A Four-Minute Primer on the War in Syria for the Average American

Featured image: Image by Fly and Drive on Shutterstock. Edited in Affinity Designer. For audio, see the highlight from the video of my live reading on Twitch.


4 for Now

Syria’s been at war for over a decade. That may not seem like long since the US has been at war for about 240 years, but unlike most of our wars, Syria’s is happening where they live.

In 2011, uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt gave hope to pro-democracy activists in Syria. That March, 15 Syrian boys were detained and tortured for writing graffiti supporting the uprisings. One boy died.

Peaceful protests ensued, and President Bashar al-Assad had protesters imprisoned and killed. Several opposing forces throughout the country got involved. Once the UN voiced its concern, many foreign actors joined in.

The War in Syria in a Nutshell

  • The Assad regime, supported by Hezbollah (from Lebanon), Iran, and Russia, has retaken control of most of the country, except key land in the northeast where the oil fields and croplands are.
  • The Syrian Salvation Government (SSG) has formed with support from al-Qaeda and HTS (a merging of several former groups). They still have control of much of Idlib province.
  • The Syrian Interim Government (SIG) formed as an alternative to the SSG. Turkey and Qatar provide support to this group. They control sections of Syria near the Turkish border where the NES doesn’t occupy.
  • The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES), aka Rojava, refers to Kurd-occupied land where most of Syria’s oil fields and croplands are. These folks include the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and supporters include the US, Russia, France, and several Kurdish organizations.
  • Daesh, aka ISIL or ISIS, controls territory throughout Syria. Al-Qaeda was a supporter, though they claim to have broken ties.
  • The US has a base in Tanf and controls most of the oil fields. Many US allies take part in what the US military calls “Operation Inherent Resolve.”
  • And not least are the estimated half-million people killed, 2.1+ million people injured, and 13 million people displaced.

Why Major Foreign Participants Are Involved

  • The US, claiming they are trying to stop Daesh, support several groups, including Daesh. They’re also trying to stop Iran and Hezbollah from establishing a presence that could threaten Israel.
  • Russia wants Assad to retain power. They have sponsored peace talks, though the talks usually stall over the idea of removing Assad from power.
  • Turkey has supported the non-Kurdish anti-Assad factions. They seek to keep Syrian Kurds from gaining more territory and autonomy.
  • Iran and Hezbollah are supporters of the Assad regime. They are close allies with Syria, and Iran has been providing oil for the Syrian government. Iran hopes to see a land corridor from Iran to Lebanon through Iraq and Syria.

What all this Means, Practically

  • 60% of the Syrian population is living in poverty.
  • The estimated damages to the oil sector alone (about 25% of the economy) is $92 billion.
  • This includes: reduced exports, damage to infrastructure, environmental pollution, diseases from makeshift refineries, and more.
  • Syria is now missing the education and support programs that money could have funded.
  • The food and clothing those crops could have produced now must be imported.
  • There is only one border crossing left open through which aid is delivered. It’s in Idlib, where al-Qaeda and allies have their stronghold.

4 for Later

  1. Syria’s war explained from the beginning on Al Jazeera (11-minute read)
  2. Syria conflict: What do the US, Russia, Turkey and Iran want? by Alexander Pearson and Lewis Sanders IV (10-minute read)
  3. Blinken Pretends to Care About Syrian Children and Kurds Help US Steal Syrian Oil by Richard Medhurst (both 15-minute videos)
  4. Freedom Rider: World War Dangers in Syria by Margaret Kimberley (8-minute read)