The biggest advantage the Syrian government currently has, besides the Iranian mercenaries is the civil war among the rebel Islamic terrorist groups that broke out in January. This is mainly ISIL (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, also called ISIS) versus all the other rebels (especially al Nusra, the official al Qaeda franchise in Syria). ISIL is outnumbered but has a secure base in eastern Syria and help from the Iraqi branch of ISIL. That eastern stronghold is now being attacked by al Nusra. This infighting is killing several hundred additional rebels a month and it means less rebel pressure on the government and less resistance to government attacks. The biggest problem the rebels have is disunity. Al Nusra and other mainstream rebels continue to fight ISIL throughout Syria. This includes a growing number of assassination and kidnapping attacks against leaders. ISIL is still strong in the east because western Iraq (Anbar province) is also an ISIL stronghold. This region (east Syria/west Iraq) has always been a stronghold for Islamic conservative Sunni tribes, many living on both sides of the border. ISIL is believed to have lost heavily in the recent Anbar fighting and lost even more men in Syria. ISIL forces on both sides of the Iraq border are cooperating to drive the remaining government and al Nusra forces out of the area. But on the Iraqi side there are over 50,000 Iraqi soldiers and police in Anbar trying to destroy ISIL there. In eastern Syria ISIL controls Raqqa, the largest city in the east and the only provincial capital to be captured by the rebels. The main thing that keeps ISIL going is the extensive criminal activities the group uses in Iraq to raise cash. This includes kidnapping, extortion and theft. For most Iraqis ISIL is a very large and very scary bunch of thieves, kidnappers and all-round bad guys. All that money enables ISIL to pay its gunmen, bribe officials and buy weapons (often from the security forces). It’s the cash, more than ideology or politics that keeps ISIL going in both Iraq and Syria. Another problem for ISIL, and Islamic terrorist rebels in general, is their tendency to terrorize Syrians for religious reasons. This involves killing Christians, often in gruesome and fatal ways, for refusing to convert to Islam. In Raqqa residents complain about the ISIL kidnaping young men suspected of opposing ISIL and refusing to say what the fate of the kidnapped is.
The Syrian civil war is entering its fourth year. So far over 150,000 have died and been documented but the true figure may be 30-50 percent higher. Some 34 percent of the deaths so far have been civilians, 39 percent were pro-government forces and 27 percent were rebel fighters. While only two percent of the pro-government forces were foreigners (mainly Hezbollah from Lebanon and Iranians) 29 percent of the rebel dead were. Most of these foreign rebels were from Iraq and other Arab countries. Most of the foreign rebel dead belonged to Islamic terrorist groups, especially the Iraqi dominated ISIL. Actually about ten percent of the rebel dead this year were lost during fighting between ISIL and the rest of the rebels (both secular and Islamic). In addition over 50,000 people are captives or missing. Many of these are released, often after “vigorous interrogation” (torture), a common practice throughout the region. Another big source of unreported or underreported deaths is the rapidly growing murder rate. The economy is wrecked and many people are either destitute or cut off from regular supplies of food and other goods. This has resulted in more crime, which means more murder or vigilante justice against known or suspected criminals. The deaths while in detention are often not recorded, especially now that the UN War Crimes bureaucrats are talking about prosecutions against the guilty inside Syria.
After a two year long battle rebels conceded defeat and abandoned the central Syrian city of Homs. The army has been fighting to take Homs for nearly two years and in late 2013 was reinforced by a “foreign legion” (of Iran sponsored volunteers from Lebanon and Iraq). Government forces destroyed most of the city as they drove the rebels back. The city has been surrounded for over a year but the army cordon was not impenetrable until this year. Supplies became impossible to get into the city. This led the rebels to agree to a deal that had them abandoning the city in return for safe passage out. The Assad forces saw Homs as a key battle because it was astride the roads from Damascus to the pro-government Alawite areas on the coast. For that route to be useful the Assad forces had to gain control of the roads and villages between Damascus and the coast. That has now been accomplished and the rebels are much less capable of attacking traffic on the roads between Damascus and the coast. This means supplies for Damascus, especially fuel, can largely move unhindered. Heavy fighting continues around Aleppo and Damascus, as well as in the rebel controlled east (where the violence is largely rebel-against-rebel).
Jordan has built a new refugee camp, for 25,000 people. The camp is designed to expand to hold up to 140,000. There are currently over 600,000 registered Syrian refugees in Jordan and up to 100,000 unregistered. Jordan already has over two million Palestinian refugees, most of them dating from the 1960s. Like most Arab nations, Jordan makes it very difficult for foreigners, especially those arriving as refugees, from becoming citizens. The Palestinians rebelled against the Jordanian government in the 1970s and many were driven out. About 20 percent of 25 million Syrians have fled their country so far and that may climb to a third or more before the civil war ends. If the Assad government wins, a lot of those refugees may not return for a long time, as in a generation or more, if ever.
