After protesting against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in 2011, Hamza al-Khateeb, a 13-year-old boy from the southwestern Syrian city of Daraa, was arrested and subjected to torture and mutilation. But he was far from the only victim of the treatment the dictator has inflicted on people protesting against the multiple failures of his regime.
What began as a peaceful protest for democratic reforms in Damascus on March 15, 2011, has been transformed into the biggest human catastrophe in modern times with an estimated death toll of 470,000 and 1.9 million wounded, according to a report released by the Syrian Center for Policy Research in February 2016.
The events that started in 2011 arose from a long-nursed grudge against the power-hungry Assads – Hafiz al-Assad and his son Bashar. The father ruled for 29 years and the son has held the country in his grip for 17.
Between 2000 and 2011 under Bashar al-Assad, three major problems plagued Syria: widespread corruption, high employment and political repression. Unmindful of people’s predicaments, Assad, like any autocrat in modern times who takes shelter behind “terrorists backed by foreign hands” rhetoric, decided to use brutal force to suppress the voices of dissent that erupted in Daraa as part of the Arab Spring.
The protest, initially seeking reform, transformed into a call for Assad’s resignation. The state repression that followed was met with more violent protests, which swept across Syria, and which encountered even more draconian state suppression, turning the country into a battlefield.
While the United Nations and many Western governments criticized Assad for suppressing the right to free speech through military crackdowns and brutal killings, the protesters, with help from defectors from Assad’s military, armed themselves to fight the government forces.
Into this bloody turmoil entered outside powers: Iran to protect the Shiite regime, Russia to back Iran and block the US, and Saudi Arabia to contain Iranian influence and protect Syria’s 74% Sunni population, which is ruled by its 13% Shiite population.
By providing political, military and financial support to the rebel groups, these outside players helped aggravate the situation and gave Assad an excuse to turn Syria into a battleground. Assad’s Iranian backers and the outside powers supporting the Sunnis bifurcated the Syrians on communal lines, pitching one against the other, and what had begun as a protest against government failure turned into a pogrom.
In July 2011, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) was formed, comprising officers who had defected from the Syrian Armed Forces, and it declared the establishment of the first organized military force aimed at overthrowing Assad’s government. Then began the government crackdown and the retaliation by the FSA, and in June 2012 Assad pledged to crush the anti-government uprising.
Into the escalating mayhem entered the Hayat Tahrir al-Salam or al-Nusra Front, followed by Islamic State (IS), to proclaim control over northeastern Syria, and the war in Syria has since been fought on many fronts by many players. Chemical weapons, cluster bombs, thermobaric bombs and ballistic missiles have been freely and extensively used against civilians.
In July 2011, the Free Syrian Army was formed, comprising officers who had defected from the Syrian Armed Forces, and it declared the establishment of the first organized military force aimed at overthrowing Assad’s government
Assad metamorphosed his monumental failure into a bloody Shia-Sunni war, butchered thousands of people just to maintain his grip on power and involved many players – Russian-backed government forces, Turkish-backed rebel brigades, and a Kurdish militia alliance supported by the US.
Thousands of Shiite militiamen from Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen are fighting alongside the Syrian army, in order, they say, to protect Shia holy sites.
The turmoil intensified when the FSA, the Army of the Mujahideen and IS engaged in a devastating war during 2013-14.
Starting in September 2014, the US jumped into the fray by bombing IS targets but it, like Russia, intended not to end the war but to play into the conflict, in this case by targeting government forces.
In September 2015, Russia, in support of Assad, launched air strikes against FSA forces and IS terrorists, but it did not spare civilian areas, and by late 2016, the air strikes had devastated anti-government groups.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has poured in millions of dollars to help Sunni survivors, while Iran, with Hezbollah, has provided fighters, weapons and money to back Assad. Then in August 2016, Turkish troops entered the arena to drive IS out of Syria, and in January this year, Turkey launched deadly attacks to drive the Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG) out of Afrin.
Although Turkey supported the anti-government forces, it kept its own security in mind by containing the YPG militia, which Ankara accuses of being an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group that has fought for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey for three decades.
In April 2017, US President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike on a Syrian air base that the US said was behind a deadly chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun.
Washington’s key ally on the ground has been an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Since 2015, its fighters have driven IS militants out of most of the territory it controlled in Syria. In January this year, the US said it would maintain an open-ended military presence in SDF-controlled territory to ensure the enduring defeat of IS, to counter Iranian influence, and help end the civil war.
