The horrific situation in Syria and Iraq means both aid workers and reporters are urgently needed, but as the awful murder of British hostage, David Haines shows, it’s now virtually untenable for any foreigner to try to help. As Paul Wood wrote after the murder of Steven Sotloff, hostage taking has become a $100 million business for the so-called IS:
At Jim’s Foley’s memorial gathering, a correspondent for one of the big American TV networks remarked that none of this should stop us going into Syria. It is a noble idea, but increasingly hard to act on. In July, we went to do a day’s filming in the rebel-held town of Azaz, just over the border from Turkey. Twenty minutes in, the rebels protecting us said we had to leave: other fighters were coming to kidnap us. The threat was from a group known as the ‘naughty brigade’, more criminal than Islamist. But an Iraqi intelligence official told me the Islamic State had made $200 million from kidnapping. That has created an internal market for foreign hostages. We left, after filming at the roundabout where IS decapitated their enemies when they ran Azaz. Locals were press-ganged into watching. Everyone was scared to move the bodies afterwards. Heads rotted in the sun for days, cars circling past. Some rebels would rather see the regime back in charge than the Islamic State.
That may not be an academic debate. A ‘senior western diplomat’ says the rebels are at greater risk than ever of losing Aleppo — either to the regime or to IS, and his money’s on the jihadis. Over mezze at a smart Lebanese restaurant, he compares IS to the Nazis in their ability to fashion a collective psychology. Seize power by harnessing grievances; then hold it with terror. ‘IS are on a roll,’ he says, in Syria if not in Iraq. ‘As under the Nazis, people will fight to the bitter end even when it’s not in their best interests.’ The diplomat believes in their eventual defeat but, for now, says there is ‘no military force’ in the region capable of stopping them (not counting the Turks and the Israelis, who are on the sidelines).