MOSCOW, November 7. /TASS/. Just-launched offensive by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces towards Raqqa - the unofficial capital of the Islamic State (outlawed in Russia) - means that the Syrian Kurds hope to have a major say in the country’s postwar reconstruction, polled analysts told TASS.
The Syrian Democratic Forces incorporate armed groups where Kurdish militias constitute the backbone. On Sunday, they declared that in the small hours of November 6 they had begun an operation with the aim to recapture Syria’s city of Raqqa from Islamic State militants. About 30,000 fighters are involved in the offensive codenamed Euphrates Rage.
US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter confirmed the start of the Raqqa operation in a special statement. In contrast to the current battle for the control of Iraq’s Mosul, where the United States has an official approval from Baghdad, in Syria the Pentagon is acting without consent from the authorities in Damascus.
Leading research fellow Stanislav Ivanov, of the International Security Center at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ institute of world economy and international relations IMEMO, says the role and importance of Kurdish minorities have soared amid civil wars, the upsurge in the activity of radical Islamists in the Middle East and the collapse of statehood in a number of countries of the region.
"The 40-million Kurdish people will never give up their centuries-old dream and the national idea of creating their own state. The world community has recognized that the Kurds of Syria and Iraq are in the forefront of struggle against international terrorism. They have won their right to self-determination with weapons in hand," Ivanov believes.
"The Kurds are participating in the offensive towards Raqqa because they wish to take part in future political negotiations in Geneva on Syria’s postwar reconstruction, something both Damascus and Ankara are against," he went on to say.
The Syrian Democratic Forces will not get involved in street fighting in Raqqa. They will be responsible for controlling the approaches to the city and the rear areas.
"The Kurds have no intention of going to war with the Sunni Arabs, who account for a large share of Raqqa’s population. This is not their war. In Syria they have been fighting for their enclaves, areas of compact residence in the north of the country and Kurdish quarters in Aleppo," he believes.
Senior research fellow Vladimir Akhmedov, of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, agrees that the wish to manifest themselves as a decisive force in the struggle with the Islamic State is the main encouraging motive of the Syrian Democratic Forces in their push towards Raqqa. "The Kurds hope that at some future date they will be able to gain the right to their own autonomy. The United States’ promise to provide air support for the Kurdish forces in their march on Raqqa played an important role.
Polled pundits have underscored Ankara’s negative reaction to the participation of Kurdish forces in the Raqqa operation.
"At a meeting of NATO defense ministers we arrived at the conclusion that we will provide the necessary assistance to the operation (to regain Raqqa) on the condition the Kurdish Self-Defense Forces and the Democratic Union party will not participate," Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik said earlier.
On the eve of the Euphrates Rage operation the chief of Turkey’s General Staff, Hulusi Akar, and the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph Dunford, spent several hours discussing the participation of Kurdish forces in the Raqqa operation which Turkey found unacceptable.
"I suspect the Americans have barred Turkey from the operation in Raqqa," Associate Professor Vyacheslav Shlykov, of the Institute of Asia and Africa Studies has told TASS.
"There is just one risk Ankara is afraid of - the possibility the Kurds may set up their independent enclave in the buffer zone, which Turkey had painstakingly created in Syria before the downing of a Russian plane last autumn," Shlykov believes.
"The possibility of an expansion of the Kurdish autonomy in Syria as a result of the US-backed Euphrates Rage operation is precisely what makes Ankara so angry," Akhmedov said.
Ivanov recalls that in Ankara’s eyes the Syrian Kurds’ Democratic Union Party is an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is outlawed in Turkey. "Unlike Ankara Washington is interested in an alliance with the Syrian Kurds, because objectively they have found themselves in the forefront of the struggle against radical Islamist groups. Also, they take a neutral stance in the civil war in Syria," Akhmedov explained.
"Inside the Kurdish enclaves the United States has planted its commando units and forward spotters for directing artillery fire. Also, there is an idea of creating one or two US Air Force bases. Washington has made it pretty clear to Ankara that the Syrian Kurds are untouchable," he added.
Analysts have no delusion an ultimate victory over the Islamic State militants in Syria can be achieved soon, the more so since the Euphrates Rage operation has just been announced.
"It is very alarming the originally planned joint operations by Russia and the US-led coalition against the Islamic State have failed to materialize. As a result, Russia’s aerospace group and the Syrian army, supported by Iran and Hezbollah, are fighting for the liberation of Aleppo, while the US-backed Kurdish forces have started an offensive towards Raqqa. This is a very dangerous game," Akhmedov believes.
He believes that not only the Syrian Kurds, but also the United States, which operates in Syria without consent from Damascus, pursue their own aims and control of Raqqa is the sole way of attaining them.
"The Americans wish to have a strong argument in their favor at negotiations on Syria’s postwar future. This game may cause a territorial split of the Arab state, something Moscow is firmly against," Akhmedov said.
"Splitting a country is far easier than piecing it together," he warned.