Published by ARA News on the 18th of March 2016

A Kurdish fighter from the YPG on the anti-ISIS fighting front south Hasakah. Photo: ARA News

A Kurdish fighter from the YPG on the anti-ISIS fighting front south Hasakah. Photo: ARA News

SULAYMANIYAH – Salih Muslim, leader of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) that controls Syria’s Kurdish region, or Rojava, said on Thursday that it is a priority for the People’s Protection Units (YPG) to liberate Raqqa, despite that some suggest YPG is not ready to take the Arab city–that is deemed a de facto capital for the Islamic State (ISIS) radical group.

“Raqqa is now the capital of ISIS, and also for Rojava it is a priority to retake Raqqah because most attacks in Kobane were launched from Raqqa,” he said at the yearly Sulaimani forum, organized by the American University of Iraq Sulaimani (AUIS).

“That’s why Raqqa should be retaken as soon as possible,” he stressed.

However, US officials and analysts are worried that the YPG cannot rule the Arab-held territory in Raqqa.

“There is concern from US policymakers that if the YPG advanced in Raqqa and captured the city, that it would not be able to govern it because of Arab-Kurd ethnic animosity,” said Nicholas Heras, a Washington-based Middle East researcher at the Centre for a New American Security.

“The assumption is that if the YPG was used to displace ISIS from Raqqa, a majority Arab hold force would be needed to replace ISIS,” Heras told ARA News.

He added there are concerns that the YPG does not have enough reserve manpower. “Therefore, they should instead hold territory already taken from ISIS to provide a platform for an Arab force to capture the city,” he said.

“Arab units of the SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces], most of which are displaced from Raqqa, are hoped to seize the city from ISIS, and to establish a security force that can stabilize an interim governing structure,” Heras said.

According to Salih Muslim, the YPG in general takes areas from ISIS and leaves a local administration run these areas.

“We have to isolate both cities of Mosul and Raqqa, and some other cities should be taken. We need to isolate Raqqa and capture it,” he said during the conference.

Foreign fighters who talked to ARA News, said it would be a hard fight.

“Let’s take Raqqa, it would be good if it falls. This would be hard fight though, and is going to take a lot of casualties on both sides,” said Heval Zirek, a YPG fighter from Norway.

“I hope the YPG goes in [Raqqa], it would be a huge victory for them, like Kobane,” Zirek told ARA News.

Heval Ernesto, a French volunteer in Kobane, said that a battle for Raqqa would be difficult.

“If they [US-led coalition] make big air support and shoot at everything shooting at us, I am confident we [YPG] will win, but without big support from the US it would be a bloodbath. We would have to be ready to loose 3,000 or 4,000 people,” he told ARA News. “In Kobane alone we lost 1,500, and Raqqa is much bigger.”

“It will not be our town and they [ISIS militants] will have time to prepare themselves for the operation,” he added. “They could prepare for an underground battle,” he stated.

FSA-commander Abu Isa ar-Raqqawi who works with the YPG says it’s clear that ISIS is preparing for the future operations. “They are digging trenches around the city and are preparing for this. But the main point is how we are armed,” he told ARA News.

The commander asked the US-led coalition to hurry up with the operation. “It is going to be too late, young people are forced to join ISIS and they are going to use our people against us. It’s going to be too late if we don’t have the right ammunition to start this operation,” he said.