests, looting and acting as informants. Witnesses frequently describe these groups as Shabbiha [ghosts].

Jaysh al-Sha'bi and the Shabiha are militias that had been instrumental in the Asad regime’s campaign of terror and violence against the citizens of Syria. Jaysh al-Sha’bi was created, and continues to be maintained, with support from Iran and Hizballah and is modeled after the Iranian Basij militia, which has proven itself effective at using violence and intimidation to suppress political dissent within Iran. In a disturbing and dangerous trend, mass killings allegedly perpetrated by Popular Committees have at times taken on sectarian overtones.

Violence increased dramatically in and around major cities, in particular Damascus and Aleppo, where anti-Government fighters advanced to neighborhoods close to the cities’ centers. Mounting tensions led to armed clashes between different armed groups along a sectarian divide. Such incidents took place in mixed communities or where armed groups had attempted to take hold of areas predominantly inhabited by pro-Government minority communities. Some minority communities, notably the Alawites and Christians, formed armed self-defence groups to protect their neighbourhoods from anti-Government fighters by establishing checkpoints around these areas. Some of those local groups, known as Popular Committees, are said to have participated alongside Government forces in military operations.

The conflict in Syria has evolved into a war of attrition that has increasingly put civilians at risk. Anti-Government armed groups conduct their operations from within densely populated civilian areas, putting civilians in the line of fire and causing them to flee their homes. By using civilian objects, such as schools for military purposes, anti-Government armed groups subject civilians to the dangers of war. Government forces conduct their military operations in flagrant disregard of the distinction between civilians and persons directly participating in hostilities.

Public order is breaking down in rebel-held areas of Syria, with widespread looting, crime running rampant and rebel factions fighting among themselves, according to refugees escaping to Lebanon. The refugees painted a bleak picture of mounting violence and lawlessness as civilians scramble to overcome shortages of food, water and fuel. The looting and infighting among rebel units is adding to the misery of civilians who managed to survive during two years of civil war.

The conflict continues to be waged by both Government forces and anti-Government armed groups with insufficient respect for the protection of the civilian population, in clear violation of international humanitarian law. The Government continues its indiscriminate shelling and aerial bombardment of civilian areas, while in several instances anti-Government armed groups have located military objectives within or near densely populated areas.

On October 31, 2012 US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the Syrian National Council can no longer be seen as leading the opposition to embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The United States had grown increasingly frustrated by the SNC's failure to include more opposition leaders inside Syria, its personality-driven leadership struggles, and its inability to attract a broad cross-section of Syrians, particularly minority Alawite and Kurds. "This can not be an opposition represented by people who have many good attributes but have, in many instances, not been in Syria for 20, 30, 40 years," said Clinton. "There has to be a representation of those who are on the front lines fighting and dying today to obtain their freedom." Washington hoped new rebel leaders would emerge from a November meeting of Assad opponents in Doha.

On 12 November 2012 the opposition movement restructured itself into the National Coalition Of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces to try to present a more united front to its Western and Arab backers. A number of Syrian opposition groups, including the Syrian National Council, created a new coalition that they hope would be recognized as the single representative of the broad anti-Assad movement. The Syrian opposition has been plagued by infighting since the start of the anti-Assad revolt in 2011. The opposition has been very disunited, not presenting a convincing front either to those fighting inside Syria or to the regional or international community which would want to help them.

The Arab League's decision on 25 March 2013 to recognize Syria's anti-government coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people has boosted the opposition's international standing and opened the door to increasing an already substantial arms flow to rebel fighters.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar want to curb Iran's attempts at regional domination and thereby increase their own influence. An overthrow of the Assad government would be a major blow for Iran, and so the two monarchies have been quite openly backing the Syrian opposition. And not just in Syria - they have even been promoting anti-Iranian groups in Lebanon and Iraq. For decades, Saudi Arabia had lent its support to radical Salafist groups, but ever since bad experiences with al Qaeda and Saudi volunteer fighters in Afghanistan, the monarchy has become more cautious.

