The Syrian talks between the major powers and the representatives of the main protagonists in the civil war, excluding the Islamic State and Al Nusra Front (Al Qaeda affiliate), have been going on in Geneva. According to reports the outcome so far is insignificant and confusing. The ceasefire that persisted for about a month is breaking down and fighting has erupted again. Notably the Kurdish factions have been gaining ground against IS and the Syrian Government of Assad, with Russian support, has been gaining ground back from various rebel groups. There were reports that the Russians might be prepared to dump Assad in order to do a deal with the West, but so far there is no sign of that.
Currently there is heavy fighting going on around Aleppo again, with reports that the Syrian Government have bombed and shelled civilian areas, including the last remaining functioning hospital in Aleppo, causing ca. 250 casualties, with the anti-government insurgents fighting to hold onto their last remaining section of Aleppo. The situation has been described as a “catastrophe.”
I refer to an article by Jonathan Spyer, an excellent analyst of the Syrian situation, entitled “War and Madness: A retrospective of five years of reporting on the war in Syria.” (Jerusalem Report, March 28, 2016 and at rubincenter.org). He provides the cold statistics, according to the latest reports: 470,000 dead, 2.5 million injured, 10 million of a population of 22 million people made homeless, 4 million refugees and 6.36 million internally displaced; life expectancy down from prewar 70.5 years to 55.4 years in 2015. Such is the catastrophe of Syria.
Where did this catastrophe come from? The answer is simple, and it is the answer to another question, why is it that other Arab dictators were quickly replaced by the uprising of the so-called “Arab Spring” in 2011, but Assad is still ruling in Syria. The answer is that the other Arab dictators either had no strong sponsors of they relied upon the United States under the weak President Obama, who chose not to support them. But, Assad chose more determined sponsors, namely Iran and Russia, both of whom have supported him to the hilt with aid, arms, and military intervention. That is why Qaddafi was murdered by a mob, Mubarak was in prison, but the Syrian civil war grinds on and Assad’s forces are gaining ground in Syria.
And one of the main reasons that the Syrian war is so bitter and bloody is that it has become a sectarian war, with the Alawi-Shia Government armies fighting the Sunni insurgents and the Islamist groups that formed the Islamic State, and the Kurdish forces (Pesh Merga and YPG) controlling their northern enclaves. The sheer savagery of the Sunni jihadis against the Yazidis and Christians and anyone who stands in their way has raised the stakes in what was once Syria to a higher level. Now the British have deployed their heavy bombers and are smashing the IS center of Raqqa. And the US has increased its forces in Iraq once again to ca 5,000 and are preparing together with the Iraqi Army (such as it is) for the assault on the IS center of Mosul. This will be the next armageddon.