When you look at this war strictly as a military struggle, you notice something weird: over two years of fighting, the lines are almost totally static. The Alawites, Assad’s Shi’ia-ish people, have withdrawn from most of inland Syria — the flat, dry country where the Sunni dominate. But Assad’s troops and militias are still fighting for Aleppo, the biggest city in the Sunni inland region, and they’re holding on strong in their coastal home region. The Kurds have assumed control of their enclaves in the north and northeast with some help from their PKK friends in Turkey. Roughly speaking, the Alawites, who always looked like sure losers, have held their own and even pushed back, despite being only about 10% of the population, and having a tradition of being considered weird hicks by other Syrians.
If you look at a map of sectarian demographics in Syria, and superimpose it on a map showing areas of Assad control and rebel-held regions, you’ll see that the two maps are almost identical. And the front lines haven’t changed much since the Sunni grabbed control of their neighborhoods two years ago. Syria makes the Western Front of WWI look like the Paris-Dakar Rally by comparison. The lines held by the Sunni, Shi’ia and Kurds barely move.
Two years of hard fighting against hardening lines. Had President Bush done what he should have done in 2003, and recognized a Free Kurdistan in northern Iraq, then Syria’s Kurds would have something positive to aspire to, and even to merge with. But right now Syria is indeed looking more like Somalia — but with more peoples, deadlier weapons, and more deeply-felt grievances.
Ten years might be understating it.