After days of intense clashes, the Syrian Arab Army, backed by the Russian air force, re-liberated the city of Palmyra from the Islamic State on March 2. Hundreds of IS fighters were reported to be fleeing towards the town of Al-Sukhnah.
Dubbed the “Queen of Desert” and designated as a UNESCO heritage site, Palmyra’s history dates back to the second millennium BCE, making it a historic and cultural icon for the people of Syria.
IS first captured the city in May 2015; Syrian government forces managed to take it back in March 2016. In December 2016, as the Syrian government had to divert most of its resources for the battle of Aleppo, Palmyra’s defenses were weakened. At the same time, Iraqi forces’ drive to recapture Mosul and thousands of IS fighters fled from Iraq to Syria. After a long march across the desert with their heavy equipment — somehow “undetected” by the U.S.-led coalition fighting in Iraq — those IS fighters joined the battle to retake Palmyra, succeeding by the end of 2016. During the time it held Palmyra, IS staged mass executions of captured Syrian soldiers and teachers. Some of the city’s ancient ruins have also been destroyed.
Most Western media coverage of the fight against the Islamic State focuses on U.S.-backed forces, omitting the fact that the government’s Syrian Arab Army and allied civilian militias have been the primary forces fighting and dying against IS. Their recapture of this historically and culturally significant city will boost the morale of these forces nationwide, and lays the basis for the full defeat of IS.
Palmyra is strategically located in central Syria, only 140 miles from Raqqa, the stronghold and so-called “capital” of IS. It is highly likely that the battle for Raqqa will be next.
Despite this tremendous victory over IS, one might expect major reaction from the Western media, foreign ministries, and the U.S. high command, who claim that the fight against IS is their top priority. Instead it has been relatively quiet on the Western front.
Contrast this with the flood of news that dominated the Western news channels when Palmyra fell to IS in December. Then the message was that the Syrian government was incapable and uninterested in fighting and defeating IS.
For its part, the U.S. bombing campaign against the Islamic State in northern Syria is completely illegal, a direct violation of Syrian sovereignty. That air campaign, carried out without coordination with the legitimate Syrian government and allied forces, has killed hundreds of civilians. Those incidents have been buried in U.S. newspapers and the Pentagon has simply called them “mistakes.”
During the battle to free Aleppo from reactionary fundamentalist militia rule, the Western media cried “humanitarian disaster,” spreading the usual lies of “the regime” coldly “massacring civilians.”
What is the reason behind this shameful and hypocritical double standard when it comes to their coverage depending on who is doing the fighting?
To recognize the scale and legitimacy of the Syrian Army’s fight against IS would undermine the carefully constructed narrative that portrays the Syrian government as illegitimate and bloodthirsty, the U.S.-backed armed groups as the only ones fighting IS, and the West as “saviors.”
In September 2016, the U.S. bombed and killed 62 Syrian government troops who were locked in battle with the Islamic State, which allowed IS to immediately seize a government base. With this “mistake” the Pentagon effectively sabotaged a fragile ceasefire negotiated between Moscow and Washington.
In truth, the U.S. air campaign against the Islamic State has nothing to do with the “war on terror.” It is simply a mechanism for the Pentagon to maintain direct military capabilities to intervene and shape the battle over Syria.
The Western governments could not care any less about the human lives lost to terror in Syria, or anywhere else. U.S. imperialism, which the corporate media faithfully serves, has been the biggest source of terror around the world. Syria, as an independent, unitary and secular state has long been the target of a “regime change” operation. That is why liberating Palmyra from the grip of IS terror was not greeted as welcome news.
Progressives and revolutionaries organizing in the center of U.S. imperialism, however, need not be quiet about the Syrian armed forces’ defeat of IS in Palmyra. It is a major victory for the people living under the boot of IS’s ultra-reactionary rule. It is part of the long struggle in defense of Syria’s sovereignty and right to self-determination. It sends a clear message that the imperialist schemes for Syria — to weaken its government, divide its people, and partition its territory — will be that much harder to achieve.