The Syrian crisis began in early 2011 when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began a brutal crackdown on growing peaceful protests throughout the country. With the use of tanks, attack helicopters, and artillery against protesters and the torture and execution of children, protests spread and opposition groups took up arms. The attacks and counter-attacks escalated into a full-fledged civil war between the Assad regime with allied militias and an array of opposition groups. The death toll has now reached over 100,000, according the United Nations, and over 6 million people have been internally displaced or fled to other countries, half of them children.
The crisis has now grown to a regional crisis with severe implications for global peace and security. Regional powers are supplying weapons and other support to both sides, with Iran notably backing the Assad regime and Gulf States providing arms to the opposition. Sectarian violence related to the conflict has been seen in Lebanon and Iraq and millions of refugees have fled into neighboring countries. Appeals for international aid have increased as the UN refugee agency in September 2013 estimated that over 2 million Syrians were now refugees, up from around 230,000 just one year before. On August 21, 2013, the crisis took on a dangerous new dimension with a chemical weapons attack by the Syrian regime that killed over 1,400 people, according to a U.S. intelligence report.
The debate over how to respond to the attacks has deeply divided the international community and continues to play out as the United States appears ready to carry out limited missile attacks. The brutal response led to further non-violent demonstrations, helping to transform and diffuse local grievance. We have to watch for these things to insure this doesn’t happen again: Effects on civilians of any response and counter-response to the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime and Escalation of the violence on the ground and sectarian violence spreading elsewhere and also further use of chemical weapons.