Syrian government forces will advance soon to take Raqqa city, which US-backed fighters seized from Daesh last month, a senior Iranian official said on Friday.
Ali Akbar Velayati, the top adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader, also accused the United States of seeking to divide Syria by stationing its forces east of the Euphrates river.
In televised comments on a visit to Beirut, he said:
We will witness in the near future the advance of government and popular forces in Syria and east of the Euphrates, and the liberation of Raqqa city
Since early in the Syrian war, Iran has provided critical military support to the Damascus government, helping it regain swathes of land from rebels and militants.
Last month, US-backed militias declared victory in Raqqa, Daesh’s former headquarters in Syria, after months of fighting with the help of the US-led coalition.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias, is also battling Daesh in eastern Syria with US-led air strikes and special forces. The SDF assault in Deir al-Zor has focused on territory east of the river, which bisects the oil-rich province.
The Syrian army, with Russian air power and Iran-backed militias, is waging its own separate offensive against Daesh there, mostly to the west of the river.
The US-led coalition and the Russian military have been holding “deconfliction” meetings – to prevent clashes between planes and troops – though the two offensives have sometimes come into conflict.
The US-led coalition against Daesh has repeatedly said it does not seek to fight Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military.
After capturing Raqqa, the SDF said the people of the majority Arab city would decide their own future “within the framework of a decentralised, federal, democratic Syria.”
The Kurdish-led SDF pledged “to protect the frontiers of (Raqqa) province against all external threats” and to hand control to a civil council from the city.
But last week, Damascus said it deemed Raqqa “occupied” until the Syrian army took control.
With Daesh near defeat in Syria, rivalry between Damascus and Kurdish-led forces is emerging as a fault line that could draw the United States in more deeply and complicate Russian diplomacy.