War in Syria

The 2011-present war in Syria is understood by many to have started during a period which saw demonstrations against the Syrian government, as well as demonstrations of support, all of which occurred in the context of the wider, so-called ‘Arab Spring’. By 2012 violence had escalated significantly and it had also become clear that a large number of external actors were involved and included, as already noted, an alliance of states opposed to the Syrian government, amongst them the US, UK, France, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, and countries that supported the Syrian government (e.g. Iran, Russia and China). From the perspective of US/UK engagement in Syria, an important early operation was the US-Saudi covert Operation Timber Sycamore involving a billion US dollars per year to support groups seeking to overthrow the Syrian government. Western engagement also involved support for extremist groups and, according to some accounts can be traced as far back as October 2011 when the CIA was operating via the UK’s MI6 (Secret Intelligence Service, SIS). As of mid-2021, the US supported groups occupy one-third of Syrian territory including the important oil fields whilst Turkish-backed groups occupy the province of Idlib in North West Syria. A severe sanctions regime led by the US now appears to be the primary ‘regime change’ tool being employed by the West and its allies. The future dynamics of the conflict remain uncertain.

Western Government ‘Strategic Communication’ Activities

Over the course of the 2011-present Syrian war, the US and its allies, primarily the UK and France, have consistently accused the Syrian government and its ally, the Russian Federation, of being responsible for chemical weapon events in Syria. Conversely, the Syrian Government and the Russian Federation have denied these allegations and instead accused opposition groups of staging chemical weapon attacks. Over the last two years, however, a significant amount of evidence has entered the public domain regarding Western-backed propaganda operations aimed at overthrowing the Syrian Government.
The most prominent of these has been the controversy surrounding alleged chemical weapon attacks in Syria and the role of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). A combination of leaked documents and statements from former OPCW staff, including the OPCW’s first Director General Jose Bustani, have added weight to the claim that an OPCW investigation of the alleged chemical weapon attack in Douma, 2018, was manipulated in order to deceptively blame the Syrian government for the attack. A former OPCW inspector presented detailed evidence of serious irregularities at a Courage Foundation panel in autumn 2019, and a detailed review of key evidence has been produced by a group of UK Academics. The controversy continues with the current OPCW Director General recently being challenged to answer questions regarding the Douma investigation at a UNSC meeting as well as continued leaks. Importantly, in March 2021 leading experts including former OPCW inspectors signed a Statement of Concern which called upon the OPCW to re-examine the Douma investigation. Also provided were details regarding procedural irregularities and scientific flaws with the OPCW investigation. To date, there has been no substantive response by the OPCW to the specific issues raised by former OPCW staff although they have, along with others raising questions, been subjected to smears and false accusations. The controversy is reminiscent of the alleged WMD propaganda campaign that was used to mobilise support for the invasion of Iraq in 2003.  
Concurrently a large volume of documents have been leaked; the most recent in September 2020 and which indicate the existence of a major UK-led ‘strategic communication’ operation aimed at supporting opposition groups in the Syrian Conflict to overthrow Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian government. The UK operations have run in parallel with a covert and illegal US-Saudi operation, codenamed Timber Sycamore, described here by Columbia University Professor Jeffery Sachs. The UK government funded ‘communication’ operations involve a wide variety of activities including media support to opposition groups, funding of groups such as the ‘Syrian Civil Defence’ (a.k.a the White Helmets), and the development of ‘accountability and justice’ campaigns related to the war.
Further Research, Resources and Reading (Under Construction)


Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media