A recent report by the Syrian Center for Policy Research, which had been commissioned by the United Nations, presents a bleak picture of Syria's socioeconomic plight after 1000 days of fighting. According to the report, more than 100,000 people have been killed, 400,000 injured, and about one-third of the population (8 million people) is either refugee or has emigrated elsewhere. Half of the population is poor, with one-sixth of it living in absolute poverty. The unemployment rate is 48.6 percent, and 49 percent of the students have quit their schools. 3,000 schools have been destroyed, and 683 others have been converted to refugee camps. 1280 hospitals are not useable. There is one doctor for every 4000 patients, whereas before the war there was one doctor for every 661 patients. The total economic loss is $103 billion. The economy has been destroyed, while the underground economy and black markets have grown.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights in London, which is close to the opposition, puts the number of dead at 130,000, while the International Committee for the Red Cross has put the number of injured at half a million. The United Nations has repeatedly accused both sides of committing War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity. A report by the UN released on December 12 stated that both sides have repeatedly used chemical weapons.
The Cause of Syria's Destruction
Why has Syria had such a fate? There are several reasons for it:
One is dictatorship and repression. The Baathist and secular Syrian regime is a criminal dictatorship. Unhappiness of the repressed people of Syria led to political protests. But, if a dictatorial regime has the power and determination to crackdown on political protests, it can continue to survive. Thus, Bashar al-Assad, who had both the power and determination for the crackdown, could have prevented Syria from sliding into its current state, had foreign powers not intervened in his country.
The second reason is the conspiracy of foreign powers. We must distinguish "conspiracy theory" from "conspiracy in politics." The former believes that a specific center or centers are responsible for everything that happens. But, it is true that conspiracy does exist in politics and most governments, depending on their power, constantly conspire against one another. It was the conspiracy of the Western and Arab countries, Turkey, Israel and others that transformed Syria into its current state. They declared, using the violent crackdown of Syria's secular regime on its opponents that Assad must go. To remove Assad from power, not only did they provide the opposition with weapons and financial backing, they also did not prevent the jihadist from going to Syria. Israel has also attacked Syria at least four times (see here, here, and here).
The third reason is that the war in Syria is in fact one between Iran, China, Russia, and the Lebanese Hezbollah that strongly support the Syrian regime, and the United States, some European countries such as Britain and France, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia that have supported the opposition.
Ending Iran's influence in Syria was the common goal of the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Israel. On 6 December 2011, then Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that the goal of the U.S. is ending Iran's influence in Syria. In fact, the U.S. wants to tip the balance of power in its own favor, and to achieve this it wants to end, or at least strongly weaken, Iran's influence in Syria, which will by itself be a great victory. The Wall Street Journal reported on 22 March 2013 that the CIA's operations in Syria in support of the opposition had greatly expanded. Two days later the New York Times reported that just in 2012 alone the CIA had transferred 3500 tons of weapons to the Syrian opposition.
The goal of the war in Syria is not democracy and respect for human rights. Saudi Arabia and other Arab regimes that support the oppositions are themselves corrupt dictatorships. A civil war never achieves democracy and respect for human rights, because they are highly correlated with economic and social development. That is why the war in Syria is one against the development of that nation.
The Current Political Situation
Currently, the balance of power in Syria is as follows.
Al-Qaeda affiliates have grown in strength. International Centre for the Study of Radicalization based in London has reported that Syria has become a center for terrorists from 70 countries. Most of them have joined the al-Nusra Front that has professed its loyalty to the dealu al-Qaeda in Iraq.
In its report of December 18 Amnesty International asked Turkey and the Arab governments of the Persian Gulf to stop sending weapons to the opposition in Syria. Almost all the extremist groups in Syria receive military and financial backing by Saudi Arabia.
On the other hand the Free Syrian Army has been marginalized. Its headquarters and weapons were taken over by a Saudi-backed group, and its leader Selim Idris escaped to Qatar. Idris has reported expressed his willingness to join the radicals.
Turkey, Qatar, Egypt when Mohamed Morsi was in power, and the Palestinian group Hamas supported the Syrian branch of Muslim Brotherhood. But, by supporting the military coup in Egypt, Saudi Arabia has marginalized the Brotherhood in Syria.
Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia has been directing his nation's efforts for changing the political geography of the region. He has now put together a new Islamic Front, consisting of seven groups (watch the announcement of the Front here). But, Bandar also controls other extremists in Syria.
During the initial phases of the war in Syria, Arab and Western powers, Turkey, and Syria all demanded that Assad must step down, and they all predicted that he would be toppled very quickly. In August 2011 Israeli President and Prime Minister, Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu, declared that Assad must go. Then Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak predicted in December of 2011 that Assad will be toppled in a few weeks. On 20 July 2012 BBC predicted that Assad will be gone within one month. The next day, after Assad's relatives were assassinated, the Economist predicted that Assad will soon be gone. In January 2013 al-Monitor reported that many Western officials predicted in December 2012 that Assad will be gone by March 2013. In a joint press conference with Jordan's King in Amman last March, President Obama said, "I am sure that Assad will be gone. It is not a question of whether he will be gone, but when." On 16 May 2013 the President and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan demanded in press conference at the White House that Assad must leave power, a demand that was repeated by on 13 September 2013.
But, Assad's forces have made significant progress and advancement over the past several months. U.S. officials now believe that Assad will remain in power and will at least control the key parts of Syria near the border with Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea.
Saudi Arabia is the most important country that is still trying to overthrow Assad's secular regime through war and supporting the Salafi forces. Together with its allies, the Saudis have transformed the struggle for democracy to Sectarian one between the Shiites and the Sunnis.
In the past Qatar had supported Muslim Brotherhood in Syria by providing it with more than $3 billion. But on December 20 Qatar's Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohamed Al Attiyah emphasized that his country only supports a political solution in Syria, and that he believes that there no solution but a political one. The Emir of Qatar, Shaikh Tamim bin-Hamad, has also asked the Brotherhood to take part in the upcoming peace conference in Geneva.
Fearing victory of extremists in Syria has forced Western powers to rethink their position. After all the crimes that have occurred in Syria, the New York Times reported on December 3 that some Western officials now believe that it is better if Assad stays in power for now. Reuters also reported that Western officials have told the opposition that the Geneva conference will not necessarily lead to Assad's removal from power, and that he may even be allowed to run again this year.
But, at the same time, there reports indicating that the U.S. may seek closer relations with hardline Islamic groups. The Obama administration apparently wants the Islamic groups in Syria take part in a coalition, if al-Qaeda-affiliated groups are not part of the coalition, but such groups have rejected the suggestion and negotiations with the U.S.
Thus, the deadlock has brought a political solution to the fore. But, even if all the countries and groups that are involved reach an agreement, the war will not end easily. The war has revived al-Qaeda in Iraq, which has intensified its operations in Iraq. According to the UN last year 8868 people have been killed in Iraq by extremist groups. The war in Syria has spread to Lebanon, where many terrorist operations and explosions have occurred recently.
Syria's destruction and the catastrophic events there are the result of trying to bring about regime change there by military intervention. The democratic forces hope that there will be a ceasefire, followed by political negotiations, the exit of all the foreign forces (particularly the Islamic terrorists), and recognition of the rights of all the ethnic and religious minorities. If thy happen, free elections may be held there by UN supervision, which would put an end on extremist Islamic groups in that region.