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7 Years and Counting

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A recent joint military strike on air bases in Syria last week pushed the failing state back into the limelight. The strike from the United States, United Kingdom and France has split their respective populations along ideological lines and has outraged other countries including Russia.

Most know of Daesh, better known as ISIS, and most have heard the name Bashar al-Assad; yet many students are unaware of how the United States ended up in this conflict in the first place.

Bashar took charge of Syria in July 2000 when his father died. He wielded absolute power in Syria, silencing political opponents, controlling the media and censoring free speech. This drastically changed in 2011 with the Arab Spring.

This was a period in 2011 when civil unrest and protests for democracy took place en masse across the Arab world. The Arab Spring in Syria started in the city of Deraa, where peaceful pro-democracy protesters were gunned down and shot at by city security forces. Outrage ensued and hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets across Syria. Like in Deraa, security forces violently cracked down on opposition in cities where protests were taking place. Opposition leaders and supporters began taking up arms to defend themselves, which evolved into them taking control of their local area from the government. The condition of Syria has not changed much since the war’s inception. The government controls some areas with the rest being split between rebel groups, Islamic Extremists and Kurdish forces.

The Syrian government under Assad is by far the largest faction with a direct role in the conflict; allied with him are dozens of Shia militant groups backed by the Iranian government and the Russians.

The rebels are split up into dozens of factions that are not necessarily allied, yet not hostile to each other. The largest of these groups is the Free Syrian Army, which notably has aid and support from the United States and other groups within the Arab world, especially Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Islamic Extremist groups are rebels too, yet they fit into a whole new category. This is because they mostly do not receive any foreign aid from governments and they have radical ideas about Islam and its implementation. There are extremist Sunni groups, many of whom are allied to ISIS, and there are extremist Shia groups, often allied with the Lebanon-based Hezbollah and allegedly supported by Iran.

With nowhere to turn and attacks from the west because of its use of chemical weapons, it seems likely that Assad’s regime will crumble. With this strategic location being a soon-to-be power vacuum, it’s no wonder that the U.S. is taking action now to gain influence in the region.

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7 Years and Counting