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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Le sort du Moyen-Orient se joue à Raqqa et à Mossoul

by Pierre Barbancey

The Future of the Middle-East is Being Decided in Raqqa and in Mosul

Translated Thursday 22 June 2017, by Henry Crapo

While the djihadists of Daesh (ISIS) are under siege in their two ``capitals’’, tensions are mounting between the different forces present on the terrain. At risk, not only the future of two cities, but also of the nation-states as they presently exist.

Several non-governmental organisations have expressed their fears in face of risks encountered by the inhabitants of Mosul, themselves under siege and lacking everything.

Photo: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP

In Mosul, the combat against Daesh [1] has just entered a new phase. Perhaps the final phase in re-taking total control of the second largest city in Iraq, which has been in the hands of the djihadists since the month of June, 2014. The forces of the army, of the counter-terrorism group (CTS) and of the federal police, have succeeded in penetrating a few meters into the ancient city, the last bastion of the “Islamic State”, at the price of furious combat with the djihadists, according to General Maan Al Saadi, one of the commanders of the CTS. Some 100,000 civilians are “held as human shields” by the djihadists in the old city, the U.N. stated, while several non-governmental organisations have expressed their fears in the face of risks to the besieged inhabitants, who are in dire need.

The combat is hard. Very hard. General Abdel Ghani Al Assadi, a commander of the counter-terrorism forces, declared that the battle is progressing according to plan, but that progress is slow in the old city, where the streets are narrow and densely inhabited, making progress very difficult. According to him, “the resistance (of the djihadists) is fierce because it is their last fortified location. They have nothing else to lose.” Which amounts to saying that the complete “mopping up” of Mosul may still take a long while.

The question of the status of the city of Raqqa has not yet been posed

Next will be taken up the even more delicate question, more delicate than a simple military strategy: who is going to govern Mosul, and how? It is a cosmopolitan, multi-ethnic city, composed of Arabs, Turkmen, and Kurds, for the most part, and is difficult to govern. The announcement by the regional Kurdish government (KRG) of the organisation of a referendum on the independence of Kurdish Kurdistan, set for next 25 September, is not going to help arrange matters. Not so either, the debates on the status of cities and villages in which the Kurds have taken position, profitting from the offensive against Mosul.

Further to the west, in Syria, while the political future and status of the city of Raqqa has not yet been discussed, it seems that a certain number of events that took place in that zone in recent days can be explained by these preoccupations.

The symbolism of the city of Raqqa is rather similar to that of Mosul. It is one of those cities considered as “capitals of the Islamic State”. It is also a city conquered without firing a shot during a lightning advance starting from Iraq, an advance one wonders how it could have succeeded without being opposed by the United States, very present in Iraq, and without even setting off an alarm. Raqqa, which is clearly a major objective for all the forces present in Syrian territory, but without a doubt for very different reasons. The United States, unlike France, realised early on that by supporting the Kurdish forces (YPG/YPJ) following the siege of Kobane, they had a card to play in Syria without having to face off against the Syrian government, by hiding behnd the mask of their famous “war on terror”. It matters little to Washington, the contradictions apparent in their arming of the Kurds of Syria, with their military organisation (an open secret) based on the Workers’ Party of Kurdistan (PKK), which even Washington has placed on their list of terrorist organisations. The constitution of the Syrian Democratic Forces (FDS), made up of the YPG and Arab militias, has signaled a possible advance beyond the “borders” of Kurdistan, in the direction of Raqqa. To such a degree that the FDS now controls the main dams of the country, and thus controls the supply of water to large stretches of Syria. The FDS are at the gates of Raqqa. Combat has occured even within the city. And Turkey just watches what is happening, fully decided to play a role within the framework of its own interests.

After having made extesive advances in the north, notably with the reconquest of Aleppo, the Syrian government [2] has made progress, since the month of May, in the center and south, and is now heading east. The Syrian army has not laid down its arms, and is advancing on the city of Deir ez-Zor, which is a mass of oil fields. In parallel, the loyalist forces have headed toward the border with Iraq, thus menacing positions held by the so-called opposition groups, supported by the coalition headed by the United States. The latter have bombed Syrian soldiers. On Sunday, the escalation went up a notch, The coalition shot down a Syrian airplane in the province of Raqqa, where unaccustomed fighting occurred between the army and the FDS. The Syrian army had advanced in recent hours in that region, and were at the gates of the city of Resafa, some forty kilometers south-west of Raqqa. Yesterday [3] the coalition fired on a Syrian army drone. And finally, again on Sunday, Iran fired missiles from within its own territory, to destroy Daesh positions near Deir ez-Zor.

As a result, Moscow announced on Monday the suspension of channels of communication with the United States, channels set up to avoid air incidents in Syria, accusing Washington of not having “warned” the Russian army that they intended to shoot down the airplane. The Russian Minister of Defense indicated that “aircraft and drones of the international coalition seen to the west of the Euphrates will be followed and considered to be targets for ground-based anti-aircraft defense and fighter aircraft.” A warning taken seriously by the Americans. “As a measure of precaution we have repositioned our aircraft over Syria, in order to continue to strike the forces of the “Islamic State” group, all the while assuring the safety of our pilots,” said Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman.

“These events generally increase our profound anxiety about the risk of possible errors of judgement or military escalation in Syria,” declared a spokesman for the United Nations, Stéphane Dujarric. “We think that the risk is increased when the efforts in the battle against the Islamic State are not associated with a search for political solutions.”

The breaking-up of nation-states, a double advantage for Israel

To a large measure, the future of a restored Syria, within its own borders, is being played out in Raqqa. Thus, this resurgence of tension between the various protagonists. The Balkanization of the Middle East is not just a theory. It is a well-scripted scenario that is favored by many American, European, and especially, Israeli, strategists. For Israel, the break-up of existing nation-states has a double advantage: the decrease in power of neighboring states, and above all, the possibility to redraw the map along ethnic, community, and religious lines. All these being paramaters that reinforce the idea of a “Jewish state”, which Israel is not, at the present time.

Through the offensives on Mosul and Raqqa, there is being played out, in a sense, the future of the Middle East.

[1ISIS, the “Islamic State”.

[2Your translator refuses on principle to use the obvious translation of the abusive term “regime” here employed by Pierre Barbancey in his French text.

[320 June

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