Two major Arab cities fell on Tuesday – Aleppo (Syria) to the Syrian Arab Army and Sirte (Libya) to the militia armies of Misrata. One of the common features of these battles is the sheer destruction of the cities. Sirte, which was under siege since May, is rubble. Its infrastructure – including hospitals and mosques – is gone. Aleppo’s main bazaar and many of its residential areas have simply been erased. These cities resemble Fallujah (Iraq) after the United States twice razed large parts of it the ground. There is much here that resembles Kobané (Syria) after ISIS had been chased out of this city by US airstrikes and Kurdish militia ground operations. Great cities reduced to ruin. It is as if the Mongol Horde or the Crusades had returned. ‘All cities must be razed,’ said Genghis Khan. His commandment echoes from North Africa to West Asia.
The Syrian Arab Army, as I noted last week, will consolidate its hold on Aleppo before making a gradual pivot eastwards toward Raqqa. It is clear that the government in Damascus wants to move towards that ISIS stronghold before the Iraqis, backed by the West, take Mosul (Iraq). The Syrian government fears – as I am told – that the West, perhaps with Turkish military forces, will turn their attention to Raqqa after Mosul. If the West and the Turks move on Raqqa, it would mean the formal dismemberment of Syria, something that the Damascus government opposes. If there is Turkish military involvement, it would mean the end of any Kurdish ambitions to maintain the Rojava enclave of Kurdistan. The race for Raqqa will come within the year. Mosul – a city with a million people – will take time to conquer. Portents of great devastation are already apparent. For every news story on atrocities in Aleppo, there is one that is not written on what is happening in the march into Mosul.