BEIRUT (BP) -- Could Syria's headlong descent into war and chaos get any worse?
Yes -- possibly much worse.
A grim summary: Civilian deaths in the nearly 18-month-old rebellion against the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad topped 21,000 in early August. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled their homes, seeking safety from government and militia attacks in shrinking sanctuaries within Syria or in neighboring countries. Army and rebel forces battle for control of Syria's major cities, as large swaths of the country fall under control of the rebels -- or of criminal gangs.
The blood feud between the ruling Alawite sect and Sunni Muslims (the majority of Syria's population) grows more bitter by the day. Minority Christian communities fear reprisals if the Alawites fall. As the country fragments, Kurds are angling for an autonomous region like the Kurdish zone in northern Iraq, which a wary Turkey vows to prevent at any cost. Sectarian tensions and clashes are spilling across Syria's borders, particularly into volatile Lebanon. Syria's civil war is turning into a proxy struggle between Shiite Iran -- Assad's closest remaining ally -- and the Sunni states of Turkey and the Arab Middle East. It's also increasing tensions between Shiites and Sunnis across the region. Jihadist fighters are filtering into Syria to fight government forces, leading to fears of the "Iraqization" of the conflict. Israel watches with mounting alarm.
"As the chaos drags on, it has become more complicated," a Christian observer based in the Middle East says. "The horrible things going on are coming from both sides" -- though most atrocities against civilians continue to be committed by the Syrian military and the feared Shabihah militia groups aligned with the Assad regime. Each new defection of a Syrian general or politician, each successful attack by rebel forces, brings predictions that the regime will collapse any moment. But the military remains far more powerful and well-armed than the rebels. The endgame might play out for months, even years to come. Read More