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Bashar al-Assad, Lakhdar Brahimi & More: Who’s Who in Syria Crisis (PHOTOS)

See lead characters in the Syrian conflict, from Bashar al-Assad to rebel leader Riad al-Asaad to Hillary Clinton.

When protests broke out in Syria in March of 2011, many hoped it would bring a swift end to the reign of Bashar al-Assad, who was then in his 11th year in power. But unlike previous revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, what followed in Syria was the bloodiest conflict of the Arab Spring, killing more than 40,000 people according to some estimates in a war that rages on today. Despite widespread accusations that his regime has engaged in mass killings of civilians, Assad remains in power, drawing in a number of key figures as a result. Some continue to stand by the regime, while others remain intent on bringing it down. Here are some key figures in the Syria saga.

Gurinder Osan / AP Photo

Bashar al-Assad

Once touted as a potential reformer by some (Sen. John Kerry, among the most notable), Bashar al-Assad is undoubtedly the key figure in the ongoing conflict. A sketchy record on human rights and democratic reform in the country ignited the popular uprising, but Assad insists he will remain in power.

Thibault Camus / AP Photo

Mouaz al-Khatib

A former imam who studied geophysics as a youth, Moaz al-Khatib, known for his moderate Islamist views, was elected president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces in November. He’s since called for the international community to arm the Free Syrian Army in its fight against the Assad regime.

Ma Yan / Xinhua / Landov

Vladmir Putin

The Russian president has been among Assad’s most steadfast backers throughout the conflict. Pairing with China in pledging to veto any sanctions the United Nation Security Council tries to impose on Syria, Putin has recently opened talks with the Turkish prime minister, a backer of the revolution, amid rumors that the Syrian government is preparing to use chemical weapons against the rebels

Handout / Facebook / AP Photo

Riad al-Asaad

As commander of the Free Syrian Army, Riad al-Asaad has led both the military and public relations offensives against the Syrian government, denouncing the Assad regime everywhere—from the Voice of Russia to the Huffington Post. In May, the same month Asaad urged the withdrawal of a proposed peace plan, government forces killed his family.

Kevin Lamarque / AFP / Getty Images

Hillary Clinton

The outgoing secretary of state has been talking tough on Syria since the start of the revolution. She has yet to endorse the rebel forces, but has repeatedly criticized Assad, and recently she—and President Obama—warned that the U.S. would take action if the government engaged in chemical warfare, calling that step a “red line.”

Khalil Mazraawi / AFP / Getty Images

Riyad Farid Hijab

Former Prime Minister Riyad Farid Hijab became the highest-ranking defector from the Syrian government when he bailed in August—a move President Obama said showed the regime was “crumbling from within.” Hijab has since become a major Assad critic, and has claimed that the regime is on the verge of collapse.

Khaled Desouki / AFP / Getty Images

Lakhdar Brahimi

The former Algerian foreign minister replaced Kofi Annan as the U.N.’s Syria envoy in September, and was immediately tasked with trying to broker a peace deal. Lakhdar Brahimi claimed that if a political settlement isn’t made soon, Syria has the potential to become a “failed state.”