The civil war, now in its fourth year, has left over 170,000 dead so far. The current fighting is killing over a thousand people a week. About a third of the deaths so far have been civilians while another third were pro-government forces and the remaining third are rebel fighters. Currently nearly half the rebel dead are due to fighting between ISIL
(al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant)
and the rest of the rebels (both secular and Islamic). That civil war has been going on since January, has left over 8,000 rebels dead so far and is getting worse lately. The Syrian government seems to consider ISIL an ally as in some parts of the countries the ISIL is killing more rebels than the nearby government forces are. About half of all Syrians have been forced to flee their homes because of the fighting. Some have since returned but most have not and nearly a fifth of the population has fled the country. The UN considers Syria a major refugee and economic crises. The ISIL gains in Iraq means that the Assad government is no longer the main ISIL target in Syria. This also means that the Saudis and Iranians have to pause their growing Sunni-Shia feud because both countries have more to fear from ISIL Sunni Islamic terrorism than from each other. Western nations know they are already on the ISIL radar and are cracking down on ISIL fund raising and recruiting in the West. In Syria some of the Iraqi Shia Arabs who took the Iranian offer of regular pay, weapons and so on to go fight Assad forces in Syria are now leaving that job and returning to fight ISIL in Iraq.
ISIL continues to spend more time fighting fellow rebels than the Syrian government forces. This is apparently because ISIL is trying to clear all opposition out of their stronghold in eastern Syria, which they used to share with other Islamic terrorist rebel groups. One impetus for this is the need for money and ISIL has recently gained control over most of the oil fields in eastern Syria. The oil is sold to smugglers, at a big discount, and the smugglers then truck it into Turkey or Kurdish areas and sell it to brokers who buy oil with no questions asked. ISIL has moved a lot of armored vehicles and heavy weapons, captured from the Iraqi forces in Mosul, into Syria to use against other Islamic terrorist groups and this has been a big help. ISIL also uses violence against any Sunnis in Syria or Iraq who appear less than enthusiastic about ISIL ruling them. Many Iraqi Sunni tribes have openly joined ISIL recently and that means government forces passing through tribal territory face ambush and a generally hostile population.
While Saudi Arabia and the other Arab Gulf states are officially opposed to ISIL, their intelligence and police agencies report that over 5,000 young men from the Arab Gulf states are currently fighting for ISIL. About 75 percent of those are from Saudi Arabia and these Gulf Arabs make up nearly a third of the front line ISIL strength. Moreover, most of the foreign cash contributions for ISIL come from the Gulf Arabs. As it has for over a thousand years the allure of a united Islamic state (the caliphate) still appeals to young Moslem men. Older Moslems know better (that the caliphate never worked as intended and why). Until Moslems figure out how to deal with this deadly fantasy the bouts of Islamic terrorism will continue to periodically deliver death and destruction on the Moslem world.
The apparent success of ISIL in Iraq (especially the seizure of Mosul on June 9th) has had a big impact on the Syrian civil war. ISIL captured hundreds of Iraqi military vehicles in Mosul, some of them armored. Lots of assault rifles, body armor, radios. machine-guns and mortars were captured as well and much of this stuff was sent to nearby eastern Syria where ISIL was still fighting other Syrian rebels. The appearance of all this new equipment persuaded hundreds of the ISIL opponents there to switch sides. This was relatively easy for the Islamic terrorist rebel groups that were fighting ISIL. The secular rebels then departed the area, seeing that they were now greatly outnumbered.
So far this year ISIL has shifted more of its attention to Iraq, where it believes it has more opportunities because the Shia led government there is considered less competent (there is some truth to that). In Syria the Assad forces are taking advantage of the ISIL shift as well as the continuing battle between ISIL and all the other rebels. This has significantly weakened the rebels, to the point where a government offensive to regain control of Aleppo appears to be succeeding. This would be a major victory for the Assads and the rebels would continue fighting each other.
Another Assad asset is the growing violence between ISIL and the Kurds of northeastern Syria. The Kurds initially tried to stay out of the civil war. But ISIL, whose leadership is from Iraq, has a long-time animosity towards Kurds because for over fifty years the Kurds have been hostile to Sunni Arab rule (especially Saddam Hussein) in Iraq. Saddam was particularly brutal towards the Kurds and because of that in 1991 the U.S. and Britain enabled the Iraqi Kurds to take control of several majority Kurd provinces in northern Iraq. After Saddam was overthrown in 2003 the Kurds continued to keep the Sunni Arab Islamic terrorists out of the north, which annoyed these terror groups a great deal. After 2011 the Syrian Sunnis saw the Syrian Kurds doing the same thing in Syria after the civil war began. So over the last three years there has been a growing war between the Sunni rebels and the Kurds of Syria. That has brought in Kurdish fighters from Iraq and Turkey and that has kept the angry and frustrated Sunni Islamic terrorists from achieving much in the northeast. All this means fewer rebels for the Assads to deal with. The Assads ordered their troops to leave the Kurds alone whenever possible and let that civil war within the civil war continue.
