ISIS Takeover of Palmyra

Palmyra (aka Tadmor) has been talked about more in the past few days than over the past few years combined. While worthy of attention, context is important to make sense of the ISIS takeover:


  1. The Palmyra area has been bombarded by the regime continuously over the past 3+ years, regardless of what antiquities lay there (before ISIS was even in the picture)
  2. The destruction of Syria’s precious history is hardly limited to ISIS – Regime soldiers have been looting & selling Palmyra’s antiquities
  3. One of the regime’s worst political prisons is in Palmyra. Mutter the words “Tadmor” to a Syrian and the first thought isn’t usually the ancient city, but the site of human despair, torture, and massacres which was “re-opened” in 2011
  4. The regime evacuated officers this week, leaving desperate rank & file conscripts to fend for themselves prior to the ISIS arrival. We’ll soon learn the fate of conscripts left behind (remember Taqba airbase last year)
  5. It is unclear how ISIS drove in long convoys across an open desert and neither the regime nor US coalition jets attacked them. It would’ve been tantamount to shooting fish in a barrel. Is it incompetence, priorities, collusion, capability?
  6. The regime has been propped up by foreign fighters since 2013, but as witnessed by major regime losses (to rebels in the South/North and now to ISIS in Palmyra), it is becoming clearer that without foreign fighters they cannot retain territory outside of the highest priority areas (i.e. Damascus, coast etc)
  7. ISIS will target & purge those in the city they see as a threat. Pro-regime individuals and anti-regime activists will be targeted. Do not forget that ISIS’s biggest threat has always come from rebels/activists, not Assad and they will suffer accordingly

Finally, Palmyra is so much more than antiquities and a feared prison. The city is home to more than fifty thousand people, each with their unique dreams and fears, just like you and me.


Learn more about Tadmor Prison through the experience of Bara Sarraj.

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