The demise of the ‘caliphate’s capital’

Syria’s Raqqa is not new to war. The Mongols occupied and destroyed it, and settled there until they were expelled. It is finally about to be liberated from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has carried out unimaginable atrocities against its people, as documented and publicized by its own fighters.

They have committed mass murder, thrown people off rooftops, bragged about raping girls in schools, circulated news about killing foreigners, and taken people for forced labor. Raqqa has become the world capital of horror.

ISIS chose it as its capital because of its oil wells and facilities, which can fund its state. It has sold oil to anyone, and struck a deal that reconciled it with the Syrian regime, which is a major customer. In exchange for buying oil, ISIS has operated as an army for President Bashar al-Assad, fighting the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other opposition factions.

The battle of Raqqa is the US-led coalition’s most important military and political work. The administration of US President Barack Obama needs a huge propaganda victory after criticism escalated against its Syria policy. If Raqqa is liberated, it will be its only major military achievement since the killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

Liberating Raqqa is important because it will destroy the caliphate, not just its capital. If the coalition kills and expels thousands of ISIS fighters from their stronghold, this will send a strong message to other extremist groups, including Al-Nusra Front, and hinder jihadist recruitment propaganda.

What next?

Victory will be thrilling when reported on TV, but its results will be limited on the ground. We have previously seen how terrorist groups run like mice, build new hiding places then resume battle. ISIS decreased its presence in Iraq’s Anbar province, then seized the city of Mosul. It is expected to do the same in Raqqa, then target other Syrian cities.

Liberating Raqqa is important because it will destroy the caliphate, not just its capital

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Apart from the propaganda gains of liberating Raqqa, the US-led coalition will not succeed in reducing the ISIS threat because the organization lives off chaos in Syria and benefits from the criminality of the Assad regime. Around half a million Syrians have been killed, and millions have been displaced or lost loved ones, due to the crimes of the Assad regime, Iran, Hezbollah and Russia, which are not less hideous than ISIS’s acts.

All this to keep Assad in power. ISIS will not find it difficult to recruit thousands of Syrians and others if it decides to revert to its old slogans of targeting the Assad regime, which it abandoned after declaring the caliphate.

ISIS will lose its capital, and will suffer a propaganda defeat worldwide. It may later the city of Fallujah in Iraq. However, these victories will not eliminate terrorism in Iraq and Syria, as they are merely pursuits from one city to another.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on May 24, 2016.

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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:48 - GMT 06:48
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