The war against the Islamic State always promised to get messy in its final stages, as the militants retreat and rival forces converge from different directions. That moment has arrived.
World powers and their local allies are scrambling to control the remote desert province of Deir al-Zour in eastern Syria, in an accelerating race that is being compared to the fall of Berlin in 1945.
Under Islamic State control since 2014, the province is three times the size of Lebanon and consists mostly of empty desert. It also happens to contain most of Syria’s oil resources. But much more is at stake: the future contours of postwar Syria; Kurdish aspirations to some form of autonomy; and the competition for influence in the Middle East among the United States, Iran and Russia.
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