1119 GMT January 23, 2018
The SDF said on Friday that it had ‘liberated’ Raqqah after driving out Daesh terrorists from the city, which was Daesh’s former ‘capital’ in Syria; but 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, presstv.com reported.
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. Raqqah 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 with its refusal to hand over Raqqah to the government, the SDF now risks further 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 Daesh 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 Raqqah Civil Council,’ likely a Kurdish body.
Syrian Minister of National Reconciliation Affairs Ali Haidar reacted by saying that Raqqah’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 Raqqah 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 Raqqah,” Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the SOHR, told Arab News daily.
The SDF is dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia.
On Thursday, the YPG held a ‘victory’ parade in Raqqah’s central al-Naim Square. During the event, the militants put up a huge poster of Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is outlawed in Turkey.
On Thursday, Reuters said Saudi Arabia’s Persian Gulf Affairs Minister Thamer al-Sabhan and US special envoy to the Syria war coalition Brett McGurk had visited Raqqah.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the raising of the Ocalan banner by the US-backed Kurdish forces was proof that Washington is not only cooperating with terrorists, but they are endangering the future of Syria.