The government still has some serious problems, not the least of which is the hundreds of different rebel factions occupying most of Syria. As a practical matter the government forces have become de facto allies of the non-ISIL rebels and are concentrating on ISIL, with the understanding that if and when ISIL is crushed in Syria, the remaining secular and non-ISIL rebels will turn their attention to the government forces. This has advantages for the rebels because there are fewer air raids on pro-rebel civilians and more on ISIL fighters. Iran is also distracted by what is going on in Iraq, where the Shia government has always been close to Shia Iran and is calling on Iran for help against the ISIL offensive. Even the thousands of Shia Hezbollah fighters Iran brought into Syria are now less effective because of anti-Hezbollah terrorism in Lebanon (where Shia are the largest minority, but still a minority). This has resulted in more violence on the Syria/Lebanon border, where Syrian rebels and anti-Hezbollah Lebanese try to ambush Hezbollah fighters going back and forth.
In the east ISIL has taken control of most of Deir Zor province including (by July 5th) the oil and natural gas fields. The fighting here has involved ISIL versus other rebel groups and government forces. The main losers here have been the non-ISIL rebels who are suffering desertions and defections. The secular rebel groups are suffering major morale problems because of the civil war with ISIL and the success of ISIL in Iraq. In addition to the growing desertions (there are fewer defections to ISIL) many secular rebel groups are simply disbanding.
Lebanon is being criticized by foreign aid organizations for banning Palestinians refugees from Syria. Lebanon has long had problems with Palestinians who frequently join Islamic terrorist or non-religious radical groups and make war on Lebanon. The foreign aid groups have even bigger problems inside Syria where the government and various rebel groups block aid convoys they feel will aid their enemies (or simply to extract a bribe to let the trucks pass.)
July 13, 2014: On the Israeli border a shell landed on the Israeli side starting a small brush fire. Nearby Israeli artillery returned fire.
July 12, 2014: A U.S. plan to create a half billion dollar training program for Syrian rebels is running into problems with Jordan, where America expected to carry out the training. Jordan fears retaliation from the Assad government if this American training effort has any success. Moreover the Jordanians now have to consider the likelihood that the Assads will win the civil war and any resentment over Jordanian assistance to the rebels could last a long time. Moreover Jordan doesn’t want a lot of armed and trained Syrian rebels on its territory. Jordan knows that a lot of these rebels are Islamic radicals who believe the monarchies of the Middle East should be overthrown. The kings of Jordan have had problems with Islamic radicals in the past and doesn’t want anymore.
July 11, 2014: In the Jordanian capital the leader of one of the many Syrian rebel factions operating in southern Syria was shot dead. This was the first time an assassination like this had taken place in Jordan. Kin of the dead man told Jordanian police that the shooting was probably connected to an old tribal feud, not civil war politics. The dead man was visiting his family, who are among the 600,000 Syrian Sunnis living in Jordanian refugee camps.
July 5, 2014: A video appeared on the Internet showing the ISIL leader preaching yesterday in a Mosul mosque and was the first public appearance of ISIL leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. The new self-proclaimed caliph asked all good Moslems to help him conquer the world.
June 29, 2014: ISIL declared that the areas they controlled in eastern Syria and western Iraq were
part of the new caliphate.
This shocked many people but it should not have as ISIL never made any secret of their long-term strategy to take control of a lot of territory and then create an Islamic State. This was tried before. Back in 2006 the "Al Qaeda In Iraq" leadership was already considered out of control by the most senior al Qaeda people (bin Laden and his successor). Back then most of the Iraqi Islamic terrorist leaders are really out there, at least in terms of fanaticism and extremism. This led to declaring the establishment of the "Islamic State of Iraq" in late 2006. This was an act of bravado, touted as the first step in the re-establishment of the caliphate (a global Islamic state, ruled over by God's representative on earth, the caliph.) The caliphate has been a fiction for over a thousand years. Early on (by the 8th and 9th centuries) the Islamic world was split by ethnic and national differences, and the first caliphate fell apart after a few centuries. Various rulers have claimed the title over the centuries, but since 1924, when the Turks gave it up (after four centuries), no one of any stature has stepped up and assumed the role. So when al Qaeda "elected" Baghdadi as the emir of the "Islamic State of Iraq" in 2006 and talked about this being the foundation of the new caliphate, even many pro-al Qaeda Moslems were aghast. This time around al Qaeda in Iraq has gained control over more than parts of Anbar (the 2006 “caliphate”) plus areas to the northeast (Mosul). The big problem with making the caliphate work is not the government but the Sunni tribes that dominate Anbar and eastern Syria. These tribes are generally hostile to the sort of religious dictatorship ISIL has in mind. Al Qaeda turned off the tribal leaders a decade ago when they used assassination and kidnapping against uncooperative tribal leaders. This led to the tribes joining with the American and government forces to fight al Qaeda in 2007. Now it’s happening again, ISIL leadership just believes it isn’t. The new ISIL caliphate quickly angered many of their potential subjects (elsewhere in the Moslem world) by demanding that all Moslems join the fight and overthrow their corrupt local government. That isn’t happening and isn’t going to.