A swirling reorientation of alliances and enmities is under way in Syria and Iraq. The region is suffering a devastation that bears comparison with the thirty years’ war
Raqqa, self-styled capital of the self-styled Islamic State’s self-styled caliphate in eastern Syria, fell to Kurdish and Sunni Arab forces last week. The event was an indisputable success for the US-led anti-Isis international coalition. For the city’s inhabitants, it meant the end of a terrifying three years under the rule of a nihilistic cult. Isis’s rule in Raqqa made a global statement, showcasing its atrocities and its ideology: there were beheadings in a sports stadium, gay men thrown off rooftops, women reduced to slavery, and children indoctrinated to become suicide bombers. That the insurgent group has now been kicked out is a piece of good news for the Middle East and beyond.
It is much too soon to claim that Isis has been beaten for good. It still holds pockets of territory across the Syria-Iraq border. Nor is Sunni disenfranchisement – a key recruiting sergeant for Isis – likely to disappear if the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad, is allowed to continue to persecute his people. Donald Trump’s assertion on Saturday that the fall of Raqqa heralded a political transition for Syria is both cynical and hollow. There is no sign whatever of such a transition in Damascus.