Kurdish feminist Layla Mohammed was appointed as the co-head of the US-backed Raqqa civilian council, with Mahmoud Shawakh al-Busran as the Arab co-chair.
At just 27, Layla Mohammed was the first woman to rule over Tel Abyad town, where she was born. In 2006, she studied engineering at the university of Raqqa, but she fled Raqqa in 2013 to Kobani after Raqqa fell to the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front.
Later after Tel Abyad was liberated in June 2015 from ISIS by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), she was appointed as co-chair.
“It’s very strange for people to build a new system after they were suppressed by the [Assad] regime and it was difficult for them to accept the idea of being governed by a woman,” she said.
“In the past, whether in military, politics, or even on the social side, women were not allowed to participate,” she added.
On Tuesday, she was appointed as the co-chair of the Raqqa civilian council, which contains members of the Arab tribes, Turkmen, and Kurds, and was attended by members of the Syrian Democratic Forces.
“This is a historic step for the people of the region, and a new birth for them,” she said. “We promise to manage Raqqa in an organized way,” she said. “Thanks to the sacrices of the Syrian Democratic Forces Raqqa will be liberated,” she said, adding that the SDF will hand over the administration to the Civilian Council.
Layla further said that Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen will manage the city and it’s countryside on the baisis of ‘coexistence and the brotherhood of peoples.”
The newly elected co-chair said committees were established to carry out the work of the council, but that now the council will focus on the liberated villages of the countryside of Raqqa, and will do the same once Raqqa is liberated.
Layla called on the people of Raqqa to ‘participate in the work of the council to manage the region together.”
“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: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News
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