Background about Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq

Quick Facts about the crises in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.


  • Demonstrations began in March 2011 as a result of the Arab Spring.
  • Due to the severe government crackdown on these demonstrations, which resulted in the arming of opposition groups to retaliate.
  • July 2011, The Free Syrian Army and Syrian citizens take up arms calling for the resignation of Bashar Al-Assad.
    Flag of Syria

    Map of Syria
  • Within these groups divisions among secular
    and religious fighters, and among ethnic groups.
  • Violence continued to escalate and the country descended into civil war as rebel groups were formed to battle government forces for control of cities, towns and the countryside.
  • Accordingto UN sources: By June 2013 around 93,000 people had been killed.
  • According to “I Am Syria” the death toll up until the first half of 2017 has risen to over 480,000 people.
  • By 2013, the conflict was no longer-armed Syrian militias fighting against the Assad regime.But a complex sectarian conflict that included fighting among the country’s majority Sunni population against the Assad’s Alawite Shia sect. A battleground for world powers to fight proxy wars in order to assert regional hegemony. Lastly, the Islamic State capitalized on the chaos and started taking control of large areas of Syria and Iraq, where it proclaimed the creation of a “caliphate” in June 2014.
  • An estimated 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of the civil war in March 2011.
  • Now, in the sixth year of the war, 13.5 million are in need of humanitarian assistance within the country. Among those escaping the conflict, the majority have sought refuge in neighboring countries or within Syria itself. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 4.8 million have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, and 6.6 million are internally displaced within Syria. Meanwhile about one million have requested asylum to Europe. Germany, with more than 300,000 accumulated applications, and Sweden with 100,000, are EU’s top receiving countries.

Brief breakdown of major actors fighting in Syria 

1. The Syrian government front

  • Russia (carries out air-strikes and provides political support at the UN because it has a permanent spot in the UN Security Council)
  • Iran (provides arms, credit, military advisers and reportedly combat troops) Iran sees Mr. Assad, a member of the heterodox Shia Alawite sect, as its closest Arab ally. Syria is also the main transit point for Iranian weapons shipments to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
  • Hezbollah (The Lebanese Shia movement has sent thousands of fighters) Iran has supplied Hezbollah with as much as $200 million each year. After Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel, Iran and Syria rearmed Hezbollah with vastly expanded and more sophisticated weaponry. Much of this support has flowed through Syria, making it the primary hub in Iran’s power projection in the Levant.
  • Shia Muslim militias (recruited by Iran from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen)

2. The rebel front (is used to describe a huge and diverse array of fighters, some of whom co-operate with jihadists like those from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an al-Qaeda-linked alliance. Different foreign states often back different rebel factions.)

  • Turkey (provides arms, military, and political support)
  • Gulf Arab states (provide money and weapons)
  • The US (provides arms, training and military assistance to “moderate” groups)
  • Jordan (provides logistical support and training)

Today The war in Syria may go on for many years more, but, clearly, Bashar al-Assad is winning it. Having secured his grip on key cities like Homs and Damascus, the Syrian president’s forces retook rebel-held parts of Aleppo in late 2016 and reached the eastern city of Deir al-Zor last month.


  • A year ago, on Oct.5 2016, the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan hosted representatives from 75 countries and 26 international organizations and agencies.
  • The European Union and its member states committed to providing the government of Afghanistan with approximately €5 billion in aid. Also at the conference, the E.U. and Afghanistan signed a document called the “Joint Way Forward,” which aims to facilitate the return to Afghanistan of Afghan citizens in Europe.Afghanistan is deeply unsafe and has become more so in recent years. Currently, the government and its security forces are battling more than 20 armed groups operating across the country, including the Taliban and the group calling itself the Islamic State.
  • The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported that 2016 was the deadliest year on record for civilians, with 11,418 people killed or injured

    The flag of Afghanistan
  • Kabul is the most dangerous province in the country, accounting for 19% of civilian casualties in 2016.
  • Kabul is the most dangerous province in the country, accounting for 19% of civilian casualties in 2016.
  • More than 1 million desperate women, men, and children arrived irregularly in 2015, with about 200,000 of them being Afghans.
  • Meanwhile, Afghanistan itself faces a staggering internal displacement crisis. The country’s Internally Displaced People population will almost certainly exceed 2 million people by the end of 2017.
  • Afghanistan is currently too dangerous a place for returns. Until European governments and the EU acknowledge this, the lives of tens of thousands of Afghans in Europe remain uncertain.
  • In October 2017: Suicide bombings in capital Kabul and Ghor province leave at least 70 dead, the latest in a series of attacks across the country.



  • 2011 December – US completes troop pull-out.
  • 2012 April – Oil exports from Iraqi Kurdistan halted amid row with the central government over contracts with foreign firms.
  • 2013 April – Sunni insurgency intensifies, with levels of violence matching those of 2008. By July the country is described as being yet again in a state of full-blown sectarian war.
  • 2013 September – Series of bombings hits Kurdistan capital Irbil in the first such
    Flag of Iraq

    attack since 2007. The Islamic State of Iraq group says it was responding to alleged Iraqi Kurdish support for Kurds fighting jihadists in Syria.

  • 2013 October – Government says October is the deadliest month since April 2008, with 900 killed. By the year-end, the UN the 2013 death toll of civilians as 7,157 – a dramatic increase in the previous year’s figure of 3,238.
  • 2014 June-September – Sunni rebels led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant surge out of Anbar Province to seize Iraq’s second city of Mosul and other key towns. Tens of thousands flee amid atrocities. Kurdish forces, US and Iran assist the government in repelling attacks.
  • 2014 September – Shia politician Haider al-Abad forms a broad-
    Soldiers fighting in Iraq

    based government including Sunni Arabs and Kurds. Kurdish leadership agrees to put independence referendum on hold.

  • More than 4.4 million Iraqis have been displaced across the country since the start of 2015 and over 260,000 are refugees in other countries. Mass executions, systematic rape and horrendous acts of violence are widespread, and human rights and rule of law are under constant attack. It is estimated that over 11 million Iraqis are currently in need of humanitarian assistance.
  • The continued weakness of governance in Iraq along with ISIS’ seizure of much of northwestern Iraq and adjacent parts of Syria and its recruitment of young Muslims worldwide poses a long-term challenge to stability in the region and globally.

    Iraqi Refugees
  • It was reported in 2015 that asylum applications to rich countries reached their highest level for over two decades in 2014, with 866,000 applications lodged, an increase of 45% on 2013 and two-thirds of those in the European Union. 
  • After Syrians, Iraqis are the second largest population of refugees coming to Europe.

According to UNHCR, these three nationalities mentioned above are the top three in sea arrivals since  January 1st,  2017.
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