“The contour of the land is an aid to the army; sizing up opponents to determine victory, assessing dangers and distance. Those who do battle without knowing these will lose.” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War.
Location. Location. Location.
In warfare it’s important to be well acquainted with the battlefield. Wikipedia can get y’all rightly sorted out but I’m just gonna put you through Syria for dummies (no insult intended…well,not really).
In Wiki speak Syria “is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south and Israel to the southwest. A country of fertile plains, high mountains and deserts, it is home to diverse ethnic and religious groups, including Arab Alawites, Arab Sunnis, Arab Christians, Armenians, Assyrians, Druze, Kurds and Turks. Arab Sunnis make up the majority of the population.”
Stolen word for word from Wikipedia. Before I go any further it’s important to give background information on the major tribes, sects and ethnic groups as it plays a huge part in the conflict.
Sunni: Sunna (translated variously as the “trodden path”) The Sunni and Shia both trace their differences to the 7th century C.E., when disagreements over the successor to the Prophet Muhammad arose. The Sunni maintain that the Muslim community was to select the Prophet’s successor (caliph) to lead, whereas the Shia believe the Prophet chose his son-in-law, Ali, to be his successor. Although Sunnis and Shi’as agree on many theological and practical matters, the Sunni are typically seen as putting more emphasis on the power of God and his determination of human fate, and are often understood to be more inclusive in their definition of what it means to be a Muslim. The Sunni tradition has placed great emphasis on the role of religion in public and political life, with great weight placed on the Shariah (Islamic law) as the standard for a broad range of social issues—marriage, divorce, inheritance, commerce, and so on.
Shiite: Shia” is the short form of the historic phrase Shīʻatu ʻAlī meaning “followers”, “faction”, or “party” of Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin Ali, whom the Shia believe to be Muhammad’s successor in the Caliphate. Twelver Shia is the largest branch of Shia Islam, and the term Shia Muslim often refers to the Twelvers by default.
Kurds: Ethnically close to the Iranians, the Kurds were traditionally nomadic herders but are now mostly semi-nomadic or sedentary. The majority of Kurds are Sunni Muslims. The Kurds have traditionally resisted subjugation by other nations. Despite their lack of political unity throughout history, the Kurds, as individuals and in small groups, have had a lasting impact on developments in SW Asia. Saladin, who gained fame during the Crusades, is perhaps the most famous of all Kurds.
Alawite: The basic doctrine of ʿAlawite faith is the deification of ʿAlī. He is one member of a trinity corresponding roughly to the Christian Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. ʿAlawites interpret the Pillars of Islām (the five duties required of every Muslim) as symbols and thus do not practice the Islāmic duties. They celebrate an eclectic group of holidays, some Islāmic, some Christian, and many ʿAlawite practices are secret. They consider themselves to be moderate Shīʿites, not much different from the Twelvers.
Now, I’m not saying other religious/ethnic groups are irrelevant in this (that’s exactly what I’m saying) but the aforementioned 3 are central to the issues on ground.
Syria as a nation is blessed with Natural Gas & Oil reserves. Not too little to be irrelevant and in the same vein not too much to play with the big boys. What it does possess however is the pipelines between the Arab hinterland and Europe via Turkey. We all know who controls the goose gets the golden eggs (or something like that)
As with any other 21st century nation, Syria is mostly Urban and such conflicts take place in the heart of the city amongst infrastructure and a teeming civilian population making collateral damage a foregone conclusion.
- latimes: A dilemma for Syria’s minorities (peterwoodardgalbraith.wordpress.com)
- Doc’s Talk: The Sectarian Map of Syria (docstalk.blogspot.com)
- Sunni-Shia split the Mideast’s new great divide (thestar.com)
- In Kurdish Syria, a Different War (fairobserver.com)
- Opinion: Syria plunging Mideast into sectarian war? (cnn.com)
- A dilemma for Syria’s minorities (mcclatchydc.com)