While the media (and a lot of politicians) are attempting to paint a picture of the Syrian civil war as being about rebels desiring freedom from the tyrant Assad, the actual picture is much different. Anyone who’s been paying attention should not be surprised by this—it’s been the case with most conflicts over the last sixty years.

There are essentially two sides in the Syrian conflict, and they encompass a wide variety of groups and supporters. On one side there is the Assad government, Hezbollah, Iranian agents and various pro-government militias. On the other, you find the Al Nusrah Front, Ahrar al Sham, Jund al Sham, the Free Syria Army, and reported backers from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Again, anyone who has been paying attention will pick out the dividing line immediately. The war isn’t between Assad and a bunch of democracy-loving rebels. It’s between Iran and its proxies on one side, and the Salafist movement on the other.

The Iranians espouse a strict militant form of Shi’a Islam. In contrast, the Salafists (of whom the Wahhabis are a part of), desire a strict militant form of Sunni Islam. Part of this conflict has been seen already in the sectarian violence in Iraq—most notably with Jaysh al Mahdi representing the Shi’a and Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Salafists representing the Islamic State of Iraq. While both sides had a common enemy in the US, their own conflict went back a lot further and has never been entirely put aside. The Iranians especially have long been willing to support any jihadist cause, as long as it hurts Jews or infidels. Al Zarqawi worked out of Tehran for some time before becoming the head of AQI.

What we are seeing in the Syrian civil war is not entirely a civil war at all. It is a proxy war between multinational sectarian movements to determine which sect is going to dominate Islam. It is a contest that has been going on since Ali was killed and isn’t likely to end anytime soon.