News from Syria is dramatic. Units loyal to the Bashar Assad regime have been besieging Aleppo, the country’s most important city after Damascus. In heavy fighting, secular rebels appear to have liberated most of it, maybe all of it. Television crews have made their way in, and the resulting film is indeed grim. Aleppo is ruined, by the look of it beyond repair. The vistas of shattered housing and shops are frightening. All the while, there is background noise. The Russians backing Assad are doing what they do best, which is to bomb and shell every building indiscriminately into rubble, and every human being into a corpse. No finesse there, just plain unapologetic brutality.
Iraq may be even worse. Virtually nothing is left of Ramadi and Fallujah, where the Iraqi army and the strange coalition of Kurds, Iranian-backed Hezbollah, and special advisers from the U.S. and the U.K. have taken on, smashed, and driven back the extremists of the Islamic State. Mosul looks destined to be the arena for the last stand of ISIS. A mixed population of over 2 million people used to inhabit this historic city. Christian minorities, Armenians and Assyrians, have already fled. ISIS boasts that not a single cross is left in Mosul. Kurds already occupy parts of Mosul, and a force of 5,000 Kurdish peshmerga is closing in. These are battle-hardened troops, Muslims too, and they are quite possibly campaigning in the hope of gaining a homeland independent of Arabs.
Everything looks in place for death and disaster on a scale not seen since the Second World War.