From Palmyra to Ramadi

On two separate fronts against the infamous Islamic State (Daesh) we are faced with a depressing and imminent prospect. That this groups morale will be sufficiently boosted and they will be further empowered and emboldened when it comes to carrying out their terrorist exploits and forwarding their criminal enterprise.

In Syria, as you know, Daesh were dangerously close to the historic Palmyra UNESCO world heritage site. These beautiful ruins in the desert remind one of the similarly speculator ruins of places like Persepolis in Iran or Hatra in Iraq – before the latter was systematically ravaged and destroyed by these uncivilized brutes.

The beautiful ruins of Palmyra deserve the rather grandiose titles ascribed to it, such as ‘jewel in the Syrian desert’ or “Venice of the Sands”. It would be horrifying to see these ancient ruins, another UNESCO world cultural heritage site, succumb to Daesh assault and be either badly defaced and damaged or lost forever. Thankfully the Syrian Army has managed to repel them and in the process secure that site from otherwise imminent destruction. For now anyway.

Sunrise over beautiful Palmyra, Syria. / Taken by David Holt.
Sunrise over beautiful Palmyra, Syria. / Taken by David Holt.

Rowan Moore’s recent editorial in The Guardian is worth reading. He advocated coalition air strikes against Daesh in that vicinity in order to defend Palmyra, if possible. He recalled seeing the many sites in Syria that have now been either badly ravaged or destroyed by this war and perfectly encapsulated the engrained folly on Daesh’s part of seeking to destroy such historic monuments and sites when he wrote,

‘If Isis raze Palmyra, it would be a new demonstration of the evil and stupidity they have already abundantly displayed in their slaughters and enslavements, and in their videos of beheadings and burnings. It would also confirm Isis’s littleness: how could anyone be so threatened by ancient ruins, unless they lacked belief in their ability to create something themselves? It would make manifest Isis’s nihilism, their vision of the world as a desert populated only by themselves and their slaves. It is, of course, precisely the diversity of Syria’s heritage that Isis hate.’

One would also add that the very same applies to Iraq. Daesh are incensed when they see standing remnants of the wondrous ancient Cradle of Civilization and are therefore doing their utmost to destroy them.

In Iraq Daesh are gaining more ground in Iraq’s largest province, Anbar, where they have managed to overrun the city of Ramadi, Anbar’s provincial capital. If they can hold the city it may prove to be a significant blow. After all, the liberation of Anbar will be of decisive importance to Baghdad and the Iraqi Army’s morale in the run-up to finally driving Daesh out of Mosul. This, coupled with yet more footage of them gleefully demolishing more beautiful ancient ruins near the Syrian capital of Damascus, would give more credence in the eyes of their followers to their claims that they are winning, that the caliphate is slowly expanding, growing and triumphing over its many enemies on two fronts simultaneously.

Aerial view of Ramadi back in 2008.
Aerial view of Ramadi back in 2008.

It would be a tragic defeat for Iraq and the coalition if Daesh is able to retain its hold over Ramadi and consolidate its control over almost all of Anbar. In the eyes of Daesh’s followers it would compensate for their setbacks in Kobani and Tikrit, which they could simply discount as temporary tactical retreats. Iraq’s premier Haider al-Abadi, remember, announced just last month that Anbar will soon be liberated. If Daesh can hold Ramadi (which sits a mere 60 kilometers from Baghdad) in the coming days and stave off any Iraqi counteroffensive they will doubtlessly be further reinvigorated and their followers doubly convinced that their cause will ultimately triumph. One just has to look at the fresh mass graves being unearthed of the Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis alike, along with various minority communities in Northern Iraq, to remember why Daesh simply cannot be allowed to win, or even consolidate what they have been able to seize to date.

Put simply: any and every Daesh advance or battlefield victory is a defeat for civilization.

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