Airstrikes by the Syrian government on a market in Douma, in retaliation for attacks on government posts by an insurgent group (Jaesh-ul-Islam) have led to 112 casualties so far. Although the strikes were meant to target the Jaesh-ul-Islam headquarters, most of the people killed or wounded were civilians, making this one of the bloodiest attacks that Syria has faced since 2011. Estimates of the death toll since then range between 250,000 and 310,000. The war in Syria has become a humanitarian crisis, but given the complex dynamics of the opposing forces, it is not a war that has a quick or easy solution. The internal strife that led to Syria’s current political instability has been overshadowed by the external conflicts that are being played out in the war. Iran and Hezbollah are supporting the Assad regime, while Saudi Arabia is supporting the Sunni rebel groups. Syria is just one case of Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia’s battling for influence in the Muslim world. As the US and its allies continue to back rebels in the hope of ousting President Bashar al-Assad, Russia is supporting the embattled government, which is reminiscent of the Cold War. All of these world powers are providing either military, logistical or financial support to the opposing sides of the Syrian war and the interests of the Syrian people are clearly not a priority for the world leaders who have been supporting one side or another.
What began as a simple bilateral opposition between the Assad regime and the Free Syrian Army (initiated by seven military officials) has now evolved into a rapidly evolving and complex battlefield that is difficult to fathom, let alone control. The rise of Islamic State (IS), which was able to make use of Syria’s instability to capture more than one-third of the country, is an indirect consequence of Syria’s proxy wars. Despite the chaos that has ensued from the failed attempt of the Arab Spring to bring democracy to Syria, it seems that the west has still not learned the lesson that supporting proxies to intervene in the politics of sovereign states tends to have unintended consequences. Even now, the US is backing an unlikely alliance of Kurdish rebels and several Sunni Muslim militant groups in the fight against IS. One of these groups is the al Qaeda-affiliated al Nusra front. The US is also providing weapons and tactical support to the Turkish army to fight IS, while the Turkish army and Kurdish forces are in direct conflict with one another. These contradictory foreign policies cannot be effective in bringing peace to Syria. In fact, IS has been able to expand its control over the Muslim world by attacking the troubled regions suffering from proxy wars. In the interests of global security, the various world powers must set aside their rivalries and focus on defeating IS – a far more horrific and powerful terrorist force than they have ever faced before.