theSkimm's Guide to



Syria has been going through a brutal civil war for four years now. And it doesn’t show signs of ending anytime soon.


In 2011, Syria caught the Arab Spring bug happening across the mideast. Anti-government protests broke out. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad did NOT appreciate these and responded with a massive crackdown, torturing and killing those who disagreed with him. This prompted protesters to form groups, and to eventually arm themselves against him. Soon, this was a full-blown civil war, with at least a thousand rebel groups with different agendas.


For a while, there were rumors of both sides using chemical weapons. Then, in August 2013, graphic images surfaced that appeared to show a massive chemical weapons attack on civilians in Syria. The US and friends freaked out, and blamed Assad. Assad blamed the rebels. For a hot second, it looked like the US was on the brink of military intervention in Syria. Until the UN and Assad cut a deal, and he turned over all his chemical weapons to be destroyed. Talk of intervention cooled off, at least for a little while.


Well, one of them is ISIS. But Assad’s been more focused on quashing other rebel groups, who’ve made it their explicit mission to take him down. A lot of the fighting has been concentrated in the key city of Aleppo, with government forces camped out in the city's west, and rebel groups camped out in the east. Meanwhile, ISIS has been indirectly helpful to Assad since it has been fighting off the other rebel groups. So Assad has mostly let ISIS do its thing, which has helped the group grab more land and become even more powerful. So powerful that last September, the US and friends intervened in Syria for the first time with airstrikes.


This civil war has become a proxy war, with multiple countries propping up different groups. Here’s the breakdown…

The US...Team moderate rebels. It wants Assad and ISIS gone STAT. Last fall, President Obama made the decision to intervene militarily for the first time. But some think not arming and training Syria’s rebels years ago created a vacuum for ISIS to thrive. Especially now that the moderate rebels are being crowded out by more extreme groups.

Russia...Team Assad. Russia is one of Assad’s most important allies for a few reasons. One, it has a naval base in Syria that gives it access to the Mediterranean. Two, Moscow makes a lot of money from arms sales to the Syrian military. Three, it doesn’t like the idea of Western powers having their way in the region. Russia’s worked to block things from passing in the UN that might hurt the Assad regime.

Iran...Team Assad. As the most powerful Shiite country in the Mideast, Iran has an interest in protecting Assad’s Shiite-run government. But Iran’s also very anti-ISIS. Yes, this is Iran and the US actually agreeing on something.

Turkey...Team moderate rebels. Turkey’s been working with the US to train and arm these rebels. More than one million Syrian refugees have camped out in Turkey, which is a strain on its resources.


A civil war in a country the size of Washington state has turned into a massive humanitarian crisis. More than 200,000 people have died so far in this conflict.