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What comes after the battle for Raqqa?

Civilians who fled Raqqa arrive in Jarabulus, Syria on 26 May 2017 [Hüseyin Nasır/Anadolu Agency]
Civilians who fled Raqqa arrive in Jarabulus, Syria on 26 May 2017 [Hüseyin Nasır/Anadolu Agency]

With the advance of the US-backed democratic Syrian forces in Raqqa attempting to free the city from Daesh forces, discussions are focusing on the possible post-liberation scenarios. This is not necessarily due to Raqqa’s position as the Daesh capital in Syria, but what its liberation could mean on the regional and international levels and the impact it will have in the demarcation of the new map of Syria.

Almost two weeks since the start of the battle for Raqqa, there have been many questions; the expectation is that the fight will be long and difficult, especially with regard to the belief that Daesh will hand control of the city to Syrian democratic forces unless it finds another way out. The current state of affairs in Syria has prompted the Russians to encourage negotiations between the two groups out of concern that Daesh will re-direct its forces towards Tadmor, which has been re-captured by the regime twice. There is no doubt that the current fight for Raqqa is a worry for the Russians, the Assad regime, Iran and Hezbollah, and has served as a catalyst for these forces to direct its troops toward Raqqa’s western border as well as towards Syria’s border with Iraq.

If the fight for Raqqa really is the last fight for Daesh, coupled with the battle for Mosul we can conclude that a new geographic reality will be established in the region. The new borders will include not only Raqqa, but also Hassaka and areas from Aleppo province and Der Ez-zor under the control of Syrian democratic forces. Ensuring the safety of these areas will also lead to the protection of the Kurdish people, due to the support of the US and its allies on one side, and Russia and its allies on the other.

Read: UN concerned about safety of Raqqa’s civilians

In any case, these developments on the ground will be in line with the Kurdish vision for an autonomous federation — a victory — which will, in turn, open the door to multiple other scenarios. There will certainly be a clash between the Kurds and the Russian-backed regime in the near future. It is clear after the battle of Aleppo that Damascus has started to expand its control once again.

There is also the potential for reconciliation, which became apparent not too long ago, when Walid Al-Moallem, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs in Damascus, discussed the possibility that the Kurds will be leading the main fight against Daesh. Yet, the main question and potential for interaction and negotiations will be dependent on the US and Russia, as these two parties will strengthen relations and encourage compromises based on the context of the Geneva talks.

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When discussing the battle for Raqqa, Turkey’s fears and concerns cannot be ignored. It cannot be denied that the battle will have a direct impact on Turkey’s national security. Officials in Ankara fear that the Kurds will gain control of the Raqqa region and gain a new geographic stronghold and influence that will directly benefit the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is a banned organisation in Turkey. Perhaps this will push the Kurds to envision a strategy that will go farther than Raqqa, especially when considering their recent statements that they intend to move towards Idlib and reach the Mediterranean.

Thus, the Raqqa battle will not only be strategic for the Kurds but for the Turks as well. We can say with near certainty that there will be Turkish involvement in the coming period. The Turkish government will ask Washington to ensure that Raqqa does not remain under Kurdish control after its liberation. The second option will be to block Kurdish progression by working with the Euphrates Shield coalition to prevent the Kurds from linking their areas from the east to the west.

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