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Syria: The Path to Civil War

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By Heidi Welte:

The Syrian civil war rages on as Russia sent a carrier task force to launch more airstrikes against Aleppo to help the Syrian government forces retake the city. In the meantime, US officials may make things worse rather than better. Syrian government troops began advancing upon a district captured by rebel forces. Both sides have taken heavy casualties. Aleppo is perhaps the most active front of the civil war, which has dragged on for five long years now. Political instability, unfortunately, is an old hat to Syria since the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

Syria was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1516 and remained a part of it for three centuries, ending with World War I. Syria then became a French colony in 1919. There was an uprising against the French in 1925, which was finally put down in 1926 and it wasn’t until 1936 that Syria at last gained some semblance of independence; she didn’t gain full independence until the French pulled out after World War II in 1946. Yet, full independence did not bring stability. Mass upheaval and instability were common until the 1960’s. In 1970, Hafez al-Assad became President of Syria and remained so until his death. His son, Bashar al-Assad, succeeded him as President. One could say the al-Assad family became a de facto monarchy. Bashar al-Assad was President when civil war broke out in March 2011, after he violently repressed protests calling for his removal from office. The situation quickly spiraled into all out war.

One would think the combatants in a civil war would be easy enough to figure out, and that may usually be the case. The Syrian civil war has no less than five different sides to include Syrian government forces and opposition forces, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as well as several foreign nations to include Russia, United States, and many of her allies. Having so many different sides to the war has vastly complicated a situation placing Syrian civilians in the middle. Therefore, it is unsurprising that those who can flee have done so – tens of millions of them in fact. A ceasefire was attempted in April 2012, but it failed two months later in June. The icy relationship between the United States and Russia has made things incredibly difficult to bring an end to the violence. It wasn’t always that way, the US and Russia were on friendly terms during World War II when Roosevelt was President. When he died from a stroke in office, he was succeeded by Truman. Truman was much harsher toward Russia and this, as well as the onset of the Cold War, helped to freeze US-Russian relations ever since. Now, decades later, the US has elected a new president, perhaps a new opportunity for the two nations to work with each other instead of against. At this point, nothing useful will be accomplished and conditions in Syria will not improve if the war in Syria becomes a proxy war between the US and Russia. Improving conditions in Syria cannot come soon enough for her people.

Aleppo has been under near constant airstrikes and siege-like conditions ever since the battle for the city began four years ago. Some have compared it to the WWII battle for Stalingrad. I compare it to the siege of Leningrad (known as St. Petersburg today). The siege lasted three years and killed approximately 670,000 to 1,000,000 people. Those who survived did so in horrific conditions, without enough food, fuel for heat in the winter, or medical care. Evacuating civilians from the city was difficult, and at times impossible. The city, like Aleppo, was under constant attack. The German Luftwaffe constantly bombed and their artillery positions shelled all parts of the city. But the people of Leningrad fought on and survived. Similarly, the city of Aleppo has been under attack for four years now. Near constant airstrikes have made it difficult, and at times impossible, for civilian noncombatants to leave the city. Those who have survived thus far do so in inhumane conditions without enough food, shelter, or proper medical care. The battle is not over yet. There are no easy solutions to this crisis, no simple way to end the civil war. It is not enough to hope things get better in the future. We must demand our world leaders work together to come up with a plan.  If not, hold them accountable at the voting booth.

Heidi Welte is an OpsLens Contributor and U.S. Navy Veteran.

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