Syrian Democratic Forces set up post-ISIS Raqqa council

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Leadership of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) speaking to a press conference in western Raqqa. Photo: ARA News

ARA News

The Kurdish-Arab alliance of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), leading a multi-pronged battle against ISIS near the city of Raqqa, announced on Tuesday the creation of a “civilian council” to administer the city after its liberation from Islamic State’s (ISIS) militants.

“The civilian council of Raqqa will be charged with administering Raqqa and the surrounding province after liberation,” the Syrian Democratic Forces’ General Command said in a statement.

The SDF announced the establishment of the council during a meeting in Ain Issa area, a former ISIS stronghold some 50 kilometres north of Raqqa city, in northern Syria.

Supported by the US-led coalition, the SDF launched an offensive to capture Raqqa, ISIS’s de facto capital, in November. However, the administration of the city after its capture remained a key question.

“The council is made up of people originally from Raqqa province,” said Jihan Sheikh Ahmed, a spokeswoman for the Raqqa campaign–known as Euphrates Wrath Operation.

“The SDF will entrust the civilian council with the administration of the city once ISIS has been pushed out,” she said.

Furthermore, the multi-ethnic SDF said that they will also form a military council to protect Raqqa after ISIS expulsion.

“The council members are persons that have earlier fled Tabqa, Raqqa and other areas and came to Rojava, they area highly aware of ISIS oppression against the people in Raqqa, and the fight of SDF against terrorism,” Gharib Hesso, the representative of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in the Kurdistan Region told ARA News.

“Before Manbij city was liberated, there was also a civilian and military council. Now both councils govern Manbij. Manbij is not inhabited by just Kurds, but also by Arabs, Turkmen, the same in Tal Abyad, and other cities,” he said, adding that the people of Raqqa will govern the city. “The city will be ruled by the newly established institutions according to the will of the people.”

Heybar Othman, a freelance journalist who covers the Raqqa operation for the international media in Syria, told ARA News the aim of creating this council is to establish a democratic administration. “I think in the future they will announce this are as the Euphrates region [canton] and maybe Manbij will be part of this region,” he said.

However, he said there are some shortcomings in the creation of the council. “The main Arab tribes did not join the council, because they are still afraid of ISIS in the city,” he said. “Also the big Arabic tribes still believe the regime might come back to the city [of Raqqa] one day.”

Othman added that in the future the SDF will extend the Raqqa council and see if the remaining local Arabs will be motivated to join. “For sure they will join the new council. The council will form the bases for the new administration for the city, including security forces, health committees and education. The same happened in Manbij,” he added.

In total, 14 committees are expected to run post-ISIS Raqqa.

In January 2017, the Manbij civilian Council was enlarged to 131 members. The Manbij Civilian Council was formed on 5 April 2016 and took over the city’s administration and countryside after the city was liberated from ISIS in August 2016, in a campaign that took over two months.

“In the future they will increase the number of Raqqa council members to 120,” Othman said.

Washington-based analyst Nicholas A. Heras, Bacevich Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), told ARA News that the establishment of the Raqqa civilian council is backed by the United States government.

“With the establishment of the Raqqa Council, the SDF continues to faithfully follow the blueprint for post-ISIS stability laid out by the United States for Syria. The Trump administration has made it clear that it agrees with the U.S. military’s vision of supporting councils composed of local notables, supported in security matters by the SDF and the U.S. military,” Heras said.

On 13 April, the Syrian Democratic Forces launched the fourth phase of the Euphrates Wrath Operation against Islamic State’s extremists to clear out the northern countryside of Raqqa.

During the first phase of Euphrates Wrath, which began on November 6, 2016, the SDF liberated roughly 560 km² in Northern Raqqa.

On 10 December, 2016, the SDF launched the second phase of the Euphrates Wrath, during which it captured over 2500 km² in Western Raqqa.

On 4 February, 2017, the Syrian Democratic Forces launched the third phase of the Euphrates Wrath Operation, and liberated dozens of villages in Eastern Raqqa from ISIS jihadists.

The campaign is ultimately aimed at isolating the ISIS radical group in its de facto capital Raqqa.

In the meantime, the SDF leadership called on the people of Raqqa to cooperate with the Syrian Democratic Forces against ISIS, in order to ensure their safety. “Stay away from enemy positions and beware of the enemy’s plans that they will using people as human shields. We pledge to exert all efforts to preserve civilians security and safety.”

Reporting by: Helin Saeed and Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News

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