Syria. According to
COUNTRYAAH, the conflict that some began to call a third world
war continued to rage in Syria. Before the end of the year,
four of the five permanent members of the UN Security
Council (the United States, the Russian Federation, France
and the United Kingdom), as well as the regional powers of
Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, were militarily involved in
the war. With the Russian Federation and Iran as important
exceptions, the outside world was generally hostile to the
regime. Despite this, a US-led alliance of Western and Arab
states engaged primarily against one of the regime's many
opponents: the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group, which the
UN Security Council in November identified as a threat to
world peace. The conflict was a major contributor to the
great refugee crisis in the world - about 5 million people
had left the country in just under five years. Almost half
of the 250,000 dead were estimated to be civilians.
At the beginning of the year, the Kurdish militia YPG
(People's Defense Units) drove back IS from the city of
Kobane on the border with Turkey, an area that has been the
focus of the world's attention. In June, YPG also took Tal
Abyad further east at the border, with the support of the
In March, other Islamist groups entered Idlib, the
capital of the province of the same name in the northwest.
It was the second provincial capital that the government
lost control of, after ar-Raqqa which fell in 2013. The
regime lost its last stronghold in the province, an air
base, in September.
IS in May took Palmyra in the middle of the country and
destroyed there temples and other remains in the ancient
city that the UN agency UNESCO classified as a World
Heritage Site. The group also beheaded an 83-year-old museum
manager who was responsible for the archaeological
excavations in the city.
In July, Turkey also began to bomb IS's positions in
Syria, although several of the Turkish attacks were aimed at
Kurds, primarily Iraq but also in Syria. As a result, NATO
member Turkey fired US allies in Syria.
Amnesty International accused the government of war
crimes because of repeated air strikes against Duma, a
rebel-controlled suburb of Damascus. The Human Rights
Organization raised alarms that many civilians were cut off
from supplies. In August, around 100 people died and at
least 200 were injured when a well-visited marketplace in
Duma was hit by at least four robots in one of the worst
massacres so far during the war.
The Russian Federation and Iran increased their military
involvement, and in September the Russian Federation also
began bombing inside Syria, from aircraft and ships.
According to Moscow, the attacks were aimed at IS, but
others claimed that it was rather other opponents of the
al-Assad regime being attacked.
Attempts to broker peace occurred. UN envoy Staffan de
Mistura made several proposals and during the summer he held
individual consultations with conflicting parties. During
the autumn, representatives of 17 countries that
participated in the conflict and the UN, the EU and the Arab
League gathered for talks in Vienna. This resulted in a plan
for a transitional government to be established within six
months and elections held within 18 months. In December, for
the first time, a large number of Syrian resistance groups,
both armed and political, gathered to try to find a way to
resolve the conflict. The talks took place in Saudi Arabia.
The UN Security Council then adopted a resolution on a
ceasefire and peace talks that were intended to begin after
the New Year but would not include IS.
Kofi Annan appointed Norwegian Major General Robert Mood
as his military adviser. The task was, among other things,
to facilitate the deployment of military observers. A
pre-party of these, released by the UN forces UNTSO, was
launched in mid-April. The Security Council resolved on
April 21, through Resolution No. 2043. to establish the
United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS).
The task was to monitor the ceasefire and to follow up the
Major General Mood was appointed commander-in-chief of
UNSMIS. In violation of the ceasefire agreement, UN
observers were partly prevented from carrying out their
mission and partly exposed to direct attacks. The latter
caused the operation to be suspended in mid-June. When
conditions did not allow the force to carry out its mission,
it was withdrawn.
Annan resigned as a special envoy in August and was
followed by Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi. He resigned
in May 2014 after the Geneva peace conference failed, and
was succeeded by Staffan de Mistura of Sweden. He was
followed in 2019 by Norwegian diplomat Geir O. Pedersen.
A contact group, Friends of Syria, with
participation from more than 60 countries, met in Tunis in
February 2012, recognizing the SNC as a legitimate
representative of the Syrian people.
In the spring of 2013, several initiatives were taken to
find a peaceful solution to the conflict. Opportunities were
discussed for an international military intervention in
Syria, such as during the war in Libya. One of the arguments
for intervention was reported gas attacks against civilians
in 2013, which led to international action to destroy
Syria's chemical weapons - in which Norway also participated
(see article Norway and Syria's chemical weapons).
Resistance to military intervention meant that no operation
was undertaken as in Libya.
In September 2014, it became known that Norway had
welcomed representatives of Syrian opposition groups for
talks; then a representative of President Assad - with a
view to finding a possible solution to the conflict.
A number of countries have engaged militarily in Syria
through Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), which is
specifically targeted at IS.
The operation came about on the initiative of the United
States, which has also engaged in Syria in other ways. This
has included political, economic and military support for
several groups fighting the Baath regime as well as the
Kurdish YPG guerrilla. This has been a leading force in the
fight against IS in Northern Syria, and has taken control of
large areas where an autonomous state formation has been
While the United States came in early with support for
the rebels, the regime received weapons assistance from
Russia. In a phase of the war in which the Baath regime was
on the defensive, in the fall of 2015, Russia intervened
with direct military support, with the air support in
particular decisive. This, as well as the support of other
actors, especially Iran, helped to strengthen the
government's position. The drainage of the war was expressed
in particular by the regime in December 2016 regaining
control of Aleppo.
From 2014, large parts of eastern Syria were incorporated
into the caliphate that IS proclaimed in Iraq and Syria. IS
was militarily weakened from 2016, and at the end of 2017
was largely defeated, without bases, in Syria. In the winter
of 2019, the group was also defeated in Iraq.
The civil war has significantly changed Syria's relations
with other countries in the region, and its position in the
Middle East. Most of all, the war has worsened relations
with Turkey, and it has strengthened relations with - and
dependence on - Iran. Syria as a functional state, and thus
a regional player, has long ceased to exist. Thus, the
stability that existed in the form of a clear relationship
between Syria and Israel is also gone. Israel fears that a
disintegrated Syria, such as Libya after the regime change,
could become a scene of rival militia groups and base areas
Part of the threat in the region in general, and for
Israel in particular, is its increased influence on Iran.
Iran, with its military support, has helped keep the Baath
regime in power. In doing so, Iran has positioned itself
militarily closer to Israel's borders, both in Syria and
through Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel fears that Iran will
maintain military bases in a weakened and dependent Syria.
Several (Sunni) Arab countries have supported the rebels
in Syria. These include, in particular, Saudi Arabia and
Qatar, which were early in supporting several groups. Kuwait
has been a major player in channeling support for jihadists
in Syria. While the Gulf states have provided extensive
financial support, including to weapons brought into Syria
through Jordan and Turkey, the regional superpower Turkey
has played a key role as a base area for the rebels, both
politically and militarily, and as a transit area for
foreign warriors on their way to jihadists. groups. In
addition to wishing for a regime change in Damascus, Turkey
has been concerned with the Kurdish dimension of the war:
the Syrian-Kurdish force The People's Protection Units
(YPG), and the political-military coalition Syrian
Democratic Forces (SDF), both supported by the United
States, have been a leading force in the fight against
jihadists. Turkey has used the war in Syria to attack
Kurdish guerrillas in both Turkish and Syrian territory, and
has repeatedly joined forces in northern Syria.
The United States has been politically involved in the
fight against the Assad regime, including through extensive
support to rebel groups. The political conflict between the
US and Iran has also taken place during the war in Syria.
The same is true of US support for Israel, both in the
conflict with Iran and Syria: In March 2019, President
Donald Trump acknowledged the Israeli annexation of the
occupied Syrian Golan Heights.