It’s four months since Isis was driven from Raqqa, the Syrian city styled as the caliphate’s capital by the jihadi barbarians.
After seven years of incomprehensible savagery and half-a-million lives lost, violence is not ebbing, but rather intensifying. The United Nations continues to chide us for our inaction, warning of unprecedented suffering in a country that has endured so many crimes and such desperation. Whole swathes of the country were, for the last number of years, held in a death grip by medieval fantasists, who imagined that their multiple and particularly gruesome murders honoured their god.
Despite that, and despite the fact that UN calls for a ceasefire continue to fall on deaf ears, brave, displaced survivors have begun to trickle back to that once-beautiful, but now razed, city. Isis might have been driven out, but the terrorists have left a legacy that will take at least 20 years to erase. The city’s dystopian ruins are so littered with booby-trap bombs that reconstruction efforts run a real risk. Even as the enemy has been driven out, their capacity to kill or maim endures. The psychological scars must be unimaginable, too, especially as IS used Naim Square — Paradise Square — as the scene for appalling, Heart-of-Darkness cruelties.
Islamic State’s caliphate ambitions might have been crushed, but the organisation remains a threat. Its zealots will do all they can to attack anyone who rejects their black-or-white worldview and those efforts will not be confined to the Middle East. Europe can anticipate further atrocities. However, their partial defeat shifts the focus to the other strands of conflict afflicting the accursed people of the region.
Last Thursday alone, more than 100 pro-regime fighters were killed by American forces repelling an assault on
a US-controlled base in the eastern province of Deir ez-Zor. In eastern Ghouta, which has suffered grievously at the hands of Bashar al-Assad, 59 civilians, including 15 children, died on the same day.
Just as America struggles in its determination to be the world’s policeman — with an unstable sheriff in the White House — Russia has found that it is far easier to bomb a country than to pacify it. A political resolution is as elusive as ever — a disheartening situation confirmed by the failure of the UN Geneva talks and Russia’s imprudent go-it-alone effort to push through a deal at Sochi last month. As Assad intensifies military offensives, 400,000 are under siege in eastern Ghouta. Syria is trapped in that dark no man’s land between a defeat of the rebels and a victory for Assad.
Already, something around 6mn Syrians have fled abroad. Since December, an estimated 300,000 people have fled Assad’s attacks on rebel-held Idlib province. This refugee escalation fuels hardening attitudes in countries that were, not so long ago, happy to offer sanctuary to those fleeing atrocity and war. Tragically, this pressure-cooker pincher movement will radicalise some refugees, while undermining some countries’ open-door policies. The human toll is staggering and the need for a humane, international response grows by the day. The deadlock must be broken.