Witness to History

Nobody was convinced by my writing on Isis, until it was too late

The rise of Isis, 2014: Only when the city of Mosul fell did the world see how serious the threat from the Islamic State was, writes Patrick Cockburn

Monday 23 December 2019 15:53
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After the fall: an Isis billboard lies destroyed in the middle of the road
After the fall: an Isis billboard lies destroyed in the middle of the road

In June 2014 I was attending an academic conference focusing on the Syrian crisis in Amman in Jordan. I and another lone professor said that the most important development over the previous two years in Syria and Iraq was the swift increase in the strength and territorial control of Isis. Our arguments were received with polite scepticism by the assembled experts who were eager to get back to discussing the intricacies of Syrian politics.

I stayed on a day in Amman after the conference, to see a friend. In the morning, I noticed that the news wires were saying that Isis had launched multiple attacks in northern and central Iraq. This was their usual tactic: highly mobile assault groups in pick-ups striking at many targets at the same time to confuse the Iraqi army and prevent it knowing where the main attack would be until it was too late. In this case, it turned out to be directed against Mosul, the northern capital of Iraq with a population of 2 million.

The Temple of Bel in 2016 and (inset) 2014, before it was destroyed by Isis

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