The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has brought the ongoing situation in Syria back onto his agenda by stating the need to “reignite” peace talks within the country. Initially, it appeared he had implied the United States might be willing to negotiate with the Syrian President Bashar Assad, although it was later revealed that there would be representatives of his regime rather than the President himself. The US government has aimed to instigate a transition of power in Syria – from President Assad towards a more democratic system – and has backed opposition groups due to allegations that government parties used chemical weapons.
The situation in Syria was expected to have possibly caused the passing of over 200’000 people over the four years of military engagement. In 2011, over the period of the Arab Spring uprisings, demonstrations began across Syria, which eventually led to engagement between opposition organisations and the government military. What appeared to start as movement motivated by its aims for a more democratic system turned into a potentially sectarian action between Syria’s Sunni majority and the President’s Shia Alawite sect of Islam. Western powers also believe that the government may have been responsible for the use of the nerve agent sarin in 2013 whilst the regime and its ally Russia believed that the opposition was responsible.
The opposition groups are diverse and have evolved since the beginning of the uprisings in the country during 2011. The various groups of opposition include secular moderates, Islamists and some Jihadists with various alliances and agreements. Islamic State (IS) has managed to gain control of territory in the north and east of Syria although the organisation has been countered by the various other factions. Opposition groups, Jihadists from the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front as well as Kurdish forces and the government have all attempted to prevent IS’s advance in the country. Politically, the most prominent rebel group is the moderate National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, which has the backing of important Western and Gulf Arab states.
Syria has also seen air engagement from the US-led coalition that is attempting to prevent IS gaining momentum in Iraq and Syria. The strategic importance of Syria in the coalition’s attempt to contain IS may be the motive behind increased momentum for peace in Syria. Equally, the US may be aiming to prevent the possibility of IS gaining territory in Syria during the other factions’ encounters with each other. The movement towards peace might be a realisation from the US government that a stable Syria may be more effective at preventing IS with the support of the US-led coalition.
The situation in Syria is challenging and many charities and states have sent aid and relief as part of an international effort to attempt to help people there. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), there are 12.2 million people in need of assistance in Syria with more than 3 million having moved to neighbouring countries due to the current events and a further 7.6 million having to move within the country.
The encounters in Syria may be seen as a culmination of numerous international and regional developments and changing relationships. The support of Iran and Russia of Bashar Assad has allowed the Alawite-led government to make territorial gains over the various opposition groups. Equally, the government has also received significant support from the Shia Hezbollah movement, which has provided support to the military. Meanwhile, the Sunni groups have seen support from countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, France, the United Kingdom and the US. The increase in momentum for a peace agreement by the US Secretary of State may be seen as a response to ongoing developments within the region. Interestingly, it is yet to be seen as to whether any peace talks regarding Syria may have an impact of the ongoing nuclear talks between Iran and the United States. A stable Syria may alleviate the challenges of those who have moved due to the engagements whilst also providing a collective response to IS from within the country.
How might the possibility of a peace deal in Syria improve relations in the region?