Syrian Gov’t Troops enter ISIL-held al-Raqqa Province, racing against US Allies

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Syrian troops, aided by a Homs-based pro-government militia the ‘Falcons of the Desert’ and under the cover of Russian air support, entered al-Raqqa Province from Hama for the first time in two years on Saturday. The southern half of al-Raqqa province is one of two major strongholds left to Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), the other one being Mosul in northern Iraq. Mosul is much bigger and more important, but al-Raqqa has symbolic importance to Daesh, since it is where the terrorist organization first established itself as a ‘state’ ruling territory. The territory also figures in Daesh’s weird theories about the Judgment Day.

The Arabic press is saying that the regime seeks to retake the town of Tabqa, which has a major air base that the Syrian military lost to Daesh in June of 2014.

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The Baath government of Syria, led by President Bashar al-Assad, has been seen by some observers as reluctant to spend a lot of energy on fighting Daesh. It only has some eastern and northern territory and is not very dangerous to the regime at the moment. The existence of the brutal terrorist organization is a propaganda coup for al-Assad, since he argues that Western governments have a choice of supporting him or supporting ISIL. Since the latter blew up Paris, whereas al-Assad has only tortured and massacred his own people, he may be winning that argument in some European capitals.

Al-Assad and the Russians may fear, however, allowing the US-backed YPG Kurdish fighters to take all of al-Raqqa. The US calls the YPG the ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ and has tried to give it some American-trained Arab allies, but the SDF is nevertheless mainly leftist Kurds. The US has encouraged the SDF to move on al-Raqqa city, the capital of the province, and wipe out Daesh from it. If that happened, all of al-Raqqa province might fall to the Kurds and other American allies, and the Syrian government is probably trying to complicate that outcome by putting down its own markers in post-Daesh al-Raqqa.

While the Muslim-Brotherhood-linked Arab press is arguing that the US and Damascus/Russia are coordinating their campaigns against Daesh, I think it is likely the other way around. The announced US intent to have its local allies, the Kurds, take the provincial capital raises the prospect that the Syrian government will be excluded from the province as the country heads into a post-conflict stage. Damascus is putting down a marker on part of al-Raqqa for itself, and that air base would be a useful point from which to monitor the province.

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Ruptly: “Syria: Army enter Raqqa province in offensive to liberate IS-held Raqqa”

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5 Responses

  1. “The Baath government of Syria, led by President Bashar al-Assad, has been been seen by some observers are reluctant to spend a lot of energy on fighting Daesh.”

    Which observers? Could we please have some evidence to support this position? If this is the position of Informed Comment, it should be written as such.

    “The existence of the brutal terrorist organization is a propaganda coup for al-Assad, since he argues that Western governments have a choice of supporting him or supporting ISIL. Since the latter blew up Paris, whereas al-Assad has only tortured and massacred his own people, he may be winning that argument in some European capitals.”

    This is disingenuous. It creates the impression that Daesh is not massacring or torturing Syrian and Iraqi people. Daesh and similar extremist groups, such as Nusrah Front, have erased entire villages of their male populations and sold the women to slavery. Sitting here in the United States, far away from Syria and Iraq, our positions are so heavily skewed against reality.

    If Washington still intends to topple Al-Assad, it should describe a realistic plan for the next day to ensure that the country is not overrun by Nusrah Front and Daesh, or the extremist groups that are allied with them. Considering that all our interventions (Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya) in the Near East have turned sour, maybe we could pursue a more prudent and peaceful strategy: stop supporting Saudi Arabia and Turkey in flooding Syria and Iraq with munitions that end up in the hands of Daesh and Nusrah Front. Is there any reason on earth why we have not pursued an arms embargo with Saudi Arabia? Their actions in Yemen and Syria are completely contrary to international or humanitarian law.

    • I think you project your idea of a better Government than Assad being imposed in Syria by any one, onto those powers conducting this war. There are no plans for any other government in Syria other than the ISIS and Al-Qaeda. At least not until the place is thoroughly destroyed and depopulated, then israel will move in, even farther.

      5 + years, and no one can name the top three people who will make up the ‘West’s’ called for “transitional Government”. That is because TPTB’s are afraid of an internationally monitored election with their guy running against Assad.

      Warhawks in Moscow are calling on Putin to allow Russian soldiers to volunteer to go to Syria and clean up this mess in short order. Putin is having an ever harder time holding them off.

      Keep in mind, every day this war lasts, is another day Iranian gas and oil is not being piped across Syria and to Western Europe’s erstwhile Russian monopoly.

  2. Sometimes, you just have to believe that the Syrian songbook is a dream come true for those who love the drumbeat of war. America has so many choices! America can switch sides anytime, and America can even choose to fight for more than one side at a time. However, there is one choice that America does not have. America, being America, cannot choose to sit this dance out. This is for reasons I will never understand. I only understand that America will get out there and cha-cha-cha, no matter what. Perhaps the main reason is because…America can?

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