Everything you wanted to know about the potential Syrian conflict (and didn't want to read) in 10 handy infographics...
Targets of a U.S. strike could include helicopter and fixed wing aircraft air bases across the country, including the Mezzeh air base in Damascus, and Nairab, a major military air base in Aleppo. Because of Assad's extensive air defense systems, officials believe it is too risky - at least initially - to deploy fighter aircraft or even low-flying drones that could be shot down.
Suspected Chemical Sites
Experts don't believe Syria's chemical weapons stockpile will be targeted because of the risk of accidental release of the deadly nerve agents that include mustard gas, tabun, sarin and VX. But systems for moving the weapons could be in the crosshairs. Western forces could also zero in on the headquarters of the Syrian Army's 4th Division, 155th Brigade, the unit believed to be responsible for the purported Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack. The brigade is headed by Maher Assad, Bashar Assad's younger brother.
These potential targets represent Assad's military and political might. They include military and national police headquarters, including the Defense Ministry; the Syrian military's general staff; and the four-brigade Republican Guard that is in charge of protecting Damascus, Assad's seat of power. Assad's ruling Baath Party headquarters could be targeted, too.
Syrian Air Defense
The majority of Syria's air defense systems — as many as 500 defense positions and 400 operational aircraft — have been positioned along Lebanon's border, in the Syrian-controlled part of the Golan Heights, along the Syrian Mediterranean coast and in and around Damascus. They include aircraft, interception missiles, radar and other equipment.
World leaders weighed in on the looming possibility of an international military intervention in Syria in response to the Assad regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians.
Syria’s civil war has exacerbated tensions between the country’s many religious groups. Most of the rebels are from Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority, while Assad’s regime is heavily stocked with members of his minority Alawite sect Shiite Muslims. The war’s increasingly sectarian nature makes many fear reconciliation between Syrians could be hard to achieve once the conflict ends.
Where It All Began
In March 2011, the uprising began when the families of teenagers arrested for scrawling anti-regime graffiti on a wall protested in Daraa for their release and security forces cracked down. The city was sealed off in an effort to stop the unrest, which soon spread to other parts of the country.
Nearly 75 percent of Syria is Sunni Muslim. Though Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, control much of the military and security leadership, they are only 12 percent of the population. The rest of the population are mostly Christians, Kurds and Druze.
Measuring the bloodshed
The civil war in Syria has been the longest of the Arab Spring uprisings. When comparing deaths to the other Arab Spring uprisings, Syria's death rate per 100,000 people is second only to Libya:
As of August 23, there are roughly 1.95 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries and more than half of them are children. Aid groups are appealing for nearly $3 billion and have raised 40 percent of that goal in order to cover refugee needs through Dec. 2013.
What course the conflict takes will have deep repercussions on countries across the Middle East as well as for foreign countries with interests there. While some nations have picked sides, international diplomacy has so far failed to slow the bloodshed.
Interactive Charts: AP