IS Controls Half of Syria

[Content Note: War; war crimes.]

This is terrible, terrible news: The Islamic State has seized control of the Syrian city of Palmyra, which, according to the UK's Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, means that IS now controls more than half of Syrian territory. Further, IS has killed dozens of people in the resistance and may be destroying sites of historical significance.
Clashes in the Palmyra area since Wednesday killed at least 100 pro-government fighters, said [the Observatory's founder Rami Abdulrahman], who bases his information on a network of sources on the ground.

...Capturing the city marks a strategic military gain for Islamic State, because it is home to modern army installations and situated on a desert highway linking government-held Damascus and Homs with Syria's mainly rebel-held east.

The European Union's foreign policy chief expressed fears that thousands of people in Palmyra were at risk as well as the cultural sites.

"Mass killings and deliberate destruction of archaeological and cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq amount to a war crime," Federica Mogherini said in a statement.

...The ultra hardline group has destroyed antiquities and monuments in Iraq and there are fears it might now devastate Palmyra, home to renowned Roman-era ruins including well-preserved temples, colonnades and a theater.

The U.N. cultural agency UNESCO describes the site as a historical crossroads between the Roman Empire, India, China and ancient Persia and a testament to the world's diverse heritage.

"We may have different beliefs...different views, but we have to protect such incredible vestiges of human history," UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova told Reuters Television.

..."This is the fall of a civilization," Syria's antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim told Reuters.
IS seized Palmyra less than a week after it seized Ramadi in Iraq, which "handed the Iraqi government its most significant setback in a year and exposed the limitations of both the army and U.S.-led air strikes designed to 'degrade and destroy' Islamic State."

And with IS taking control of a town with such extraordinary antiquities, the fear is not limited to the possibility that they will destroy them, as they have in other places, "branding them heretical according to its interpretation of Islam," but that they may sell some of them to black market collectors, to help fund their war: "Its fighters have smashed statues and buildings and sold off ancient artifacts that were small enough to be smuggled. The area surrounding Palmyra is also rich in gas and oil, potentially boosting the Islamic State's wealth."

Meanwhile, IS continues recruitment in places like the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia, where young men enlist as volunteers and disappear—some are thought to have been abducted and Georgian authorities are suspected of protecting the recruiters.

And here, Republicans seem interested in the problem only insomuch as they can blame Obama for it. They've not got between the lot of them a single serious idea for meaningfully addressing the problem. Which, frankly, may be because there are no good ideas.

Although, to listen to the Republicans tell it, with their criticisms of Obama and Clinton for withdrawing troops from Iraq—even though the Obama administration was complying with the U.S.–Iraq Status of Forces Agreement signed by then-President George W. Bush in 2008—they're keen to send troops back into Iraq and on the ground in Syria ASAP, as if that is the best idea ever. As if we can afford it. As if we know better what the people of that region need and don't need to listen to them and follow their lead. As if the people of the region can afford more of our brand of "helpful" intervention.

I don't know what the answer is. I am just feeling desperately sad for the people being harmed by this battle, whose lives and homes and cities are being fubared by multiple factions, none of whom respect their will.

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