The SDF is mostly comprised of the Kurdish YPG militia which unanimously declared the “federalization” of what they term to be “Rojava” back in March 2016, and their leaders already announced that they’ll seek to annex the majority-Arab city to their statelet if they’re successful in freeing it. The Syrian Arab Army, on the other hand, is fighting to preserve the existing unitary nature of the state pending a nationwide post-war referendum over the country’s new constitution and administrative future.
The Kurds and Damascus technically aren’t at war with one another and even cooperated on several occasions, but it’s impossible to deny their contradictory visions for what Syria should look like once the anti-terrorist campaign is finished. Moreover, they each have different Great Powers behind them – the Syrian Arab Army is backed up by Russia, while the SDF has the support of the US. The liberation of Raqqa is so important for Syria’s future because whichever force frees the city will be in a stronger position to determine post-war political events in northeastern Syria, or in other words, either making the Kurds’ “federation” a fait accompli or not, which is why the SDF and the Syrian Arab Army had been racing towards Daesh’s “capital”.
The SDF beat Damascus to the chase, however, because government forces were caught up responding to a sudden wave of terrorist attacks in the already-liberated territories, and the Kurds importantly received American support in crossing the Euphrates near Tabqa and cutting off the Syrian Arab Army along the southern reaches to the city. Judging by the months-long campaign in Mosul, it’ll probably still take some time before the terrorists are removed from Raqqa, but it’s a given that Damascus and the Kurds are already planning their next moves. The three most pressing uncertainties that remain between them are over who will end up liberating the downstream city of Deir ez Zor, the fate of the so-called “Democratic Federation of Northern Syria” and the country’s administrative future more generally, and what will become of the US bases in northeastern Syria after the war.
Andrew is joined by Iyad Khuder, Syrian political commentator, and Tim Anderson, Australian analyst, Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney, author of the 'Dirty War on Syria'.
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