Middle East Institute fellow Charles Lister recently posted on Twitter a “simple” chart that shows how insanely complicated Syria’s civil war really is.
The conflict has become a global issue that seems to be endless, with all parts fighting against each other for their own interests.
What Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has described as a “sea of blood” began simply with local rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government for control of the nation. But all kinds of different actors have joined the fight over the past five years, making the war unbelievably complicated.
Lister’s chart features arrows pointing from a party to everyone involved in the conflict, showing how complex the situation has gotten in the Middle East. Although it may be the simplest illustration of the different sides that has ever been shared with the world, it is so unbelievably complicated that almost makes the eyes bleed.
To start with, the US mostly wants to eliminate ISIS, but most of the other actors are screwing up the plan while fighting for their own purposes.
The many sub-conflicts further complicate the war
The chart not only shows that Syrian rebels hate both Assad and the Islamic State, or that Russia and Iran are supporting the government. It also illustrates the sub-conflicts, including that the Kurds are taking territory from some of the Arab Syrian rebels currently supported by the United States and its allies.
This helps Assad shore up his position because the Syrian rebels are being pushed to another front and it also makes it even more difficult for the US to carry out its strategy against ISIS, given that it needs both Kurds and rebels to take out the terrorist group. But seems like they will never stop attacking each other.
The Turks are supposed to be America’s treaty allies, but they are also fighting the Kurds because they believe they are allies of Kurdish nationalist militants inside Turkey. This sub-conflict complicates America’s war against ISIS in Syria’s north, with the US being forced to limit its support to the Kurdish campaign against the terrorist group in an attempt to soften Turkey’s negative perceptions.
As for Iraqi Shia militias, which are backed by Iran, they are crucial in the war against ISIS inside Iraq but they are attacking Syrian rebels at Iran’s request. Hostilities between Syria and Iraq disrupt the war on ISIS and growing militia strength in Iraq could have a great impact on the Syrian conflict.
The only actor that is attacking literally everyone is ISIS, but it clearly does not have enough money or troops to fight all of its enemies at the same time. The group has lost 20 percent of its peak territory in Syria. Israel is the only combatant that has not fought ISIS, as it only strikes in Syria very rarely.
Peace may never be achieved if all parts involved keep screwing up each other’s strategies
The Syrian government and the rebels want to eliminate each other; the Kurds want to create their own independent state in spite of Turkey’s objections; Saudi Arabia and Iran are fighting to limit each other’s influence in the country; Russia supports Assad and wants to keep its naval base in Tartus; and the US is struggling to fight ISIS while everyone else seems to be prioritizing other interests.
Negotiating peace among all significant sides currently attacking each other is a task that seems unlikely, at least in the near future.