ISIL’s Dier Ezzor Siege Is Finally Broken After Three Years

On Tuesday, September 5th, the Syrian army, backed by allied fighters and Russia, broke ISIL’s siege on the largest eastern city of Dier Ezzor. A Russian cruise missile struck a fortified area, freeing tens of thousands of civilians who have been trapped in ISIS’s siege for nearly three years. The Syrian army’s self-proclaimed victory marks an extreme blow to ISIL after recently suffering attacks on its largest strongholds in Mosul and Raqqa. As ISIL quickly loses ground, the Syrian government appears to be gradually regaining control of its territory.

Official statements from the Syrian Government and UN agencies present an array of conflicting perspectives regarding the recent events. The Syrian government is optimistic that the victory marks ‘the beginning of the end for ISIS.’ However, UN agencies strongly disagree, arguing that ‘the war has not been won yet, and that there will be a lot more civilian suffering to come.’ ISIL still controls a large portion of the Dier Ezzor province and will thereby uphold a strong defence to prevent the city from being taken from their control. UN agencies state that the ‘victory’ has triggered ‘the beginning of war.’ In preparation for a humanitarian disaster, a UN children’s fund representative in Syria has reported that they have had to drastically increase the capacity of camps for displaced people.

Despite the Syrian Army’s symbolic victory against ISIS, the intensification of battle cannot be ignored. An airbase in the city’s south and three adjacent neighbourhoods are still under siege by ISIL. The battle outcome has triggered paradoxical effects: ISIL is being gradually overthrown, yet violence in the rest of the city continues and will likely increase when it comes time to expel ISIL’s control throughout the rest of Dier Ezzor’s province. The UN continues to fly in humanitarian aid to provide relief to victims in the city.

Prior to the Syrian army’s attack, Dier Ezzor was ISIL’s economic stronghold and home to Syria’s largest oil deposit, the Al-Omar. This deposit was critical for ISIL’s gasoline and diesel fuel production. By attacking this stronghold, Syria weakened ISIL economically, which put them in a position to gradually overthrow the terrorist organization and regain power. However, the Syrian government will likely encounter opposition if it were to assume automatic control in the event of a victory over ISIL. Dier Ezzor has always been a site of rebel groups fighting against Syria’s President, Bashir al-Assad. If the president is to take power without a democratic election, a rebellion will likely ensue with violence rivalling ISIL’s siege of the city.

Dier Ezzor’s future is uncertain. While it appears that the province is soon to be liberated from ISIL’s control, the necessary fighting will result in a devastating amount of casualties. Furthermore, Dier Ezzor’s political situation is extremely unstable and will require international intervention for any chance of a diplomatic solution.

Hannah Barter-Konecny