Global Tracker

The Fall of Raqqa: The End of ISIS?

This could mean the end of ISIS or alternatively, the group could morph into a terrorist organization much closer to the form of Al-Qaeda.

BY: MICHAEL GERINI

Yesterday, October 17th, the Syrian Democratic Forces claimed to have cleared the last members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria from the self-proclaimed caliphate’s capital, Raqqa. This declaration has come after months of intense urban fighting, during which thousands of trapped ISIS fighters used the city and its residents as human shields. With heavy civilian losses in both lives and property, the SDF slowly but methodically liberated the city. With its victory the SDF has taken the last major urban center in Syria that was under ISIS control.

WHY IT MATTERS:

With the fall of Raqqa, ISIS holds no major urban territory in either Iraq or Syria. While the group still holds some territory, its claim to legitimacy as a functioning state has been put to an end. As the remaining towns and villages under its control are being liberated, the future of the group remains unknown. This could mean the end of ISIS or alternatively, the group could morph into a terrorist organization much closer to the form of Al-Qaeda. The next several months will be very telling for the future of ISIS, as thousands of its remaining fighters surrender or attempt to flee back to their countries of origin. The fighters fleeing to their homelands may create their own isolated terrorist cells, all pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. As the Islamic State ceases to exist as a tangible reality, it will continue to exist as an idea.

The SDF, which now holds Raqqa, is a largely Kurdish group. It has limited itself to liberating and defending mostly Kurdish towns and villages, going so far as to allow the Syrian government to control Arab cities well behind the SDF’s front lines. How the SDF handles its liberation and occupation of Raqqa will be crucial to the future of Syria. Seeing as Raqqa is an Arab city, the armed presence of the SDF may grate on the Syrian government as it impinges on their sovereignty.

In light of the referendum on independence in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Syrian government is likely to attempt to limit the SDF’s control over potential territory. This is especially true of Arab territory. As the Kurds have no future interest in Arab territory, any they acquire can be used as a bargaining chip against Assad’s government. With Raqqa in its hands, the SDF will be in a strong position in any future negotiations with the Syrian government.

Raqqa is a tomb for ISIS and its fighters, but it may be the birthplace of another conflict between the Kurds, the Syrian government, and the allies of both sides. The Syrian government and the SDF were recently allies and they may remain so, as long as it suits both their interests. The SDF’s control of Raqqa, however, provides another flash point in the potential conflict between the two forces.

Yesterday, October 17th, the Syrian Democratic Forces claimed to have cleared the last members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria from the self-proclaimed caliphate’s capital, Raqqa. This declaration has come after months of intense urban fighting, during which thousands of trapped ISIS fighters used the city and its residents as human shields. With heavy civilian losses in both lives and property, the SDF slowly but methodically liberated the city. With its victory the SDF has taken the last major urban center in Syria that was under ISIS control.

WHY IT MATTERS:

With the fall of Raqqa, ISIS holds no major urban territory in either Iraq or Syria. While the group still holds some territory, its claim to legitimacy as a functioning state has been put to an end. As the remaining towns and villages under its control are being liberated, the future of the group remains unknown. This could mean the end of ISIS or alternatively, the group could morph into a terrorist organization much closer to the form of Al-Qaeda. The next several months will be very telling for the future of ISIS, as thousands of its remaining fighters surrender or attempt to flee back to their countries of origin. The fighters fleeing to their homelands may create their own isolated terrorist cells, all pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. As the Islamic State ceases to exist as a tangible reality, it will continue to exist as an idea.

The SDF, which now holds Raqqa, is a largely Kurdish group. It has limited itself to liberating and defending mostly Kurdish towns and villages, going so far as to allow the Syrian government to control Arab cities well behind the SDF’s front lines. How the SDF handles its liberation and occupation of Raqqa will be crucial to the future of Syria. Seeing as Raqqa is an Arab city, the armed presence of the SDF may grate on the Syrian government as it impinges on their sovereignty.

In light of the referendum on independence in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Syrian government is likely to attempt to limit the SDF’s control over potential territory. This is especially true of Arab territory. As the Kurds have no future interest in Arab territory, any they acquire can be used as a bargaining chip against Assad’s government. With Raqqa in its hands, the SDF will be in a strong position in any future negotiations with the Syrian government.

Raqqa is a tomb for ISIS and its fighters, but it may be the birthplace of another conflict between the Kurds, the Syrian government, and the allies of both sides. The Syrian government and the SDF were recently allies and they may remain so, as long as it suits both their interests. The SDF’s control of Raqqa, however, provides another flash point in the potential conflict between the two forces.

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