Islamic State Continues Relentless March, Seizes 2 Critical Cities
The Islamic State is continuing to make dramatic gains despite the fact that an international coalition of some of the world's largest militaries has taken effort to halt the group's growth.
The most recent gains came in Syria as the group captured the city of Palmyra, the home of a ruins that are a UNESCO world heritage site, according to Reuters. The capture of Palmyra puts the group in control of roughly half of Syria.
In addition to seizing Palmyra, the group also took control of the last Syrian-Iraqi border crossing that was under the control of the Syrian government. This brings the group one step closer to its stated goal of erasing the borders established by the Sykes-Picot treaty of 1916 that established the current borders in the region.
It also allows the group to more easily transfer fighters and supplies between its territory in Iraq and Syria.
IS has also made enormous strategic gains in Iraq by seizing control of Ramadi, which is the capital of Anbar province. Anbar is also the single largest province in Iraq.
The seizure of Ramadi highlights not only the effectiveness of IS' fighting forces, but also the weakness of the Iraqi government. The soldiers and police protecting the city fled after a series of car bombings. This allowed IS to gain control of large amounts of advanced weaponry provided to Iraq by the US, such as tanks and rockets.
Troublingly, it appears as though the Iraqi government is relying more and more on Shia militias to battle the hardline Sunni IS. The militias have their own history of atrocities and human rights abuses, causing many to fear that if they do eventually retake Ramadi from IS, the civilian population will face dire consequences.