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.
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