An International Proxy War: The Civil War Rages On in Syria

Staff writer Parker Brown ’19 unpacks the complex war that rages on in Syria and identifies all the international powers trying to get their interests and goals accomplished through the proxy war.

The civil war embroiling Syria is a topic of which most Americans are at least generally aware. Aleppo is the most populous city in the country, and thus has emerged as the epicenter of the humanitarian crisis that the war has caused. While it is largely the consensus amongst the western world that Bashar al-Assad’s rule is dictatorial and inhumane, the list of claims against him includes typical autocratic action, such as oppression of political opponents as well as the use of chemical weapons and bombs on his own civilians, this Syrian civil war lacks a clear ‘good’ side.

As the regime of Assad fights to maintain its role governing Syria that it has had since coming into power in 2000, a myriad of rebel groups, many backed by foreign powers, and some terrorist associations are fighting to claim control of the city of Aleppo and the country of Syria. Included in these rebel groups are a slew of US-backed ‘moderate’ forces, although that determination of ‘moderate’ is up for debate and is mired in a moral gray area.

According to an Arab Chronicle report, the United States funded and armed – chiefly by way of the largely unrestricted CIA – the rebel group Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki as a part of the Syrian Revolutionary Command Council. In early July, a video was released of members of that group beheading a young, captured Syrian boy. While, per the Daily Beast, the US has ceased funding the group, it is far from guaranteed that the rebels whom the US is supporting and facilitating are shining lights of positive influence in the region. Further enforcing this is an Amnesty International report analyzing the actions of US-backed Syrian rebel groups that found “serious violations of international humanitarian law,” including public executions, torture and abductions while enforcing strict Shari’a law. On the other side, that of the Syrian government and its allies, the morality of the situation is no better.

As previously mentioned, the Assad regime has been accused of using chemical weapons on its citizens as a part of the effort to silence the rebellion against it. United Nations reports have found that Assad has used chlorine-based chemical weapons, which is in direct violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention agreement which he joined. Furthermore, the polar effects of the civil war on different regions of Aleppo itself indicate further that Assad’s forces have played a malignant role with regards to the lives of his civilians.

While it is typically reported that Aleppo as a whole is mired in destruction, this ignores the subtlety of the real effects of the war on the city. According to The Guardian, UN satellite and drone images have shown completely polar situations in the eastern and western portions of Aleppo. The eastern region of the city has been reduced to rubble, including hospitals, schools and other civilian targets, by way of carpet bombing. The western side, however, remains largely unscathed by the conflict. The latter region is under government control, while the former has been bombed by the Assad regime and its allies in attempts to destroy the rebellion with little to no regard for the civilians living there. With regards to the allies of the Assad regime, chief amongst them stands Russia.

Russian involvement in Syria has perhaps been the most controversial foreign involvement in the embattled nation – at least in the opinion of the western world – and has been marked by support of Assad’s dictatorial actions, increasing aggression and, on September 19th, accusations of airstrikes on a UN supply convoy headed for a town just west of the city of Aleppo.

While Vladimir Putin and Russia have denied involvement in the incident – which, according to Al Arabiya, destroyed 18 Red Crescent and UN trucks, damaged a warehouse and resulted in 18 deaths, including local Red Crescent leader Omar Barakat – there is evidence suggesting that it was carried out by either Russia or Moscow-backed Syrian forces. Stephen O’Brien, the UN aid chief, has warned that, if it is found that the attackers were aware of the convoy’s status as an aid convoy, the attack amounts to a war crime.

Thus, both the US and Russian backed forces have committed war crimes, and there is yet still another group doing the same; the self-named Islamic State which is also pejoratively called Daesh. Accounts of their violent actions, both in the Middle East and in the western world, are numerous and include executing hostages by way of beheading them or burning them alive and the 2015 attacks on civilians in Paris.

So, whilst the Russian-backed Syrian government fights for control of its country against independent and US-backed rebels, the Islamic State fights them both. Taking also into consideration the various factions supported by Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other nations, a full blown proxy war is emerging in the Middle East. This proxy war is amongst groups who are committing acts that are, from a humanitarian standpoint, nothing short of atrocious. This leads to an awfully fragile and precarious position for the over two million Syrian civilians who are, quite literally, caught in the crossfire in Aleppo.

By: Parker Brown ’19

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