Syria is currently in prominence because the upcoming Syrian/Geneva peace talks seeking to end the civil conflict has hit a snag even before it starts: an invitation extended by UN secretary-general Ban ki-Moon to Iran. Iran backs the al-Assad government currently in power, including troops and material, and has yet to publicly agree to the installation of a transitional government, one of the stipulations of the Geneva invitation. The invitation itself raised hackles all across the opposition leadership, who will refuse to attend if Iran shows up.
The world has moved into 2014 and still refugee situations exist, such as those fleeing their homes under a civil war between the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and forces seeking to overthrow his government. Granted, this is nothing new to countries such as Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Kashmir, and even the Mexican Drug Wars. Decades of conflict has existed over political unrest in many cases.
Indeed, most—if not all—of the Middle East has been in conflict since ancient times. Not much have changed in the centuries since Alexander the Great invaded Persia in 334 BC, which was then dealing with local insurrections at the time. Only the tools of the trade have: firearms instead of swords and shields.
It is curious to note that the U.S. and other Western nations, including France, which has the largest Muslim population in Europe and opposes the current regime, and Russia, who backs the al-Assad government along with Iran, has called for these peace talks. The reality on the ground is that thousands are being killed weekly and millions displaced in the conflict that is three years running. Brutal methods such as barrel bombs and gas attacks are the order of the day, as well as other human rights violations such as torture, mostly by government forces.
What originally started out as forums for the discussion of political issues in private homes in 2011 segued into dissident arrests and eventually degenerated into government troops firing upon demonstrators. That led to all out civil conflict which, for a change, seems largely sectarian instead of religious; a rarity in a region where terrorism is fueled by religious belief. This snag in peace talks because of Iran’s invitation illustrates just how deeply involved with the al-Assad government Iran is.
The Syrian civil conflict has also given rise to an unusual phenomenon: France’s youth leaving the country to join the opposition and what they perceive as a jihad. It started with only a dozen but continues to grow. This doesn’t include those that may have escaped notice by intelligence agencies. However, what is even more worrisome is those that have returned, having gained skills in the use of firearms and bomb making and perhaps a radical worldview.
As it stands, the Turkey-based National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces has said if Iran’s invitation was not rescinded, they would withdraw from the Geneva conference. Countries involved with the conference already agree that getting both sides to even show up would be a victory in itself. If Iran publicly agrees to a Syrian transitional government, which would essentially oust al-Assad, there may still be hopes for a political solution to a growing, vicious Syrian conflict.
By Lee Birdine