Syria: Explaining multi-faction war to HSU students

By Blake Maldonado
Flapjack staff

After Syrian Government forces bombed rebel held city Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, killing 80 civilians, people around the world were horrified and even more debate broke out after United States President Donald Trump ordered the missile strike on Al Shayrat airfield, containing 59 tomahawk missiles, that had been where the chemical attack was launched from.

“Shocked, scared,” Charlene Fernandez, child development major at Humboldt State, said when asked what her reaction was to the missile strike. “Because theres a possibility we’re starting world war three.”

Fernandez then went on to tell me how she wasn’t to clear on the details surrounding the order and knew nothing about what was happening in Syria.

“I thought the situation was absurd,” Anthony Julien, biology major at Humboldt State, said. “And the mentality that more bombing would work after it was what caused us to get to that point was a halfwit decision.”

“Not much,” Isabella Myers, biology student at Humboldt State, said when asked what she knew about the Syrian Civil War. “I know there are many groups all fighting each other and the government are the ones who dropped the chemicals.”

“I wish I knew more about what was going on in Syria, to be honest,” Myers said.

The nation was at a loss of words with the saran gas attack and confused about the missile strike, but even more so, people were lost when it came to the Syrian Civil War and the conflict that has been raging on for six years, so it seems reasonable to help inform the public about the conflict.

For starters the history of the Syrian country is required to give light to what is currently. Professor Kathleen Lee who teaches a class on Political Regimes and Change in the Middle East was able to shed some light on this area. Starting from the beginning, Syria became an independent republic in 1946, separating from France and Britain. Democratic rule lasted till 1949, when a coup took place followed by two more. A parliamentary system was implemented in 1954 until 1958 when a presidential system replaced it till 1961 when a union with Egypt is formed. Later in 1963 when the Ba’ath Syrian Regional Branch took power in a coup only to have Hafez al-Assad declare himself President after another successful coup in 1971. During his presidency, specifically in 1973, a new constitution is implemented that stated that one does not have to be Muslim to be President which leads to the Muslim Brotherhood revolting but failing in their grab for power. When Hafez died in 2000, his second son, Bashar al-Assad, was elected as President.

Now what actually started the Syrian Civil War was the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring was a series of democratic revolts in North African and the Middle Eastern countries that were both peaceful and violent.

“The United States had a part in the destabilization of Syria when refugees from the Iraq War went and found refuge in Syria,” said  Lee who teaches a class on Political Regimes and Change in the Middle East after detailing the rise of the Assad Regime.

Lee then talked about the event that started the civil war itself. On March 15, 2011 peaceful protests of the Assad Regime occurred in Damascus, the capital of Syria, where they demanded that political prisoners be freed and called for democratic reform. Security forces responded by opening fire on the protesters, firing the first shots of the Syrian Civil War.

Throughout the war, four main factions have now arisen out of this war. At the beginning it started with the Assad Regime, which is led by Assad and is the standing government of Syria, and the rebels who go by the Free Syrian Army. At the start of the war people from all around the world came to fight with the Free Syrian Army, some being radicals, which Assad actually promoted, letting extremist prisoners free hoping they would join the rebels, which they did, and make the rebels seem like a group of extremists.

In January of 2012, a sect of Al-Qaeda splits off and forms ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which has the goal of establishing itself as a caliphate, an Islamic State that is lead by the caliph, a position Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has claimed. ISIS operates in Syria, Iraq and Libya, redrawing borders between Iraq and Syria.

“Eastern Syria and Western Iraq and they have their own state there,” said journalism student Ahmed when talking about the territory ISIS had claimed. “Which also abolished the borders between Iraq and Syria.”

ISIS started out in the Civil War fighting mainly the Free Syrian Army and the Kurds, an ethnic minority within northern Syria, northwestern Iran, northern Iran and southeastern Turkey that took up arms around the same time as ISIS, forming the fourth and final faction within the Civil War, to claim the land they have wanted back for many ages since the British and French drew up the borders of the Middle East.

So now comes the tricky part: the backers of each faction. The Assad Regime has the support of Russia, Iran and the Hezzbollah, a Lebanese Shi’a militant group and political party that is funded by Iran. Turkey and Saudi Arabia back the Free Syrian Army and the United States backs the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces), which is the main military group within the Kurds while also actively attacking ISIS.

So while the United States backs the Kurds, who are against not only the Assad Regime but Turkey as well, and oppose Assad’s Regime they also are actively fighting ISIS which is the strongest force against the Regime.

Ahmed was able to tell me how even Saudi Arabia and Iran are involved in this war for bigger reasons than democratic reform. Iran is the leading Shi’a group in the Middle East while Saudi Arabia is the leading Sunni power in the Middle East and have been proxy fighting each other for religious influence in several other countries for a while now.

“Basically everyone’s fighting everyone in this Civil War that should be called a Proxy War,” journalism student Ahmed said when trying to explain who was fighting who.

Ahmed also talked extensively about how the war putting pressure on other countries because of the refugees that were leaving Syria and fleeing to other countries, emphasizing the point that they were going to European countries through Turkey and how Turkey was putting pressure on the EU, saying that they would work to prevent refugees from going to those countries if they allowed Turkey to join the EU.

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