Slate’s Joshua Keating and Christ Kirk have done a remarkable job of creating a surreal-but-true “Syrian Conflict Relationship” chart, a focused and updated variation on the equally surreal “Middle East Friendship Chart” they put together last year. The one thing that happens when you see the relationships between all the various players in Syria laid out like this is that you can see very easily where some of the conflict’s most completely bizarre relationships are developing.
Some of the obvious ones are still ridiculous when you see them like this. The US is allied with Turkey (obviously), and both oppose Bashar al-Assad, but the US and the Kurds are closely aligned while Turkey and the Kurds are effectively at war with each other, and meanwhile Turkey has worked with Jabhat al-Nusra, which as an Al-Qaeda affiliate is clearly on America’s “bad guys” list. The Kurds and Assad sort of have a “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” thing going on right now, but if ISIS were to disappear tomorrow they might very well wind up fighting each other.
The US is working with the “Syrian rebels” (which means all the forces fighting Assad apart from ISIS and Nusra), and they jointly oppose both Assad and ISIS, but they totally disagree about which of those two enemies is the more critical threat, and the rebels have a complicated working relationship with Nusra, which, again, is a clear US enemy.
Turkey has important diplomatic ties with Iraq and Iran, and all three countries are officially opposed to ISIS, but they’re on opposite sides in Syria because of the Assad question.
If you dig deeper, things just get crazier. The US is allied with the Kurds, who also have good ties with Iran and Russia. But the US opposes Iranian and Russian involvement in Syria (and vice versa) because they’re Assad’s strongest supporters (apart from Hezbollah which is effectively Iran) and the US is (at least nominally) opposed to Assad. Yet they’re all, Assad included, supposedly fighting ISIS. Add in Iraq, which has close ties to the US, Russia, Iran, and Assad, and also opposes the Kurds, for an extra bit of mess.
Also too, nobody likes ISIS. But really, this war is a complete mess, and when that mess is shown as clearly as it is in this chart, you understand part of the reason why it shows no sign of ending.
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