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Takeover of Raqqa will not bring about breakthrough in Syrian settlement — analyst

October 23, 2017, 13:23 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Raqqa is far away from Syria’s main political and administrative centers, the expert noted

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MOSCOW, October 23. /TASS/. The takeover of Raqqa, which the Islamic State (terrorist organization outlawed in Russia) had declared its capital, is an important phase in the struggle against extremists, but this event alone is not enough to bring about a breakthrough along the Syrian settlement track, senior research fellow Boris Dolgov, of the Arab and Islam Studies Center at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, told TASS in an interview.

"Takeover of Raqqa is an important stage in the struggle against the Islamic State, which had declared that city its capital in Syria," he said.

At the same time he recalled that it was far away from Syria’s main political and administrative centers. "As far as the effects of that event on the situation in Syria are concerned, I do not believe that its influence on the military and military-political situation will be significant," Dolgov said.

Kurdish factor

Dolgov pointed to the fact that Raqqa province, with its mostly Sunni Arab population was retaken mostly by the Kurdish militia calling itself Syrian Democratic Forces. "It is important that Kurdish armed groups enjoying the backing of the US-led coalition have gained control of that city situated in an area having a predominantly Sunni population. It is a big question for how long Kurdish groups, in particular, the SDF, will keep Raqqa under control, though."

Dolgov recalled taht the Syrian Kurds and the US-led coalition which supports them had said they had no intention of letting Damascus take over the areas cleared of the Islamic State militants and controlled by Kurdish forces.

"This is a rather complicated question. It will have to be resolved, but for now it remains suspended," Dolgov said.

Struggle with Islamic State

Dolgov believes that the takeover of Raqqa should not be regarded as the final victory over the Islamic State in Syria. "One should remember the Islamic State leaders’ calls addressed to their supporters to go ahead with the struggle after the suppression of organized armed groups. This implies guerilla warfare, creation of sleeper cells, redeployment of armed groups to remote regions of Syria and Iraq and even to other countries, such as Afghanistan, in particular that country’s regions with Central Asian countries and Libya, and also infiltration of militants having Syrian or Iraqi passports into European countries in refugee disguise.

Political settlement prospects

The Islamic State’s military defeat which the takeover of Raqqa heralded is not enough to pave the way for a political settlement in Syria, because there are a number of other factors hindering progress in this direction.

"In Syria there are tens of thousands of armed militants, not in the ranks of the Islamic State, but in the so-called moderate armed opposition groups. They are considered as moderates by the United States and Turkey, which controls some armed Islamic groups," Dolgov said. "But the Syrian leadership and the Russian military command in Syria sees some of these forces as terrorist.

"A few words should be said about the countries that are the safeguards of Astana agreements," Dolgov said. "I am referring to Turkey, which pursues its own interests in the Syrian conflict. Some of these interests disagree with the interests of Russia and Syria and the goal of creating stability in the region."

Dolgov believes that the Turkey’s real aim is to restore the country’s influence on the territories that once constituted the Ottoman Empire. Syria was part of it for 400 years.

"The region on Syria’s border with Turkey, populated by Turkomans, in other words, Turkic-speaking citizens of Syria, is in fact occupied by Turkish troops. Armed groups created by Turkish special services operate against Syrian government troops," he said.

"The Islamic State’s military defeat is due soon, but the just-mentioned factors are major hindrances that slow down the political process," Dolgov said. 

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