The Syrian Civil War (Arabic: الحرب الأهلية السورية) is an ongoing international armed conflict taking place in Syria. The unrest began in the early spring of 2011 within the context of Arab Spring protests, with nationwide protests against President Bashar al-Assad's government, whose forces responded with violent crackdowns. The conflict gradually morphed from prominent protests to an armed rebellion after months of military sieges.
The Syrian government had mainly relied on its armed forces, but since 2014 local protection units made up of volunteers known as National Defence Force came to play a bigger role, gradually becoming the primary military force of the Syrian state. From the early stages, the Syrian government received technical, financial, military and political support from Russia, Iran and Iraq. In 2013, Iran-backed Hezbollah entered the war in support of the Syrian Army. In September 2015, Russia, Iraq, Iran and Syria set up a joint operation room (information centre) in Baghdad to coordinate their activity in Syria. On 30 September 2015, Russia started its own air campaign on the side and at the request of the government of Syria. The resultant proxy war waged between the U.S. and Russia led some commentators to characterise the situation as a "a proto-world war with nearly a dozen countries embroiled in two overlapping conflicts".
In July 2013, the Syrian government was said to be in control of approximately 30–40% of the country's territory and 60% of the Syrian population; in August 2015, the territory fully controlled by Assad’s forces was reported to have shrunk to 29,797 km2, roughly a sixth of the country. In certain regions under government control Syrian government enjoys high levels of support; according to a poll organised by British ORB-international, up to 73% percent of the population in government-controlled areas support the government effort.
A United Nations report in late 2012 described the conflict as being "overtly sectarian in nature", between mostly Alawite government forces, militias and other Shia groups fighting largely against Sunni-dominated rebel groups, although both opposition and government forces have denied it. Due to foreign involvement, this conflict has been called a proxy war. As of January 2015, the death toll had risen above 220,000 with estimates in April 2015 as high as 310,000. with the majority of casualties being Syrian soldiers and popular resistance, followed by Islamist fighters two groups together making up to 90 percent of all casualties. International organizations have accused the Syrian government, ISIL and other opposition forces of severe human rights violations, with many massacres occurring. Chemical weapons have been used many times during the conflict as well. The Syrian government is blamed by opposition for the majority of civilian casualties and war crimes, often through bombings. In addition, tens of thousands of protesters and activists have been imprisoned and there are reports of torture in state prisons. Rebels have committed various crimes and have on multiple occasions called for genocide and ethnic cleansing of Christians, Alawites, Shiite, Druze and other minorities.
The severity of the humanitarian disaster in Syria has been outlined by the UN and many international organizations. More than 7.6 million Syrians have been internally displaced, more than 5 million have fled the country to nearby countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, and Kuwait, and a few hundred thousand have fled to more distant countries like Germany, Sweden and Greece and have become refugees. Millions more have been left in poor living conditions with shortages of food and drinking water.