Key words: Iraq, Syria, US, Rusia, ISIS, Kurds, Raqqah
Baghdad by Elijah J. Magnier: @EjmAlrai
The United States gave the green light to its allies in the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF – Kurds) to start the “Warth of Euphrates” attack on the city of Raqqah, one of the main strongholds of the “Islamic State” group (ISIS), to break into the city from three axes: the east (al-Mashalab), the north-east (division 17 army base) and the west (ash Sabahiyyah).
The south of Raqqah (along the Euphrates River) was left open so that ISIS could escape from the city to another destination: maybe towards Deir al-Zour, al-Mayadeen or towards the Syrian army and its allied positions in rural Palmyra (Tadmur). Meeting less resistance is always considered a positive outcome for any attacking force, so it will be in recovering Raqqah if ISIS decides to leave the city and put up only a symbolic fight. This scenario is a déjà-vu in many cities where ISIS was defeated in Syria, but not in Iraq. In any case, the countdown to the existence of ISIS in Syria and the end of the occupation of vast territories that almost exceed the area of Britain (in 2014-2015) is ticking away.
The Kurdish forces, along with some of the Arab clans operating under its command, will gain control of al-Raqqah sooner or later. And the Kurds will find themselves in direct contact with the Syrian Arab Army and its allies who have advanced south of the city of Maskana and entered the administrative boundaries of the city. The US forces in Syria are in contact with Russia’s allies in more than one location on the Syrian map.
This is where the collaboration between Syria and Iraq is expressed : Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that Baghdad will not stop waging war against ISIS until the entire Iraqi territory is liberated and that its forces will be deployed on the entire border between Syria and Iraq. This will put the Iraqi forces behind the US-British-French forces and their Syrian opposition allies on the border crossing of al-Tanaf, occupied by the US forces and their allies. Across the Iraqi borders, these forces are already facing the Syrian army and its allies, 50 kilometres from the Al-Tanaf crossing (positioned at few kilometres from Al-Zaza junction).
This means that the US and their European allies will not be able to keep this border point of al-Tanaf for very long, especially when the Iraqi security forces of the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) reach the same crossing on the Iraqi side (two kilometres of no-man-land separate both countries). The US forces and their allies will have only one option: withdraw their forces. To date, the US aircraft struck the Syrian forces and their allies twice (unwilling to leave the area facing al-Tanaf) and failed to intimidate these. The game of power between Russia and its allies and US and its allies will remain for the months to come until clear demarcation lines are agreed and established, putting an end to the US-Russia friction in Syria through their proxies.
On the other hand, ISIS is going through the most difficult stage of existence since it has occupied big part of Iraq and Syria in 2014 and 2015. Its forces are retreating as quickly as the Iraqi forces retreated in 2014 when ISIS was at its glorious moment and when the so-called “caliphate” was declared. However, the US forces have not occupied the border point in Al-Tanf for without purpose: it is pressing the Syrian forces to go towards the other border crossing, Al-Qaim, to keep a commercial corridor between Iraq and Syria. That represents a real challenge for Damascus.
Al-Qaem is an extension of al-Bu Kamal, al Mayadeen and Deir al-Zour, an area on the Iraqi-Syrian borders where ISIS forces exist in a large number. Fighting these forces will force the Syrian army and its allies to engage in the fiercest battle expected in the six years of the war, because it will be the last war of ISIS and the end of the terrorist organisation’s control of territory in Bilad al-Sham.
For this reason, the US forces refrained form closing the south of Raqqah, endangering Deir Al-Zour because the city is an obligatory passage to ISIS militants when pulling out of Raqqah. ISIS is expected to defend its last stronghold in al-Mayadeen, Deir Al-Zour and al-Bu Kamal particularly because it will be attacked by Shia forces, a branch of Islam ISIS believes it is a priority to exterminate, more than the US or any other foreign force.
There is no doubt that all the parties involved in Syria are trying to regain the largest territory possible currently under ISIS control. The terrorist group – despite its spectacular killing, terrorist attacks overseas committed by its sympathisers or supporters, and the occupation of broad territories in Syria and Iraq – is the weakest force. The direct war against ISIS was left by both the US and Russia until the cessation of hostilities agreement was implemented between Russia, Iran, Turkey and Syria. In fact the Syrian rebels and al-Qaeda were the biggest threat in the Levant war equation.
Today ISIS is hitting the ground as fast as it reached the sky in 2014. Nevertheless, like all terrorist ideologies, it will not disappear from the Middle East. ISIS will rather keep an underground presence to continue its terrorist attacks and insurgency. Terrorism cannot be eliminated; it can be contained and prevented from growing and benefitting from finance, as long as regional and international players agree on this strategy and implement this course of action. Otherwise, the return of ISIS cannot be ruled out.