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In the past few weeks, the United States and some of its allies have pushed back against what they called a war being waged by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against rebels, with claims that the war was becoming a sectarian civil war that was threatening to spread throughout the Middle East in the way that sectarian strife in Iraq and Yemen were taking hold.
But the new analysis of the war by the Brookings Institution shows that the war — which is a proxy struggle between Assad’s government forces and rebels in Syria, along with Islamic State militants around the world — is far from a conflict of faiths or religious sect in the eyes of the regime.
The Brookings study found that the war was based mostly on secular, nationalist grievances of the Syrian population.
Syrian refugees living in Jordan prepare food for their families on August 1. The State Department estimated last April that 4 million Syrians had fled to Jordan before al-Assad’s regime could evacuate them. (Reuters)
When Syrians left, the Brookings researchers estimated they had sent only 100,000 refugees to the United States. The most refugees the Brookings researchers could find came from Iraq, where many of the displaced people and refugees had fled during fighting between government forces and the Islamic State in 2011 and 2012.
The researchers found the majority of displaced Syrians resided in the eastern provinces of Damascus and in the border regions between Turkey and Syria, in the areas of Latakia and Tartus.
But the Syrian president’s military was able to push back against the displaced Syrians, with Assad’s allies launching offensives to retake the areas from the Islamic State and al-Qaeda aligned groups. Al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda branch that’s led the Islamic State offensive on the Syrian capital since 2012, was on the offensive last month and recently recaptured the city of Marea near the border with Turkey, in its latest offensive.
But the Brookings researchers say in their study, Syria was not primarily a problem of sectarian warfare, but rather of “an insurgency of Syrian Kurds, al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist groups and other secularist forces” whose grievances were largely motivated by economic marginalization and political disenfranchisement.
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