Qatar is new to the game, and doesn't have the experience of sending fighters and light weapons into a country where it could hurt them. For that reason, support from Qatar has been less restrained. Qatar is said to have paid hundreds of millions of US dollars to the Syrian opposition. Moreover, at least a dozen planes loaded with weapons and ammunition are said to have been delivered to the rebels via Turkey.

The Shiite Hezbollah are fighting alongside regime troops in Syria. Much is at stake for the militant group: if Assad's regime fell, Hezbollah would be weakened in Lebanon. The number of Hezbollah fighters killed in Syria was not small. According to Syrian human rights activists, by May 2013 the Lebanese group lost more than 100 fighters since getting involved in the Syrian civil war; Hezbollah conceded 75 dead. It was not clear how deeply Hezbollah had become involved in Syria. There might be several hundred or even several thousand fighters.

On 27 May 2013, the EU decided to lift the embargo on Syrian rebels at a meeting in Brussels. EU members also agreed that none of them would send any weapons to the rebels before August 1st, a delay aimed at allowing the U.S.-Russian peace initiative to proceed. Russia responded to the decision by saying that it would undermine peace efforts in the country. On 28 May 2013, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that Russia had decided to proceed with delivery of S-300 surface to air missile systems to Syria, suggesting the move would be a "stabilizing factor" aimed at deterring any potential foreign intervention in the country. The Russian position on the delivery continued to be that it was in fulfillment of previous contract obligations and was fully in compliance with international norms. No timetable was given as to when the systems would be actually delivered. Israel and the United States had both been pushing Russia to agree not to deliver the systems at all, and in response to the announcement, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said that if the systems were delivered his country would "know what to do," suggesting a possible pre-emptive strike. Israel had already conducted air strikes in and around Syria during the conflict aimed at preventing the movement of materiel to groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon.

By mid-2013, as Syria continued its sectarian civil war, some argued that state-based nationalism was declining and something larger and older was taking over. The Syrian war seemed to mark the beginning of the end for the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which divided the Ottoman Empire after World War I and created the modern Middle East. Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese army general and now the director of a political think tank in Beirut, believes the likely outcome of the civil war is the breakup of Syria. He foresees Alawites, members of an offshoot sect of Shia Islam, and Christians cleaving together along Syria’s coast, and Kurds and Sunni Muslims establishing separate states of their own.

On 22 July 2013 General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, outlined five options for using American force in Syria, while cautioning about the costs and potential consequences of direct involvement in the country's crisis. Detailedin a letter to Congress, they ranged from training opposition forces to destroying Syria's chemical weapons stockpile. He said such intervention would likely help the opposition and place more pressure on President Bashar al-Assad's government. However, he said the unintended results could include empowering extremists and "unleashing the very chemical weapons we seek to control."

The United States has not expressed plans to utilize direct force, limiting its involvement in Syria to humanitarian aid, non-lethal assistance and plans to provide rebels with weapons. General Dempsey discussed the option of establishing a no-fly zone over Syria, but cautioned that would require hundreds of aircraft and cost as much as a billion dollars per month. He also said the impact may be limited because Syrian forces could still attack with mortars and missiles. He also mentioned establishing "buffer zones," most likely in neighboring Turkey and Jordan, which could be used to provide humanitarian assistance and give opposition forces a place to train. This option, he said, would also require a no-fly zone for protection, as well as thousands of US ground forces at a cost of more than $1 billion per month.

The fifth option would be conducting air strikes to weaken the Syrian army, which General Dempsey said would need hundreds of US aircraft and ships at a cost of billions of dollars. He cautioned that once military action is taken, the United States should be prepared for what follows, saying "deeper involvement is hard to avoid." His letter follows testimony he gave the previous week to the Senate Armed Services Committee, in which he said "the tide" in Syria seems to have shifted in Assad's favor.
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MonkeyDZyrax's avatar
The conflict has a History starting from The fall of the Ottoman Empire, I could explain more if you want