This week marks four years since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al Assad. The uprising, which had been a part of the larger Arab Spring, spiraled into a civil war that has left more than 200,000 people dead and more than 9 million others displaced.
On Friday the U.N. Security Council approved a U.S.-drafted resolution condemning the use of toxic chemicals in Syria, including chlorine. The council did not assign blame for previous chemical attacks, like the one in Ghouta in 2013 that killed hundreds of people, including children, but it did threaten military action for any future attacks. After multiple chemical attacks, Syria cooperated with U.N. inspectors and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in 2014 to have its chemical weapon stockpiles shipped out of the country and destroyed.
Over the weekend, Syrian government forces conducted an airstrike that killed a senior commander of Jabhat Al-Nusra (the Nusra Front). Abu Homam al-Shami was said to be the second in command of the group. Reports say that three other senior leaders were killed along with him. Jabhat Al-Nusra is Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria and is a bitter rival of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which controls about a third of Iraq and Syria.
Meanwhile, the European Union is imposing more sanctions on people with ties to the Assad regime. Seven Syrian businessmen have had their assets frozen and are barred from entry into eurozone countries. One of them is accused of acting as a middleman for oil purchases from ISIL. The EU has placed sanctions on 218 people and 69 Syrian entities since 2011.
During Al Jazeera America’s Sunday night segment The Week Ahead, Thomas Drayton spoke to Anna Therese Day, an independent journalist, and to Joshua Landis, the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at Oklahoma University, who joined the discussion from Norman, Oklahoma.
Day said of the conflict, “I couldn’t have ever imagined that the international community would allow it to get to this point.”
Analysts say the effects of the war will continue to haunt people for quite some time. Valerie Amos, the U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and an emergency relief coordinator, recently said, “The trauma that people have experienced — and what this has done to Syria's children — is probably something that can never be repaired.”
In 2012 fighters calling themselves the Free Syrian Army formed a group to launch counterattacks against government forces. Then in 2013, Iranian-backed, Lebanon-based Hezbollah fighters joined the fight alongside Syrian government troops.
Landis said, “The effort to build the rebel movement into a cohesive and unified front has failed almost entirely."
Initially, the United States funded armed groups to weaken Assad’s regime, many members of which have now joined groups like ISIL. “America has really turned,” said Landis, “almost 180 degrees from being an enemy of Assad, sanctioning and weakening him, to today bombing many of his opponents and in a sense adopting Assad as a strategic ally, even though they will not work with him directly.”
Since last summer, the U.S. and coalition forces have launched nearly 3,000 airstrikes against ISIL fighters in parts of Syria and Iraq. Israel has also launched airstrikes into Syria, often targeting weapon systems that it says may go to Hezbollah.
The U.S. has had frosty relations with the Syrian government, even before the current war. Day said the U.S. should have taken advantage of high level defections from Syrian forces to build an opposition that could be the military force of a future Syria. Landis said that although many Syrians have given up on the West, “they can’t entirely give up, because the West has guns and it has money and the West is very powerful and they need powerful allies.”