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The 6 Reasons Why ISIS Taking Over Half of Syria is Deeply Disturbing

Syria and Iraq and ISIS.

A map of ISIS control in Syria and Iraq, from a VICE documentary. The Islamic State is gaining major territory across the two countries. (quapan / Flickr)

ISIS--a.k.a. the scariest international terrorist organization in the world--just got a lot scarier.

As of today, the terrorists have taken over half of Syria. Let that sink in. Half. Of. Syria.

This is the first time ISIS has taken a whole city from the Syrian government.

In case you're not familiar with ISIS, here are a few quick facts:

  • It's also called the Islamic State, IS, and ISIL.
  • It's a powerful terrorist group made up of Islamic militants has been trying to conquer and rule Iraq, Syria, and other parts of the Middle East.
  • They want to establish a "caliphate," or Islamic kingdom, by uniting areas of Syria and Iraq under their control. And it looks like they might be succeeding.

The Islamic State is also known for making disturbing propaganda videos in which they slaughter innocents and use kids to do their dirty work and issue vague but creepy threats. And they really, really hate the U.S.

So obviously any gain by an America-hating terrorist group is bad, but here are some reasons this situation is particularly disturbing.

1. ISIS just took over an important ancient city in Syria.

Palmyra is an ancient city in central Syria. About 50,000 people live there.

[googlemaps https://www.google.com/maps/embed?pb=!1m18!1m12!1m3!1d52571.025768701584!2d38.29808235!3d34.5614261!2m3!1f0!2f0!3f0!3m2!1i1024!2i768!4f13.1!3m3!1m2!1s0x153c755dd2a55071%3A0xef50b4368ff74e69!2sPalmyra%2C+Syria!5e0!3m2!1sen!2suk!4v1432217901814&w=600&h=450]

ISIS are terrorists, so they didn't simply take over Palmyra--they did it brutally. After seizing the city, ISIS beheaded men in the street, shot children to death, and set dangerous pro-ISIS criminals free.

Though it pales in comparison to human slaughter, the ISIS takeover could also result in the loss of countless historical artifacts, destroying some of Syria's proud history. Palmyra was a major multicultural city, an eclectic mix of Greek, Roman and Persian cultures.

The whole city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, which means the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization declared it one of relatively few places of special cultural significance on Earth. Why? Because Palmyra is full of important artifacts around 2,000 years old, all of which are now in jeopardy.

Palmyra ruins.

The massive ancient ruins of Palmyra. (varunshiv / Flickr)

After all, ISIS has already destroyed ancient cities and artifacts in Iraq.

And the artifacts are completely unprotected. Rami Abdurrahman, the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told reporters,

“There are no forces to stop them [entering the ruins].”

2. There are no good guys in this fight.

Enemies everywhere.

My enemy's enemy is... also my enemy. (Elvert Barnes / Flickr)

ISIS took Palmyra from the Syrian government. So we should be rooting for the Syrian government, then?

Not really. This fight is particularly tough because it's bad guy vs. bad guy. Obviously we don't want ISIS to win, but the Syrian government is run by a man called Bashar al-Assad, a man widely believed to be guilty of severe war crimes, such as torturing his citizens and using chemical weapons (which are banned!) on children.

Assad is essentially waging war on his own people, and Syria has been in seriously acute, horrific crisis for almost 5 years.

You may have heard about Angelina Jolie visiting refugee camps, or world leaders meeting to try to solve the Syria crisis. Yeah, that crisis happened because of Syria's civil war, which is in large part because of this guy Assad.


Thanks a lot, Assad. (Pan-African News Wire File Photos / Flickr)

So how do we help in a fight where we don't want either side to win?

3. ISIS actually now controls HALF THE COUNTRY of Syria

Yeah, it's not just one city. Or two cities. Or three. ISIS now literally controls 50% of the land in Syria.

And ISIS hasn't been just taking over willy-nilly. The terrorist organization has been making strategic gains. Now that ISIS holds Palmyra, they're in a position to take over other important cities held by the Syrian government, such as the capital, Damascus, and another major city, Homs.

Palmyra Homs Syria Baghdad Iraq

Palmyra is down, and Homs could be next. ISIS is making inroads in Iraq, too. (Wikimedia Commons)

And remember--it's not like the Islamic State takes over peacefully. They butcher citizens in the cities they conquer.

4. It was relatively easy for ISIS to take over in Syria.

Syrian civil war.

In Syria, the military is weak-ish and the people are impoverished and displaced because of the civil war there. (Xavier Allard / Flickr)

Syria's in a pretty weak position right now. The country has been at war with itself for the past three years, and an astounding number of people have been displaced or killed. 2.7 million refugees have fled Syria for Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and more than 200,000 Syrians have been killed since the conflict began.

With most of Syria's forces battling each other, it wasn't hard for ISIS to take advantage of the situation.

5. It's not just Syria.


Ramadi, Iraq--also under ISIS control. (ian_wilder1983/Flickr)

This wasn't the first major gain ISIS made this week. Last Friday, the Islamic State took over Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's biggest province. It now controls a large part of Iraq along with half of Syria.

America gave Iraqi forces 1,000 anti-tank missiles after ISIS captured Ramadi. That's one sign of how serious this is.

6. ISIS might be getting stronger, not weaker.

Just a few days ago, we were celebrating what seemed like a major victory against ISIS: American forces killed an important ISIS leader, Abu Sayyaf, in a raid, and then led airstrikes against ISIS in Tikrit, Iraq.

The White House says these coalition airstrikes--or airstrikes conducted by several countries working together--killed 170 jihadists in 48 hours.

But are these bombings working? Or is ISIS getting stronger, despite our efforts against them?

Right now ISIS seems to be succeeding in their goal to rule most of Syria and Iraq.

So what will America do? Will we put boots on the ground and fight ISIS with American troops, or should we be careful not to get involved in another drawn-out war like the one we just left in Iraq? What do you think?

Images used under Creative Commons licensing.

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The 6 Reasons Why ISIS Taking Over Half of Syria is Deeply Disturbing

Alison Maney

Alison Maney is a nomadic freelance writer originally from Northern Virginia. An NYU graduate since 2013, she has been spending her time writing for everyone from PR agencies to startup companies to actual real life publications. She wastes her time watching old movies with her dog, Louie.

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