The noose is tightening around Islamic State at a time when the Middle East is in tumult. Miscalculations or accidental incidents could easily spark a wider conflagration, whose spiralling effect no one could then control
The rush to Raqqa, Islamic State’s capital on the banks of the Euphrates in Syria, marks the beginning of a new and perilous phase in one of the world’s most dangerous battle zones. The capture of the capital of Isis’s self-declared caliphate would be partly symbolic – the end of a fountainhead of terror – and partly material: Raqqa would provide a treasure trove of information about the workings of Isis. What is clear is that when Isis is routed, there’s a race to control vacated territory. The jostling between forces means care is required to ensure trigger-happy troops on the ground or in the air do not allow impatience to cloud good judgment.
Syria is a battlefield between a regime and an armed opposition, regional powers, Russia and the west. And it is entering an ominous phase in the almost six-year-old, multifaceted and evolving war that has devastated an entire country. Of the many battles between proxies, perhaps the most worrying are the clashes between forces supported by the US along with its coalition partners, and Iranian-backed groups acting in support of the Assad regime – with Russia as a powerful ally. And there are signs that five months into Donald Trump’s presidency, the risk of an overt confrontation between the US and other actors grows day by day.