BAGHOUZ, Syria — War is personal. And in Syria, after eight years of a grinding conflict, there are as many stories of loss, dispossession and desperate hope as there are people.
What started as peaceful protests in 2011 asking for government change turned into one of the cruelest modern wars and left a trail of broken lives among the country’s pre-war population of 23 million. Now half are displaced, nearly half a million dead and many live with permanent scars or have joined militias.
The years of war have left their mark on Dia Hassakeh’s 45-year old face. The Arab fighter in the Kurdish-led U.S-backed Syrian Democratic Forces has seen his family suffer on the conflict’s many fronts.
In the early days of the conflict, two of his brothers were wounded fighting in the government military against the armed opposition. In November, another brother was killed by the Islamic State group. Now Dia is battling the militants at IS’ last holdout, a speck of territory along the Euphrates River near the Iraqi border called Baghouz.
“As Syrians, every citizen has paid the price,” he said, speaking just outside Baghouz. He took the name of his hometown Hassakeh as a nom de guerre when he joined the SDF.
While the Islamic State group’s territorial defeat will close one bloody chapter, Syria is still wracked by conflict on the eighth anniversary of its long-running civil war.
Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government appears to have won the war against the insurgency trying to topple him. But much of the country is out of Assad’s hands. The northeast and east, wrested from IS, is largely held by the U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces. But their fate as well is uncertain. Though President Donald Trump announced he would withdraw American troops, the U.S. is apparently keeping a small force, hoping to encourage the Europeans to strengthen their presence to protect its Kurdish allies from their nemesis Turkey, and counter Iran’s expansion in the region.
Militants are still a potent force. The Islamic State group has planted the seeds to wage an insurgency. The northwestern province of Idlib — an opposition stronghold throughout the war — is home to other jihadists as radical as IS. Nearly 3 million Syrians live in the province, most displaced from other parts of Syria that fell under government control. A Turkish-Russian truce that averted a government assault on Idlib and took pressure off Assad is fraying, threatening new bloodshed.
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