The who’s who of the Syrian civil war is fiendishly complicated.

20171022-screenshot-35444a7b3-imageDiagrams linking who is fighting with who against whom don’t help either. They just end up looking like bowls of spaghetti.

Start with the easy bit. Islamic State. No one likes it and no one is allied to it and it’s lost most of its territory anyway. It’s also been fighting almost everybody at one point or Another.

The troops cross a checkpoint in Afrin
Image: The pro-Syrian troops cross a Kurdish checkpoint in Afrin

But its collapse has made everything more complicated because there is a scramble to fill the vacuum and everyone is now free to fight other groups again.

There is the sense that the end is in sight in Syria but that has not made it any less violent or complex. There is now a mad rush to bankroll gains and put in place incontrovertible facts on the ground.

Take the Turks. Their number one fear? The Kurds, who have fought with American backing more effectively than most against Islamic State.

Turkey has been fighting a separatist war with them on and off for decades and has invaded Syria to prevent a de facto Kurdish state springing up on its southern border.

Eastern Ghouta has been under heavy bombardment for several days by Assad and his allies, causing hundreds of deaths and injuries.

Video: Rush to save children as bombs fall in Ghouta

:: Syria war: UN calls for end to ‘hell on earth’ violence in eastern Ghouta

So one Nato country, Turkey, is pummelling allies of another, the US, which has around 2,000 troops in Syria, in Kurdish areas to the east.

Turkey’s allies in this used to be on the same side in this war as the Kurds. The Free Syria Army that began life fighting the Assad regime and also clashed with IS. It enjoys Turkish patronage and so has now thrown in its lot with them against the Kurds in Afrin.

That has drawn in the Syrian government, worried about the FSA and about losing territory to the Turkish invasion. So it is sending militia to Afrin, to help the Kurds even if they have been on opposites sides in the past.

A Syrian man rescues a child after an air strike in eastern Ghouta
Image: A Syrian man rescues a child after an air strike in eastern Ghouta

Confused? You will be. But you’re not the only one.

The rest is a little simpler. The war began as an uprising against the Assad regime. It remains in place battered but stronger than it has been for years, thanks to Russian support and the Iranians. They are Shia Muslims, Assad is a member of the Alawites, a Shia sect.

And Syria is vital for Iran’s strategic interests to bolster Lebanese Shia militia, Hezbollah, a thorn in the side of Israel, Iran’s arch foe in the region.

That Russian-Assad-Iranian alliance is winning the war and winning back territory. What remains of the rebel groups is a hotchpotch of Islamists and freedom fighters with a variety of names.

Their erstwhile backers from Sunni countries mainly in the gulf know the writing is on the wall.

These groups are now trapped in a small patch of territory in the suburbs of Damascus and in the north west province of Idlib where they are being decimated piece by piece by Syrian Russian airpower and Shia militia led by the Iranians on the ground.

A member of the Syrian civil defence speaks on a wireless transmitter as other civilians flee

Video: Ghouta ‘could become second Aleppo’

:: Turkey on a collision course with Syria over Kurdish support in Afrin

There remain two important sideshows: one to the east and one to the south.

Israel is looking on with alarm. Its longstanding enemy Iran has made significant gains in this war and now poses a serious threat just over Israel’s northern border.

More from Syria

  • Eastern Ghouta assault: Civilian death toll tops 1,000 in 20-day bombardment

  • Kurds say Syrian city of Afrin is being ‘ethnically cleansed’ by Turkish military

  • ‘The sound of war is constant’: Delivering aid in eastern Ghouta

  • Syria: Medical supplies ‘rejected’ from eastern Ghouta aid convoy

  • Syria: Medical supplies ‘rejected’ from eastern Ghouta aid convoy

  • RAF chief says battle against Islamic State must continue to stop terror group ‘bouncing back’

Israel has used airstrikes against Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria to degrade that threat, but remains worried and is urging its Russian allies to reduce Iran’s influence. The Israeli Iranian fault line is a dangerous one.

As are tensions between America and Russia. A recent US attack left hundreds of Russians dead or injured in the east of the country. They are thought to have been mercenaries but operating with the blessing of the Kremlin. Russia has chosen to play down the incident, but it highlights the dangerous combustibility of this intractable conflict.

 

 

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