In southeastern Turkey (Hatay province) the government has built a kilometer long concrete wall to help reduce the smuggling into and out of Syria that is very active there. The 900 kilometer Turkish border has become the scene of much increased smuggling, with weapons and rebel recruits going in and radicalized rebels, refugees and drugs coming out.
The UN continues to complain about the Syrian government preventing supply trucks from reaching pro-rebel civilians. There is talk of war crimes prosecutions over this, but as long as Russia and China back the Assad government this is unlikely to happen. The UN is also angry at the Assad’s “scorched earth” tactics which involve deliberate use of aircraft bombing and artillery attacks on residential neighborhoods. The civilian suffering is unprecedented and getting worse.
May 7, 2014: Ten Jordanians who had spent months fighting as Islamic terrorists in Syria were fired on as they tried to cross the border into Jordan. At least two of the Islamic terrorists were wounded by the border guards. There are believed to be over 2,000 Jordanians fighting for various Syrian rebel factions and Jordan wants to question, and sometimes imprison those who fought for Islamic terrorist groups. In the last two weeks Jordan has arrested at least fifty of these returning rebels. Many Jordanian Islamic radicals who support Syrian rebels are in favor of a rebellion against the Jordanian monarchy.
May 6, 2014: In the northwest (Idlib province, where the Lebanese and Turkish borders meet) rebels spent nearly two months digging a tunnel under a large army checkpoint (defending the last government controlled army base in the province) and detonated several tons of explosives. This killed at least 30 soldiers at the checkpoint and allowed rebels to rush in and capture the fortified roadblock. The rebels have been trying to take this checkpoint for over a year.
May 5, 2014: In the east (Deir al Zor province) fighting by ISIL and al Nusra Islamic terrorists near the Iraq border left over 60 rebels dead. This is a continuation of a week long battle between the two groups that has left nearly 200 dead so far. Over 60,000 civilians have fled their homes to avoid the fighting.
The United States has given SOC (Syrian Opposition Coalition) official recognition (as a foreign mission, not a government). This makes it easier for SOC and its military command (FSA, Free Syria Army) to raise cash and buy things it needs. This may help SOC regain the allegiance of some Islamic radical rebel groups. In southern Syria the FSA has managed to unite over fifty rebel factions into a force of 30,000 fighters. The U.S. and other NATO countries have training facilities in Jordan and the Jordanians are quite effective at maintaining order in the Syrian refugee camps. The FSA strategy is to use this “southern command” to put pressure on, and eventually take Damascus (the Syrian capital.) But the Islamic terrorist factions in the south are considered unreliable and to many secular rebels not much better than ISIL.
The Islamic radicals have problems, the main one being that they don’t get along with each other. The Islamic radical groups continue to gain recruits and comprise about half of rebel manpower. The SOC and its largely secular attitudes are at odds with the Islamic radical groups, who have their fans among the Syrian population, if only because they are more fanatic fighters. But the Islamic radicals have also shown themselves quick to terrorize rebel civilians who do not adopt the conservative Islamic lifestyle rules the radical rebels support. Thus the admiration fades eventually when the Islamic radicals try to impose their strict lifestyle rules. The U.S. has also worked out deals with wealthy Arab oil states on coordinating aid and avoiding giving Islamic terrorist groups weapons that could be used against other (Western and Moslem) countries and to limit unofficial aid (especially cash) from wealthy Arabs to the more radical rebel groups (especially ISIL). .
Syria has only handed over 92 percent of its chemical weapons so far and is being accused by Western nations of dragging out the process of destroying their chemical weapons and holding onto tons of chemicals used to manufacture nerve gas. This sort of thing was long feared as the surrendered chemical weapons deal was seen by many Western governments as a scam to ensure that NATO did not provide the rebels with air support.
May 4, 2014: In Iran a Revolutionary Guard (the separate army that defends the religious dictatorship and keeps an eye on the regular armed forces) commander admitted on TV that Iran had troops in Syria and was actively training foreign mercenaries to fight for the Assads. This was unusual as the official Iranian line is that Iran is not directly involved. The commander’s statement was removed from government web sites after a few hours.
May 2, 2014: Al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri has released another audio recording on the Internet in which he again pleas for Islamic terrorist groups in Syria to stop fighting each other. This plea is largely unheeded if only because al Qaeda has repeatedly condemned ISIL (the official bad guy in all this) as an enemy of Islam. Zawahiri points out that the infighting only benefits the “enemies of Islam” but this appears to be having no effect.
April 27, 2014: Jordan is passing new laws that make it easier for police to find and arrest young men suspected of fighting in Syria and then returning to do the same against the Jordanian government. So far this year the government has prosecuted nearly a hundred Jordanian men suspected of this sort of thing. About a third of the prosecutions were successful.