It’s Costly: Retaking Syria and Iraq

Continuing on with the theme of current events, the news and therefore topic this week is going to be a little more serious. This is also probably going to be a longer post as there’s a lot of information to unpack here. As you can probably guess from the cover photo, I’m going to be talking about the conflicts occurring in the Middle East today. Actually, that was a kind of specific thing to pull out of a war photo, so you have my sincerest apologies. That aside, I’ll be linking the idea of cost that we have seen during our time reading The Aeneid to those two giant messes we call the Iraqi and the Syrian Civil War. And I think I might be understating it when I say mess, because it is really bad over there, for everyone involved. The rest of this post will be split into two sections; some background info and the costs of this war. Let’s get started!

Some Background Info would be useful right now…

To be completely honest, all these conflicts are really complicated to cover, but I’ll do my best to simplify them. And if that isn’t enough, I’ll leave a more fleshed out summary about the Syrian Civil War and the Iraqi Civil War.

Alright, let’s get started with Syria. In 2011, protests erupted because the Syrian government thought that it would be ok to torture pro-revolutionary teenagers who graffitied in school. Then they decide its ok to open fire on the same protestors, and well you probably guessed it, even more protestors came out, and boy were they angry! This sort of escalated into armed rebels versus the government. Then it became Sunnis versus Shia Alawite (pro-president). Then the Kurds decided they wanted to be independent after being left to their own devices. And finally, ISIS shows up because they want a piece of the Syrian cake. I know, it’s complicated, and to help you visualize it, I present you with a live map of Syria. The fighting goes back and forth between everyone. Russia and various other countries join in to support the opposing forces. Today its reached the point where the Syrian government and Russia are working on taking back Aleppo, which was one of Syria’s largest cities.

Moving on to Iraq, I’ll start with after the US withdrew its troops in 2011. The ongoing conflict in Iraq becomes a full blown sectarian war between the Sunnis and Shiites. Then ISIS starts creeping up in 2013, by bombing the Kurdish capital. By 2014, they’re capturing territory left and right, including the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. Eventually they capture Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul. This kind of forces the Iraqi government and the Kurds to make an alliance in order to kick ISIS out. In the years that follow, it becomes a back and forth of ISIS capturing cities and the Iraqis and Kurds recapturing them. This leads us to today, where the Kurds and Iraqi troops are trying to take back the ISIS infested city of Mosul.

At what cost?:

Both civil wars have been costly for everyone involved. In the Aeneid, the wars the Trojans had with the Greeks for Troy and the Latins/Italians for Italy were pretty bloody, as in a lot of people died both on and off the battlefield during the whole process. Cities were burnt and destroyed. Just look at what happened to Troy.

destruction-of-troyPoor Troy.

Now stepping forward into modern times, we have death and destruction on a much larger scale. The casualties stemming from the Iraq civil war from 2014 to February 2016 number around 53,000–72,000 and has probably grown much more since then. But that number pales in comparison to how many casualties there’s been from the Syrian Civil War. The Syrian Centre for Policy Research has stated that theres been almost half a million fatalities (470,000 in Feb. 2016). And those are just death figures, refugees and internally displaced peoples is estimated to number in the millions.

What goes along with all this death is of course… destruction! And lots of it. Remember from a minute or two ago when I told you about the fights to recapture cities? What did these armies do to try and flush out the opposing force? Bomb it of course! On the Syrian front, in the Syrian government and Russia’s attempt to reclaim the city of Aleppo from rebels, they’ve been sending airstrikes throughout the rebel controlled areas of the city for over a month now. Those areas also have about 275,000 civilians living in them too. I’ll drop another picture to show just what kind of effect this has had on the city.

A man walks on the rubble of damaged buildings after an airstrike on the rebel held al-Qaterji neighbourhood of AleppoI feel bad for whoever has to clean this up. 

To add even more to the cost is the cultural damage this has had on the city, as Aleppo is an ancient city that has been inhabited for several millennia. And the oldest parts of the city happen to be just next door to all the fighting. This has already caused damage to the ancient citadel among other ancient structures. This concept of ancient history (i.e. ruins) being damaged or destroyed in the modern world is a subject I want to touch on in another post.

On the Iraqi front, Kurdish and Iraqi forces have been planning to take back Mosul from ISIS since early this year. Today, they finally started making advances on the surrounding areas. What worries me most about this operation is how much damage will be inflicted on both the civilians living there and the of the city itself.

“If history is a guide, vast parts of Mosul, once Iraq’s No. 2 city with about two million inhabitants, could be left in smoldering ruins by retreating or die-hard Islamic State fighters who may use remaining civilians as shields and booby-trap entire neighborhoods with improvised bombs. Just clearing these explosives could take months or years.”

This puts into perspective the potential cost of taking back Mosul from ISIS.

Whether it’s defending your home or trying to establish a new one as we’ve seen in the Aeneid, or taking it back as you now know in the Middle East, comes at a price. And sometimes, it makes you question, is it worth it, if by the end of it, so many people have died or there’s not even a home to return to after?


Cover Photo

The Articles that inspired me to write this.

Retaking Mosul From ISIS May Pale to What Comes Next

How the Battle for Aleppo Is Taking Syria’s War to a New Low

At the Mosul Front: Traps, Smoke Screens and Suicide Bombers


3 thoughts on “It’s Costly: Retaking Syria and Iraq

  1. Your exploration of whether war for one’s homeland was worth it was intriguing. I liked how you not only touched upon the numerous casualties that occurred in Syria and Iraq, but the destruction that came with it. Another point I found that was interesting was how you concluded your blog where you basically said is it worth it to have a war for something to only return to nothing left.


  2. This post offered a good link between what we talked about in lecture, with the Romans not backing down, and a current event in Syria and Iraq. I thought this connection was interesting to read about and I also liked how you included the photos throughout to illustrate the true severity of what is going on.


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