Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A visual guide to the war in Syria: what happened and where we are now

Syria has imploded since pro-democracy protests shook the regime of Bashar al-Assad in March 2011. A brutal and complex war fuelled by sectarian, political and international divisions has killed hundreds of thousands of people and created millions of refugees

The Guardian



The true death toll from the war is unknown but estimates range from 250,000 to 470,000

The most detailed figures – tallied by activist groups on the ground - include civilians and combatants on both sides and show tens of thousands killed each year. A report from the Syrian Centre for Policy Research said average life expectancy had dropped from 70 in 2010 to 55.4 in 2015, with 11.5% of the population either injured or killed since the the war began.
Syrian refugees wait to cross the Turkish border in 2015. Most live a marginal existence in Turkey outside official camps and cannot work legally. Faced with such hardships some try to reach Europe. Photograph: EPA/SEDAT SUNA
A Syrian refugee holds his children as he struggles off a boat that has arrived in Greece. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have crossed the sea from Turkey before continuing their journey overland in Europe. Photograph: REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis


Almost half Syria's pre-war population of 22 million have been forced from their homes

An estimated 6 million are in Syria, with more than 4 million others largely in neighbouring countries. Turkey is now home to 2.5 million Syrians – more than the pre-war population of Aleppo, Syria's largest city – and millions live in camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. Hundreds of thousands have made the perilous journey to Europe, contributing to the biggest movement of people through the continent since the second world war.


Syria's conflict is both a civil war and a proxy war, with Syrians divided by political and sectarian allegiances and backed by rival powers. It also includes a US-led fight against Islamic State, while Kurdish groups capture territory from Isis and rebel groups fleeing Russian bombs.

Who is supporting the Assad regime?

The government side includes the Syrian army and loyalist militia from the ruling Assad dynasty's Alawite sect. Iran and the Iran-backed Shia militia Hezbollah were early backers: Hezbollah has fought on the ground and Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers led Shia militia fighters from Iraq and Afghanistan against the rebels. The deployment of the Russian air force from late 2015 dramatically turned the battle for Aleppo in the government's favour.
Regime supporters in Damascus hold posters of Assad and Russian president Vladimir Putin, whose 2015 military intervention on the government side was a major boost for Russia's regional ally. Photograph: AP Photo/Muzaffar Salman
A funeral takes place in Tehran for members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard killed while fighting on the regime side near Aleppo. Iran’s military involvement in Syria’s civil war has increased since 2015. Photograph: EPA/STRINGER

Who is on the rebel side?

The rebel side's principal grouping includes the Free Syrian Army's brigades and factions, the conservative Islamist Ahrah al-Sham and the al-Qaida-aligned Nusra Front. Saudi Arabia, a regional rival of Iran, has backed the rebels with arms and training, as has Turkey and Qatar. A $500m US programme to train moderate rebels was abandoned in October 2015.
Fighters from the al-Nusra Front stand on an armed truck near Aleppo in 2013. Proscribed by the US, al-Nusra is an influential jihadist group with forces present throughout rebel territory. Photograph: Guillaume Briquet/AFP/Getty Images
A Syrian army defector waves a revolutionary flag during anti-regime protests in Homs in January 2012. Defecting army officers formed the Free Syrian Army, which was the most prominent rebel group in the war's early years. Photograph: AP

The other wars: Isis and the Kurds

The anti-Isis fight has had most success when US airpower backs Kurdish YPG fighters on the ground. France, the UK and other US allies have contributed to the US-led coalition and Turkey carried out bombing raids after Isis attacks at home. An emerging anti-Kurd battle reveals further complexities: Isis and the YPG have fought directly in northern Syria, while Kurdish territorial gains have seen Turkey shell the YPG.
Kurdish people hold a picture of a dead fighter during a rally in Turkey near the border with Syria. Female soldiers have played a major role in operations by Kurdish forces against Isis in northern Syria. Photograph: BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images
US jets in the sky over northern Iraq after launching airstrikes against Isis targets in Syria. A US-led coalition has struck at the jihadist group in both countries since late summer 2014. Photograph: AFP

What is the current situation?

Rebels gained control of much of north-east Syria in 2015 when a coalition called the Army of Conquest united the Nusra Front, al-Qaida's Syrian wing, with conservative Islamist factions. Russian intervention followed, shoring up the regime, and by early 2016 giving it much-needed momentum. A ceasefire was called in March 2016 as a pro-Assad offensive came close to encircling rebels in Aleppo and tens of thousands of refugees were pushed to the Turkish border. Attacks are still permitted against Nusra and Isis, who control much of the country's north and eastern desert. Kurdish paramilitaries have profited from both the US and Russian aerial campaigns, seizing large tracts of land from Isis and even encroaching on rebel-held territory around Aleppo.

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