Sunday, February 14, 2016
Just How Many Wars Do We Have Going On in Syria?
Sometimes it's hard to tell how many wars are being waged in Syria. Some of them seem to blur together and then part again. Sometimes the results are counter-intuitive. Sometimes supposed allies aren't really allied at all. It can be like not one but six knife fights underway at the same time in the same phone booth.
There's one war being waged by two nations that aren't even directly engaged in Syria - Saudi Arabia and Iran. That's a theological civil war being waged between Sunni Muslims, the Saudis, and Shia Muslims, Iran. The Sunni/Shia conflict is being played out at varying levels of intensity in different places usually as some sort of proxy war akin to what the Soviets and the West used to do during the Cold War.
When it comes to Iran and the West, they're our informal allies in the battle against ISIS, a decidedly Sunni bunch. Iran is helping Baghdad try to drive ISIS out of Iraq. We don't bomb the Iranians.
When it comes to Saudi Arabia and the West, they're our formal allies because they've got oodles of oil that we want to control, sort of, and we have this murky idea that the Saudis defend us from Iran which we believe is a state sponsor of terrorism even though that's actually the Saudis. We don't bomb the Saudis but we've been wrong before.
On the sidelines but making noise about jumping into the fray are the Turks. They do attack Kurdish forces in Syria. They have given aid and comfort to ISIS forces. They're widely suspected of buying oil from the Islamists. They also can't stand Assad and would like to see the Shia driven out of Syria. The Turks are our allies, NATO says so. We don't bomb the Turks but we might want to rethink that at some point.
The there's the Kurds, a bunch that cross a lot of borders from Iraq to Syria to Turkey. We really like the Kurds but not enough to keep anyone from beating them up. The Kurds want their own country, their old country, back. They want to add their territory in Syria to their territory in Iraq and maybe someday even get their territory in Turkey. We don't bomb the Kurds.
At the heart of it all is Syria. They're not our allies. We wish Assad would leave, just go. We have this belief that would bring peace and joy to Syria. If only. Syria is fighting its homegrown, mainly Sunni rebels. Syria is also fighting Sunni Islamists who call themselves al Nusra or ISIS. Syria is on the verge of a shooting war with Turkey. The Saudis want to fight Syria if they can ever figure out which end the bullets come out of. Russia has come to Syria's aid with the plausible argument that, should Assad fall, the place will go all to hell as in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya also known as just about everything we, the West, touch. We don't bomb Syria. The Russians might intervene.
Let's not forget Hezbollah, the bunch from Lebanon. They're pro-Assad Syria, pro-Iran and anti-Sunni. So far they haven't really factored into any of our wars. So far. We currently don't bomb Hezbollah.
Then there's the Islamists, al Nusra and ISIS. Like al Qaeda they're believed to have gotten their start with funds from various Saudi princes and Gulf State sheikhs and emirs. Thank you, allies. They fight just about everybody including Assad's forces, the Syrian rebels and the Kurds. They're threatening to bite the Turkish hand that once helped feed them. Their leadership is rooted in Saddam's old Baathist state which is why they know about things like taking over oil fields and selling the stuff to finance their operations. We do bomb ISIS, at least in Syria and Iraq when we can find something worth hitting.
As mentioned earlier, we also have something of a relationship with Russia which is supposed to be bombing ISIS but mainly seems to bomb the Syrian rebels and their neighbourhoods. Not clear where that is going. We don't bomb the Russians, not yet. They don't shoot down our planes with their magnificent S-400 missile batteries, not yet. Stay tuned.
Oh yeah, true to form for this sort of "new war" fiasco, there are also a variety of quasi-state and non-state actors on the government side including militias and criminal gangs. It just wouldn't be a "new war" without them.