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(Recast) News Analysis: Stripping IS of Syria's al-Raqqa harder than retaking Iraq's Mosul

Xinhua, October 28, 2016 Adjust font size:

The recent remarks by U.S. officials about an imminent offensive to defeat the Islamic State (IS) in their capital of al-Raqqa in Syria is easier said than done, and is much harder than stripping the terror group of their stronghold of Mosul in Iraq, analysts here said.

Just 10 days into the offensive of taking Iraq's city of Mosul, one of the largest IS strongholds in Iraq, the U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that a battle to dislodge IS from their capital of caliphate in the Syrian city of Raqqa will begin within weeks.

Carter said the idea of simultaneous operations against the terror group in Mosul and al-Raqqa "has been part of our planning for quite a while" and that they were confident they were capable of resourcing both.

However, analysts in Syria believed talks about simultaneous attacks and the possibility of defeating IS in al-Raqqa are easier said than done for many reasons.


In the Iraqi case, the attack on IS in Mosul has been under preparation for over a year, not as quickly as the "weeks" declared by the U.S. official.

In Mosul, the official Iraqi government is involved in the coordination, as well as in the actual battle against IS with the help of the U.S.-led coalition, but in Syria it's not the case.

The United States has largely marginalized the Syrian government in terms of coordinating attacks against the ultra-radical groups in Syria.

Syria repeatedly said that any successful anti-terror effort must be coordinated with the official Syrian government, which has the necessary resources and military forces to advance against the IS group.

Also, In Iraq the IS is the main threat. However in Syria, tens of rebel groups with shifting allegiances are involved, adding more complication to the political landscape and the military confrontation map.


Unlike Iraq, where all major powers are united against IS, the Syrian scene in terms of the regional involvement is far more complicated.

The United States, while rejecting to cooperate with the Syrian government, relied alternatively on rebel groups to do its bidding, as Washington repeatedly made it clear that there will be no U.S. boots on ground in Syria.

Washington has primarily supported the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the fight against IS in northern Syria. The SDF proved to be a relatively reliable group, but later on Turkey intervened in with another rebel group called the Free Syrian Army (FSA) with the same ostensible goal of fighting IS.

Under the hood, the aim behind supporting the FSA in a battle dubbed the "Euphrates Shield," was not only to fight IS, but to put an end to the growing influence of the Kurdish-led SDF, as an increasing Kurdish sway near the Turkish border is a declared red line by Ankara, whose officials have made it clear they will never allow the Kurds in Syria to rule an autonomous region.

Ankara fears such a separatist sentiment could inspire Turkey's over 20 million Kurds to follow their siblings lead, either in Syria or in Iraq, where the Kurds are ruling their region in northern Iraq, following the downfall of late President Saddam Hussain.

The Turkey-backed FSA and the Kurdish-led SDF have made notable gains against IS in the northern countryside of Syria's Aleppo province, reaching to the point of direct confrontation with one another.

Ironically, both groups are enjoying the support and blessing of the United States.

Osama Danura, a Syrian politician analyst with PhD in political science, said if the United States wants to move on IS in al-Raqqa, it will either rely on the SDF or the FSA, but it cannot rely on both of them at the same time, and each of them separately cannot take down IS.

The reason behind that is that Turkey made it clear it will not fight IS alongside the SDF, or other Kurdish groups in Syria, as it's fighting those very groups through the FSA.

"The United States is unable at this time to galvanize the needed fighters to liberate al-Raqqa. The SDF cannot take down IS because it lacks the tactical and military power to do so, and because Turkey will not allow it," he said.

Still, Danura speculated that Washington could rely on the Turkish army to take al-Raqqa, and such an option is not off the table, as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday that the military operation supporting Syrian opposition fighters in northern Syria will target al-Raqqa.

Erdogan said the rebels were advancing on the Syrian city of al-Bab to liberate it from IS. After taking al-Bab, they will target Manbij, captured by SDF in August, and "then we will go towards al-Raqqa."

Carter also said in Brussels that "we are largely working with the Turkish army in Syria... that has given important results... we are searching for new cooperation opportunities in Syria, and al-Raqqa is one of them."

Danura said the FSA will need a Turkish military support inside Syria to be able to enter al-Raqqa.

"A Turkish military intervention into that depth, to reach al-Raqqa, is not going to be easy," Danura said.

He added that the possible entry of Turkish forces to al-Raqqa means "a fully fledged war with the Kurdish groups and that will extend to a Kurdish-Turkish fight in Iraq, especially when the Turks said they wanted to enter Mosul to take part in liberating it from IS."

Also, there will be a confrontation with the Syrian government and its allies, as the Syrian army recently said that it will deal with the Turkish intervention as an "occupation power" that will be fought with all possible means.

"Russia will not stand idle toward this strategic disorder. Turkey itself will be depleted as it will move from being a supporter to the groups that are working to drain Syria and Russia to a party that is drained itself," Danura noted.

"So things are much more complicated than what the U.S. may think," he concluded. Enditem