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Who is fighting against whom in Syria?

The recent operation over Jarabulus has caused certain changes of positions, both in terms of military and political aspects, in Syria, where a bloody war has been taking place since 2011.

BİRGÜN DAİLY 29.08.2016 16:57
Who is fighting against whom in Syria?
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The military offensive over Jarabulus has dragged the multi-faced and multi-actor crisis in Syria down to a chaos. The operation has caused certain changes of positions in terms of military and political aspects; and, it has led to confrontations. German newspaper Die Welt has also defined the Operation Euphrates Shield as an act that has brought the war in Syria to a point which is unpredictable and dangerous both for the surrounding region and for the Middle East at large.

Syria is going through a war that is almost like a ‘mini third world war’. Countries like USA, Russia, Britain, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iran, Lebanon, and, Israel; as well as, organizations and groups such as NATO, Hezbollah, Kurds, ISIL, Al Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, and FSA are taking a role on this stage. So, who is fighting against whom in this war in Syria that has been going on since 2011?

USA: The USA is among the responsible parties of the war in Syria, along with the Turkey’s AKP government and the Arab countries of the Gulf. It has supported various jihadist groups, especially the Free Syrian Army forces, for a regime change in Syria. While it carries out operations against ISIL, on the other side, it is also support of sorts of jihadist factions which they call ‘moderate opposition.’ Meanwhile, it has deepened its alliance with the Kurds and has also been involved in certain talks with the Assad regime. So, outlawing of Assad is no longer the priority. It is actually investing in with all actors for the sake of its interests with regards to its rivalry with Russia.

Russia: Russia is the most significant actor in Syria. Since the very beginning, it has sided with the state of Syria. With its air operation of 30 September 2015, targeting jihadist groups in Syria, it has got involved in the war in Syria directly; and, it shook the balance of power fundamentally. And, the actual incident that changed the nature of the war was Russia’s firing of ISIL sites by using the air base in Iran. While it is unconditionally in support of the regime in Damascus, it is also in close contact with the Kurds. Meanwhile, it is in disagreement with the USA with regards to the redesign of Syria.

Turkey: Turkey has supported the armed groups that it has called ‘moderate opposition’ since the start. As an initial step was taken with the FSA forces, it was then followed up with the joining of small and large Sunni groups such as Ahrar al-Sham, Cundül Islam, as well as, Sunni Turkmen groups such as the Sultan Murad Soldiers. Turkey has based all of its strategy on the overthrowing of the regime in Syria. And, since the launching of the operations over Jarabulus, it has come a long way on its dream of creating a ‘buffer zone’. While it held talks with USA, EU, and NATO on one side, it also tried to get close to the Moscow-Tahran line on the other. And, the recent operation is a result of this ‘agreement.’ Meanwhile, Turkey’s ‘red line’ is Kurds taking over land! Its rhetoric of ‘we will pray in Damascus within three days’ has now turned into assertions on ‘a transition phase with the presence of Assad’ and ‘possibilities of holding talks with the regime.’ With the operation over Jarabulus, it has returned to its role on stage.

Iran: Iran has been the rudimentary actors in Syria, with military, political, and paramilitary support, since the beginning. Its most prominent military units have been in battle on the side of the Syrian state. Under the leadership of Qasem Soleimani, its troops have literally fought on the battle ground. Although Iran has been on different grounds with Turkey and USA, it is nevertheless almost on the same line with regards to opposing Kurds to obtain any kind of status in the region.

Syrian state: The State of Syria has managed to stand up through its alliances with the states of Russia and Israel, as well as, with Hezbollah and plenty of other Shia militias from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Meanwhile, State of Syria has also been in resistance against countries like Turkey and Saudi Arabia and the tens of thousands of jihadists that these countries have supported against it. The ‘historic alliance’ that it established with the Kurds has led the balance of power to turn to its own advantage domestically.

Kurds/PYD: With their non-aligned policies, they have been the ones that have gained the most throughout the crisis in Syria. Their policy of ‘neither the regime, nor the opposition’ has made them the most strategic actor; and, they have achieved a de facto structure through the canton governments. While their fight against ISIL has received the world’s respect, they have also remained in contact with all actors, including USA, Russia, and EU. Their first aim is to unite the three cantons geographically. They have also come face to face with Turkey as a result of the latest operation over Jarabulus. Turkey holds the view that the successes of YPG against ISIL can open the way for an establishment of a Kurdistan in the north of Syria. While Kurds have many allies, their enemies are plentiful, as well.

ISIL: The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are in control of a region within Syria that is as large as Austria. However, having declared the Caliphate in 2014, ISIL has been losing power and land day by day. Under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIL stands as the ‘common enemy’ of all actors in the region. They have been subjected to air bombardments of both coalition forces under the leadership of USA and of Russian jets. The greatest financial source of ISIL is oil trade and smuggling.

FSA: Free Syrian Army is one of the first ‘opposition’ forces in Syria that were established with the support of Ankara-Riyahd. FSA was formed, directly with the guidance of Turkey and Saudi Arabia, of the Syrian soldiers escaping the regime in the month of March 2011, when the clashed began. And, as it has been supported by USA and Turkey with a policy of ‘train and equip’, they have not lost any power. Most recently, their entrance to Jarabulus along the side of the Turkish tanks and soldiers has given FSA forces even further strength.

Al Nusra: The Syrian branch of Al Qaeda, Al Nusra is the second most powerful group in Syria. It has recently changed its name to Front for Liberation of Sham in order to get more backing from Ankara and western countries. Having led the Conquest Army in taking control over Idlib from the hands of Syrian soldiers in the month of March this year, the organization also still holds the control over many regions in the south of Syria. On the other hand, Al Nusra is in battle against ISIL for autonomy over Syria.

Hezbollah: Lebanon-based Shia militia group Hezbollah is another influential organization in Syria. While it has been referred to, by Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, as the ‘actual ally’, Hezbollah is also in close contact with the regime in Tahran. And, the region that Hezbollah is most effective in is the surroundings of the Qalamun Mountain, located around the border with Lebanon. The leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, has announced during a speech he gave recently that they will be intensifying their activities in Syria. Hezbollah has been battling, significantly, together with the Syrian army across the country. It has lost hundreds of its militants in the war in Syria.

Ahrar al-Sham: This is an organization that has been sent forth to the front during the recent phases of the war. It has the support of Arab countries of the Gulf, as well as, Turkey. It is also one of the most significant factions of the Conquest Army, which has seized control in İdlib this year in March. While already in control in Syria’s northwest, Ahrar al-Sham has also increased its influence in the south of the country. It is in a race with other jihadist groups for getting land and place.

Conquest Army: The Army of the Conquest is one of the largest jihadist groups in Syria. Composed of ‘moderate’ and radical groups, the Conquest Army also includes within its body jihadist groups such as Al Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham. It is actually a roof organization, which was established by Ankara and Riyadh the winter of last year. And, its main aim was to take over Idlib. The jihadists acting under the organizations of the Conquest Army have been coming together, for years, from the many countries, including Jordan, Algeria, Afghanistan, and Chechenia.


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