Amid the worst human catastrophe – death, destruction and refugee crisis – the world powers and the UN have failed to achieve peace in Syria. With 5.6 million people, mostly women and children, fleeing to other countries as refugees, about 70% of the population living in extreme poverty, and thousands held in jails, there seems to be no respite in this raging war. Sometimes Aleppo, sometimes Ghouta, the war goes on. There is no decisive victory.
There is no decisive defeat either. And Assad is still adamantly against negotiating a solution with the opposition, let alone stepping down. Syria will see the dawn of peace only when Bashar al-Assad forsakes power.
"Syria will see the dawn of peace only when Bashar al-Assad forsakes power."
"Intellectual" brain fart? Remove some injustice does not automatically means triump of justice, or peace. The way I see it Assad’s position is still the one best positioned to perserve Syria as a country even if imperfectly, all the others are way behind than him and possibly put syria though even more turmoil in their quest to gain enough power to put country back together again.
Worst still if you get rid of him or try to remove him. By staying he will try to secure the country. Who say there is no hope. Perhaps the west.
Perfidious jokes like this by MSM clowns in the garb of journalist provide a hearty laughter that is good for the health once you are able to filter their report without prejudice. They are the extension of white helmet in Syria who just won an Oscar award, corroborating the saying "he who pays the piper dictate the tunes." Cancerous tumor like him will choke on the mantra Assad must go, an idea already abandoned by his sponsors.
"What began as a peaceful protest for democratic reforms in Damascus on March 15, 2011, has been transformed into the biggest human catastrophe in modern times with an estimated death toll of 470,000 and 1.9 million wounded"
That is because Israel wants to expand by cannibalizing land from Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and other Arab Nations. In 1967 she grabbed the Golan Heights from Syria and is still holding onto it. The plans for a greater Israel were written up by Oded Yinon in the mid 1980’s. Ever since then Israel has drawn the US into the Middle East by creating problems in the Middle East and outside. Some say 9/11 is the handiwork of Mossad.
The ongoing attacks on the Arab world include Obama’s "Arab Spring" where Mubarak of Egypt to Qaddafi of Libya were savagely overthrown. Only Assad remains mainly due to the support of Russia
Nice article. Anyone who REALLY wants to know whats going on should definitely check this out, its a pretty scary warning from a history and religion professor. Pretty damn eye opening: https://ancientprophecy.weebly.com/
Your approval rating increases sharply when you kill those who don’t like you.
Russia’s not going to leave, the US is not going to leave. Russia and the US don’t want to fight each other. Best path now is to split it like North/South Korea. A generation from now, Northern Syria will be a prosperous 1st world country, and South Syria will be stuck in a multigenerational corrupt dictatorship.
The point is: no one is going to let you topple the "non-cooperative" governments anymore.
Your trigger-happy bonanza is over and is turning now against you and your kids at the school near you.
Nobody believes your well-crafted funky stories about "evil dictator using chemical weapons on his own people" anymore because you lied repeatedly, but go ahead, keep crying wolf from wrong side of history.
Syria will never see the dawn of history until Sunnis relinquish their dream of the Kaliphate. And China/Russia/Iran will make sure that they do.
Sunni Kaliphate (632-1923) in alliance with Jews sat smack in the middle of the Silk Road and milked East West trade with Tariffs (Arabic word), living off others. Finally, Christians expelled both Sunnis and Jews from Spain, freeing Europe to find new routes (and new lands too) giving the Kaliphate the middle finger. The rest is history.
As China re-opens the New Silk Road with help of Russia to unite Europe, Asia, Africa into one land based market, there is no place for Sunnis and Jews in it.
Therefore, Syraq is being emptied of Sunnis to clear the right of way. Jews are next. Bashar is the best chance they have.
Reaĺly good piece. Could you write another one on Yemen?
This article has a serious validity deficit.. Wouldn’t touch the author (if it’s a real person) with a ten foot pole…
Hey professor, do write same type of article against Saudi regime. I don’t think, you’ve the guts to tell truth agaist Saudi Royal Family. After all you’re from King Khalid University, Abha, Saudi Arabia
Same argument by the US and the West against Saddam and Qadafi. After those leaderss are gone their country became all failed states. People never learn the US treachery.
Without justice there is no peace – death to Assad, Putin and Iran. Freedom and Justice to Syrians.
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