ISIS faces endgame as USA and Russia team up

Devastation: Children make their way through the rubble in an Aleppo street. © Baraa Al-Halabi

At sundown this evening a ceasefire is due to begin in Syria. The world’s two great hostile powers will then launch a joint centre to combat jihadists, including ISIS. Should we be celebrating?

As the sun sets tonight in Syria and families gather to celebrate Eid, battle-torn areas will be listening for another sound: silence. If all goes to plan, this will be the start of a much-needed ceasefire.

The news came on Friday, at a press conference with the two top US and Russian negotiators. The enemy superpowers have supported different sides in the war, but they had finally reached an agreement.

It is not yet a turning point, stressed America’s secretary of state. It is not even ‘based on trust.’ It is an ‘opportunity’: if Monday’s ceasefire holds, humanitarian aid can reach the worst-hit areas. Meanwhile, the USA and Russia can work together to fight terrorist groups in Syria, including Islamic State (ISIS). If that works, real peace talks can begin, and if Russia can convince President Assad to go, the war’s end will be in sight.

A lot of ifs: but, after five years, the world is desperate for a solution to this conflict: over 400,000 people have died, and millions more have fled their homes.

Back in 2011, the protesters who gathered in Syria’s cities did not know that war was coming. They were inspired by similar movements in Tunisia and Egypt where ordinary people had toppled their countries’ dictators. When Assad’s forces opened fire on the protesters, it only made them protest louder. Soon they began to fight back. The violence escalated.

Syria, which boasts some of the oldest cities in the world, became a warzone. The USA supported the rebels, who split into ever-more complex factions. Russia supported Assad, despite his use of devastating chemical weapons. Religious lines were drawn between the Sunni Muslim majority and the president’s Shia Alawite sect. And terrorist groups took advantage of the chaos. One in particular gained a reputation for its brutality: ISIS.

Once terrifyingly powerful, ISIS has recently suffered heavy losses. If the USA and Russia can defeat their common enemy, some say it would be a huge step towards peace throughout the Middle East.

End of the beginning?

The world has been terrorised for far too long, they argue. But the end is in sight. And once genuine rebels have been separated from extremists — and the latter are defeated — Syria can start rebuilding its cities and reforming its government; its refugees can return home. The world will be far safer for everyone.

It is not so simple, warn others. Defeating ISIS could spawn any number of new wars: involving the Kurds, Turkey, Iraqi militias and more. In fact the respected American newspaper The Washington Post has just published a chilling article entitled ‘Ten new wars that could be unleashed as a result of the one against ISIS’.

You Decide

  1. How will you feel if the USA and Russia manage to defeat ISIS?
  2. What is the best way for peace to be restored in Syria?

Activities

  1. Imagine the civil war is over. ISIS have been defeated and President Assad is gone. You have been tasked with writing Syria’s new constitution: what three principles will you begin with?
  2. Read the list of ten potential wars predicted by The Washington Post. (The fourth link under Become An Expert.) Choose one, and write a report which assesses its likelihood.

Some People Say...

“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”

Leo Tolstoy

What do you think?

Q & A

Haven’t ceasefires been called before?
Yes, and with little success. In March a ‘pause’ in fighting ended when Assad declared that he would reclaim the whole country. But no previous agreements have involved the USA and Russia working so closely together. Success will depend on whether Assad sticks to his promise to honour it, and on avoiding any random acts of violence by rebels.
Could ISIS really be defeated?
Earlier this year, Iraq managed to recapture the city of Fallujah from ISIS militants, and Turkey is close to banishing the group from its border. Now, the two major ISIS cities are Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq — and last month America said that ISIS is ‘weakening’ in the latter. But even if it loses its territories, the harder job could still be navigating what comes next.

Word Watch

Eid
Eid al-Adha begins tonight: a four-day Islamic festival celebrated around the world to honour Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son for God.
Islamic State
Also called ISIS, ISIL and Daesh. An offshoot of al-Qaeda it has attracted fighters from within the Middle East, and foreign countries. It controls areas in Syria and Iraq, and has inspired international acts of terrorism.
400,000
According to the UN special envoy for Syria.
Millions
The UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) has currently registered 4.8m Syrian refugees, including 2.7m in Turkey and 2.1m in other nearby countries.
Similar
These protests were known as the Arab Spring. Governments were also toppled in Libya and Yemen, with varying degrees of success.
Oldest cities
Archaeologists believe that the capital Damascus was inhabited 11,000 years ago; Aleppo 8,000 years.
Chemical weapons
In March, a report by the Syrian-American Medical Society estimated that since the start of the war 1,500 people had been killed by illegal chemical attacks, more than a third of which used deadly chlorine gas.

Subjects

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