Kurdish-backed body aims to widen authority in Syrian northeast

The third session meeting of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) is held in Tabqa on Monday. Reuters
Updated 17 July 2018
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Kurdish-backed body aims to widen authority in Syrian northeast

  • Syrian Democratic Forces is spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia but has expanded beyond majority Kurdish parts of the north
  • The Kurdish-led administrations in northern Syria last year began a three-stage election that aimed to deepen their autonomy through the new elected institutions

TABQA: The political arm of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces militia said on Monday it would work to set up a unified administration for areas it controls, a step that would consolidate its authority in northern and eastern Syria.

The SDF controls around a quarter of Syria, much of it captured from Daesh with help from the US-led coalition. It is the biggest chunk of the country outside the control of President Bashar Assad’s government.
The plan announced on Monday at a congress of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) in Tabqa aims to bring together a number of local administrations or councils that have emerged across SDF-held areas of northern and eastern Syria.
“This is an administration to coordinate among the areas because there are gaps ... to secure needs (and services) in all areas,” Ilham Ahmed, the co-chair of the SDC and a top Syrian Kurdish politician, told Reuters.
Ahmed said the initiative was still in the early phases of discussion and the goal was to include all areas under SDF control. “It will have a benefit when it comes to ensuring security and stability,” she said.

 

The SDF is spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia but has expanded beyond majority Kurdish parts of the north. Its territory now includes Raqqa, Daesh’s former Syrian base of operations, and Deir Ezzor province at the Iraqi border.
The group wants the Syrian conflict to end with a decentralized system that secures rights for minorities, including Kurds.

Territorial sway
The YPG and SDF have mostly avoided conflict with Assad during the seven-year war, setting them apart from rebels in western Syria who fought to topple him. The SDF and YPG say they do not seek an independent state.
Despite their big territorial sway, Syrian Kurdish groups have consistently been left out of UN peace talks, in line with the wishes of NATO member Turkey. It views the YPG as part of the Kurdish PKK, which has mounted a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.
Assad said last month Damascus was opening “doors for negotiations” with the SDF, but if these failed it would resort to force to recapture the areas where some 2,000 US forces are stationed. Though Kurdish leaders say they are ready to talk to Damascus, Ahmed signalled there had been no moves toward negotiations. She said Assad’s comments had not moved beyond “the theoretical level.”
The Kurdish-led administrations in northern Syria last year began a three-stage election that aimed to deepen their autonomy through the new elected institutions.
But the third and final stage of that election was postponed indefinitely after Turkey launched an incursion into the Kurdish Afrin region of northwest Syria, a leading Kurdish politician told Reuters last month.

Decoder

What is the meaning of YPG?

YPG is an acronym whose translation means People’s Protection Units. It is the home grown defense forces of the Kurdish area of Syria. It emerged after the Civil War erupted in Syria and started to spill over into Syrian Kurdistan, now known as Rojava, or what Kurds call “Western Kurdistan.”


One year after Daesh defeat, Syria’s Raqqa still in fear

Updated 18 October 2018
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One year after Daesh defeat, Syria’s Raqqa still in fear

  • While the nightmare of militant rule may be gone, most of the city still lies in ruins
  • ‘The war has worn us out. Us and our children. It has destroyed our future’

RAQQA, Syria: A year after a US-backed alliance of Syrian fighters drove the Daesh group from the northern city of Raqqa, traumatized civilians still live in fear of near-daily bombings.
“Every day we wake up to the sound of an explosion,” said resident Khaled Al-Darwish.
“We’re scared to send our children to school ... there’s no security,” he added.
The militants’ brutal rule in Raqqa was brought to an end in October 2017 after a months-long ground offensive by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces supported by air strikes from a US-led coalition.
But despite manning roadblocks at every street corner, the SDF and the city’s newly created Internal Security Forces are struggling to stem infiltration by Daesh sleeper cells.
At Raqqa’s entrance, soldiers verify drivers’ identity papers and carefully sift through lorry cargoes.
Inside the city, there are regular foot patrols and armored vehicles sit at strategic points.
Women wearing the niqab are asked to show their faces to female security members before entering public buildings.
“If there wasn’t fear about a return of Daesh, there wouldn’t be this increased military presence,” said Darwish, a father of two, speaking near the infamous Paradise Square.
It was here that Daesh carried out decapitations and other brutal punishments, earning the intersection a new name — “the roundabout of hell.”
While the nightmare of militant rule may be gone, most of the city still lies in ruins and there are near daily attacks on checkpoints and military vehicles, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Although a series of stinging defeats have cut Daesh’s so-called caliphate down to desert hideouts, the militants still manage to hit beyond the patches of ground they overtly control.
Some Raqqa residents say the city’s new security forces lack the expertise to cope.
“We are exhausted. Every day we don’t know if we will die in a bomb explosion or if we will go home safe and sound,” said Abu Younes, sitting in his supermarket near a roundabout not far from Paradise Square.
“There is no security — (the new security forces) on the roadblocks are not qualified and there is a lot of negligence,” he complained.
“There are faults that enable Daesh to infiltrate the city easily and carry out attacks.”
But despite the continued attacks, a semblance of normal life has returned to the city.
Shops have reopened and traffic has returned to major roads — albeit choked by the impromptu checkpoints.
In a public garden, children climb up a multi-colored slide and onto dilapidated swings as their mothers sit on nearby benches carefully keeping watch.
They are set amidst an apocalyptic backdrop of twisted metal and splayed balconies — the remnants of buildings torn apart by US-led coalition air raids.
Nearby, Ahmed Al-Mohammed pauses as he listens to music on his phone. Like others, he does not hide his disquiet.
“We’re scared because of the presence of Daesh members in the city,” the 28-year-old said.
“The security forces need to tighten their grip.”
Ahmed Khalaf, who commands Raqqa’s Internal Security Forces, defended the work of his men and claimed successes against the militants.
He said patrols are highly organized and that a “joint operation cell” had recently been established with coalition forces to monitor the city’s security.
“Recently we arrested four (militants) — it was a cell that took part in attacks that terrorized the city,” said Khalaf, sporting plain green fatigues.
“We are continuing our investigation to uncover the other cells,” he added.
“Daesh’s goal is to destroy the country and to not let anyone live in safety,” he said.
Security and stability are what Najla Al-Ahmed wants most for her children.
“The nightmare of Daesh follows us everywhere — whenever we try to rest, explosions start up again,” said the 36-year-old, as she shopped with her young ones.
“The war has worn us out. Us and our children. It has destroyed our future,” she said.