The Syrian Democratic Forces, mainly-Kurdish militia force that is backed by the US, said on Friday that it had “liberated” Raqqa from ISIS. The terrorist group had largely left the city as part of a deal with the SDF and a US-led coalition, both of which are operating in Syria without the Syrian government’s permission.
Later, the SDF said the political future of the city and the province of the same name would be determined “within the framework of a decentralized, federal, democratic Syria”.
The thinking behind the brazen announcement by the mainly Kurdish group was not clear. Raqqa is territory of Syria, which is governed by a sovereign power, the Damascus government.
The Syrian military has so far not taken on the Kurdish militants. But the SDF has reportedly shelled the positions of government troops on several occasions in recent weeks, and together with its refusal to hand over Raqqa to the government, the SDF now risks provoking the Syrian military, which is also receiving aerial cover from the Russian military.
In ominous wording, the SDF also said that it would “protect the frontiers of the province against all external threats.”
Kurdish militants in neighboring Iraq, who had likewise overrun territory in the course of fighting with ISIS there, are now facing Iraqi government operations to drive them out.
SDF spokesman Talal Silo has said the group would hand over the control of the city to what he called “the Raqqa Civil Council,” likely a Kurdish body.
Syrian Minister of National Reconciliation Affairs Ali Haidar reacted by saying that Raqqa’s future could only be discussed “as part of the final political structure of the Syrian state.”
The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has, meanwhile, said that the SDF’s purported operations in Raqqa have killed civilians and damaged infrastructure in the city.
“When you’re killing around 1,200 civilians — nearly half of them women and children — and destroying 80 percent of the city, that’s not liberating Raqqa,” Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the SOHR, told Arab News daily.