‘Destruction of Palmyra would be a great loss, whole humanity will suffer’
After bloody clashes with the Syrian Army, Islamic State fighters have taken control of the historical Syrian city of Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.
RT:Just a few weeks ago, the US military said Islamic State was on the defensive. How have the terrorists managed to make such rapid gains?
Edmund Ghareeb: There is no doubt that ISIS suffered some setbacks but apparently it continued to have the resources, the motivation and the capability to attack in other places as well, and we are seeing manifestationsof this. We saw it in Ramadi and we are seeing it today in Tadmor or Palmyra. And therefore this shows it’s continuing to advance and remains a viable force and that the efforts that have been made against it by the international coalition have not been very effective.
RT:The US reportedly wants to train and arm local Sunni tribes in Syria and Iraq to fight against Islamic State. How successful could that be?
EG: A great deal is going to depend on what happens next. Is the coalition going to be able - with the help of the Iraqi government and cooperation to get, for example, Sunnis from the Anbar area to be part of the mobilization, part of the popular forces which would work with Iraqi security forces, because there’s been a great deal of tension in that area? If that happens and if the US can provide the kind of military support and weaponry that is needed then I think IS successes could be reversed. But this requires a new strategy, a new reassessment of what has been going on and what is needed to be done. And that is why what we are seeing now in Tadmor or Palmyra is extremely important because this is one of the most ancient [cities], it has priceless antiquities and treasures for all of humanity. It’s not just for Syria or Iraq. Syria or Iraq as you know have been the birthplace, the wellspring of the human civilization and Palmyra was both an Arabic and Roman capital at one time and another for the region. And it was an important cultural and commercial center. It has priceless antiquities if these are destroyed then humanity as a whole will suffer and this would be a great loss. That’s why action is needed by the international community. Everybody needs to protect this treasure. Also, the other attacks that have taken place have been against religious and ethnic minorities. Some of these minorities’ history goes back to pre-Christian, pre-Islamic times and I think there needs to be an effort to stop that as well.
RT:What other strategy could the coalition adopt in the fight against ISIS?
EG: I think the coalition has to work closely with the Iraqi government and the local forces on the grounds that are opposed [to IS]. They have to increase and accelerate their efforts both in training and in military supplies. And of course they have to try to put more pressure on the radical and extremists forces and as well as those who are supporting them by funding, providing them with weapons, although they gained a great deal of weaponry when they took over Mosul and Ramadi. There is a need to coordinate the efforts of the international community as a whole to try to combat this and prevent what we are seeing.
Patrick James, international relations expert, on the capture of Palmyra and on the strategy on how to fight Islamic State:“Very difficult decisions have to be made, for example, very strange bed fellows may be necessary, even temporary cooperation with Assad who has been branded a human rights monster, in order to prevent something even worse from happening, namely the increasing series of triumphs on the part of ISIS… These decisions simply cannot keep on being made on a day-to-day basis, there has to be some kind of an underlying plan…”
RT:There are now numerous Islamic extremist groups spreading in the Middle East and North Africa. Why is it proving so difficult to shut down their sources of funding, arms supplies, influx of volunteers?
EG: It’s not easy when you have an organization such as ISIS. Nevertheless, I think more could be done. Some steps have been taken to block the funding, to stop the sale of oil and gas. By the way there are some gas fields near Palmyra so that could be another source of funding for IS. They have also sold these antiquities; some of them have reached Western and other capitals. That needs to be stopped as well, because they are not only destroying the antiquities in Mosul and Hatra, for example. This is an amazing place and there was a great deal of destruction in that area. We have also seen the destruction in Nimrud and now there is a threat for Palmyra.
‘ISIS not going away anytime soon’
As the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra has been taken by ISIS, the Middle East faces a deep crisis regarding the radical Sunni group, says Nader Hashemi, Middle East expert at the University of Denver.
RT:A few days ago ISIS took control of Ramadi in Iraq. Now the terrorists have seized Palmyra in Syria. How dangerous are these developments for the region?
Nader Hashemi: They are very dangerous and they remind us that far from being a spent force, a defeated force, as some of the predictions have suggested, ISIS is still a formidable fighting force. It’s been able to capture the provincial capital of Ramadi and now Palmyra in Syria. It seems to be gaining momentum and strength, and this is a very worrying development for many reasons. One, because it will attract more recruits to IS; it allows IS to send a signal around the world - particularly to potential populations that might be susceptible to be recruited - that they are a force that is not going away any time soon. In fact they are actually winning the war. So it’s a reminder of the deep crisis the Middle East is in and that we will be dealing with this problem of the IS crisis for many years to come.
Patrick James, international relations expert, on the capture of Palmyra and on the strategy on how to fight Islamic State: “… Temporary cooperation may be essential if you look for example at the things that extend beyond our life time, priceless world heritage sights are going to be destroyed and more of them if we do not act… This type of fanatical extremist movement knows no boundaries in what it will destroy…”
RT:Have the US-led air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq done anything to stem the advance of the terrorist group?
NH: Yes, in some cases it has. For example, in the border town of Kobani on the Syrian-Turkish border the US airstrikes played a formidable role in terms of rolling back IS gains in that area. More recently, in the town of Tikrit, a combination of the US airstrikes and ground support for Iraqi forces, also Shiite militias played an important role in rolling back IS gains there. But it’s a mixed record. Clearly we know that airstrikes alone can’t defeat ISIS, unless you have an organized and sustained fighting force on the ground that can hold territory and keep territory then the US airstrikes are not by themselves to make a difference and so one has to keep that in perspective.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.