News / Middle East

    A Guide to the Major Warring Parties in Syria

    FILE - Fighters from the Suqour al-Sham Brigade, which is part of the Free Syrian Army, take cover from snipers during what activists said were clashes with forces of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in the al-Arbaeen mountain area of western Idlib, Jan. 30, 2015.
    FILE - Fighters from the Suqour al-Sham Brigade, which is part of the Free Syrian Army, take cover from snipers during what activists said were clashes with forces of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in the al-Arbaeen mountain area of western Idlib, Jan. 30, 2015.
    VOA News

    Key internal actors

    Syrian Government — President Bashar al-Assad, of Shi'ite offshoot Alawite minority, dubs all opponents, civilian or armed, "terrorists;" indiscriminately kills civilians, as well as armed opposition.

    Relatively Moderate and Islamic Nationalist Opposition — Includes Western-backed Free Syrian Army, countless local militias seeking Assad's ouster. Mainly Sunni. At times, has sided with hardline Islamists when battlefield circumstances have dictated; but threaten further cooperation if U.S. doesn't provide more backing.

    Islamist Opposition — Includes hardline Islamist forces Ahrar al-Sham and al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. Seeks to overthrow Assad; works at times with moderate opposition.

    Kurdish Forces — Mainly fighting Islamic State, but have clashed in past with moderate and Islamist rebels; once Assad launched recent Aleppo offensive, moved quickly to grab FSA and Islamist-held towns in northern Syria. Seeks to unite Kurdish enclaves along Turkish border.

    Islamic State — Jihadist insurgency, fights everyone. Seeks to establish caliphate.

    Key external actors

    United States — Leads international coalition fighting Islamic State. Backs Kurds in their fight east of the Euphrates River against the Islamic State group and some moderate and Islamic nationalist opposition forces.

    Turkey — Part of the anti-IS coalition, but critical of U.S. insistence on focusing only on IS and not on the ouster of Assad. Opposed to Kurdish self-rule ambitions, and now shelling Kurdish fighters.

    Saudi and other Sunni Gulf States — Part of anti-IS coalition; focused also on removing Assad, deepening regional Sunni/Shi'ite divide.

    Russia — Backs Assad government and has formed a battlefield alliance with the Kurds. Says its fight is against IS and other "terrorists," but has focused its military intervention on the moderate opposition to Assad.

    Iran — Shi'ite-led government backs Assad, also worsening sectarian divides.

    Hezbollah — Lebanese Shi'ite militia backs Assad government, a longtime patron, another sectarian player.

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