Jabhat Thuwar A-Raqqa ‘an essential component of the SDF’

An officer with Jabhat Thuwar A-Raqqa described the Sunni rebel group as an “essential component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)” on Wednesday at a graduation ceremony for 500 of its newest fighters, according to an interview with the Kurdish TV channel Rouhani posted to YouTube the same day.

The officer’s confirmation that his militia, comprised of Liwa Thuwar A-Raqqa and the Tribes’ Army, contradicts a statement from a spokesman for Jabhat Thuwar A-Raqqa, Muhammad al-Hadi, who told Syria Direct on November 2 that they had “not yet decided” whether to join the SDF and that “cooperation with them does not serve” their goals or the principles of the revolution.

Syria Direct attempted to officials in both Jabhat Thuwar A-Raqqa and Liwa Thuwwar Raqqa to clarify discrepancy, but a spokesman for each declined to comment.

The SDF, formed approximately a month ago, consists of a mixture of Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), including female units, Arab and Assyrian forces, and describes its multi-ethnic alliance as “a national force for a future Syria.” The SDF’s founding charter included Liwa Thuwar A-Raqqa among the participating brigades.

The SDF’s military operations are already backed by coalition airstrikes, and it is they who are expected to receive American military aid ahead of an imminent battle against the Islamic State for A-Raqqa.

The reasons for Jabhat Thuwar A-Raqqa’s hesitation to join the SDF aren’t entirely clear, however it is primarily made up of Sunni Arabs while the majority of SDF fighters are Kurds.

Syria Direct has reported on tensions between Kurdish YPG forces and their allies, Sunni Arab rebel brigades in north and northeast Syria, over what they call the YPG’s encroachment of Arab territory. In March, Syria Direct reported on YPG units burning Arab homes in Al-Hasakah.

In a report last month, Amnesty International denounced the “deliberate displacement of thousands of civilians and the razing of entire villages in areas under the Autonomous Administration….led by the Syrian Kurdish political party PYD.”

The YPG is the armed wing of the PYD.

The commander of Jabhat Thuwar A-Raqqa, Abu Issa, and dozens of other dignitaries from the region’s Arab and Kurdish tribes attended the graduation ceremony in a village 15km south of Tal Abyad in A-Raqqa province, reported pro-opposition Hawar News on Wednesday.

The newest group of graduates, members of Jabhat Thuwar A-Raqqa will only see action with the SDF in A-Raqqa and Tel Abyad, Abu Muadh, the director of Liwa Thuwar Raqqa’s media office told Syria Direct on Thursday.

“But I don’t know if Abu Issa [the commander of Jabhat Thuwar A-Raqqa] has something different planned for the future,” Abu Muadh said.

Photo courtesy of Sarfan Darwish

Osama Abu Zeid

Osama Abu Zeid is a native of Homs, where he served as a media activist and founding member of the Homs Revolutionary Council after the Syrian uprising began in 2011.

Ammar Hamou

Ammar Hammou is from Douma city in outer Damascus. He studied journalism at Damascus University and left Syria in 2011.

Samuel Kieke

Samuel Kieke was a 2014-2015 CASA I fellow in Amman, Jordan. He received his BA from the University of Texas at Austin in Arabic Language and Literature, Middle Eastern Studies, and International Relations and Global Studies.