Civil wars, those raging and those yet to come, present the largest immediate threat to human societies. Some have similar roots, but there is no overall unifying cause; except, perhaps, a conviction that the conflict is a fight to oblivion. Victory or death.
Syria currently leads in this grisly league. Deaths now total well over 100,000 in the war between the country’s leader, President Bashar al-Assad,and opposition forces. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported nearly 126,000 dead last month, and said it was probably much higher. More than 2 million Syrians have left their country as refugees, and 4.25 million have fled their homes to other parts of Syria. Last week, a report by three former war crime prosecutors alleged that some 11,000 prisoners had been tortured, many to death, in “industrial scale killing” by the regime of President Assad.
We are watching a relentless horror unfold. The current negotiations between the various factions of the opposition and the Assad government in Montreux may have saved some women and children from the besieged city of Homs, but at the core remains a presently insuperable clash of aims: the regime insists that Assad remain in power, the opposition that he depart immediately. Assad’s forces appear to have the advantage.
Support from Iran and Russia for Assad’s forces is steady and significant. A Reuters report earlier this month said that aid from Russia was increasing. Michael Hayden, the former head of the CIA, said in Washington last month that an Assad win might be the best “out of three very very ugly options.”
Another ugly option — according to Hayden the most likely — is continuing conflict between Sunni and Shi’ite Islam factions. It could create a larger civil war, dragging one Muslim country after another into deepening conflict over the two branches’ differing interpretations of the legacy of the Prophet Mohammad. The Shi’ite, the minority in the Muslim world, is the majority in Iraq. There the Sunni minority, which had been the most loyal supporters of the late dictator Saddam Hussein, are attacking Shi’ite centers and provoking counter attacks.