The Syrian Desert (Arabic: بادية الشام, bādiyat ash-shām), also known as the Syro-Arabian Desert, is a combination of steppe and true desert that is located in the northern Arabian Peninsula, covering 200,000 square miles (over 500,000 square kilometers) of the region of Syria. The desert is very rocky and flat.
The Syrian desert is part of the Al-Hamad, which covers portions of Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Its border on the west is the Orontes Valley, and its border on the east is the Euphrates. In the north, the desert gives way to the more fertile areas of grass. In the south, it runs into the deserts of the southern Arabian Peninsula. Many mini-deserts exist in the Syrian Desert such as Palmyra. Damascus is located on an oasis. The desert's remarkable landscape was formed by lava flows from the volcanic region of the Jebel Druze in southern Syria. The Syrian Desert is the origin of the Syrian hamster.
The desert was historically inhabited by Bedouin tribes, and many tribes still remain in the region, their members living mainly in towns and settlements built near oases. Some Bedouin still maintain their traditional way of life in the desert. Safaitic inscriptions, proto-Arabic texts written by literate Bedouin, are found throughout the Syrian Desert. These date approximately from the 1st century B.C. to the 4th century A.D.
During the Iraq War, the desert served as a major supply line for the Iraqi insurgents, with the Iraq portion of the desert becoming a primary stronghold of the Sunni insurgents operating in the Al Anbar Governorate, particularly after the Coalition capture of Fallujah during Operation Phantom Fury. A series of Coalition military operations were relatively ineffective at removing the insurgent presence in the Desert. However as the insurgents began to gain control of the surrounding areas the importance of the Syrian desert as a center of operations was believed to have lessened. By September 2006 insurgents had gained control of virtually all of the Anbar Governorate and had moved most of their forces, equipment and leaders further east to insurgent-controlled cities near the Euphrates river; nevertheless the Syrian Desert remains one of the primary routes for smuggling equipment due to its location near the Syrian border.