The prospect of a final showdown with the Islamic State for the heart of its so-called caliphate in A-Raqqa has reached the north-central desert city. Trenches have been dug and earthen barriers placed at A-Raqqa’s key entrances and exits.
As the Islamic State’s paranoia grows, sending squads to hunt down deserters, civilians are bracing for the worst, a scenario which Furat al-Wafaa says is inevitable.
“Whichever side gains the upper hand during the battle will work to eradicate any danger at all that the other side poses,” says al-Wafaa, a current member of Reporters Without Borders and former activist with Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently. That includes not only supporters of any given side, but perceived supporters.
The possibility of the imminent collapse of the Islamic State raises the specter of chaos and what al-Wafaa calls “revenge operations.”
“The only way to keep things under control after the battle is finished is to establish legitimate courts… and disband the Islamic State without violent revenge operations, which are expected to occur against everyone who belonged to IS,” al-Wafaa tells Ammar Hamou.
Q: In a previous interview with Syria Direct, Liwa Thuwwar Raqqa confirmed that continuous, organized preparations are ongoing for a future battle in Raqqa city. Are you seeing IS prepare as well?
Yes, IS is currently fortifying its positions in Raqqa city and a-Tabqa. They are digging trenches and placing earthen barriers at these cities’ entrances and exits. They also created a new unit whose job is to track down IS members who have shirked their duty by not fighting on the fronts. All of this appears to be in preparation for the expected battle confirmed by the leader of Liwa Thuwwar Raqqa.
Q: When the battle against the Islamic State in Raqqa begins, do you think an internal battle will break out between local residents against IS?
Absolutely, yes. I indicated the possibility of that happening in a previous interview with Syria Direct.
I personally know people ready to move against IS as soon as they see a real beginning to the battle, a real beginning that guarantees they won’t fall victim to disappointing leadership [displayed by Arab/Kurdish forces] and to IS’s heavy-handed oppression [should residents rise up and not receive sufficient outside support]. Additionally, a large number of those who were tricked [ideologically] by IS have begun to get a sense of the group’s oppression, and how they stray from the right path.
Q: Do you expect civilians will suffer in the upcoming battle? How specifically?
I expect civilians will fall victim to the Kurds’ racism on one hand, and IS’s brutal oppression on the other. I think I’m right to say that IS’s expulsion from Raqqa and its environs will bring the city and its inhabitants a great amount of destruction that will encompass flesh, tree and stone.
Whichever side gains the upper hand during the battle will work to eradicate any danger at all that the other side poses [i.e. both sides will kill residents, including civilians, suspected of aiding the other side]. We have already tasted IS’s tyranny, which the group practiced against anyone who communicated with the FSA from the day it took control over Raqqa until now.
Q: As a young man living in Raqqa, what sorts of fears do you have for the future concerning the upcoming battle and what’s to come afterwards?
I’m particularly afraid of the revenge operations that will go on after IS is expelled from Raqqa city, and the chaos that will occur because of the tyranny that IS practiced against Raqqa residents [i.e., residents might turn on each other when IS leaves on the basis of previous relations with IS]. All of these fears concern the battle’s aftermath…
As for during the battle itself—everyone knows that Raqqa has become IS’s de facto caliphate, the source of its power. New fighters are graduated every so often in Raqqa, through what is called the “preaching tents” and military camps, and thrown into the fronts that IS has opened in the eastern or northern Aleppo countryside or elsewhere.
The only way to keep things under control after the battle is finished is to establish legitimate courts to punish the criminals and those who belonged to IS, and to disband the group without violent revenge operations, which are expected to occur against everyone who belonged to IS. A lot of them were forced by circumstances, or by previous membership in the FSA, to join up with IS to save their lives.
This particular point needs to be made so we don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater [i.e. punish both the real IS members and those who joined out of necessity].
Q: After Euphrates Volcano took control of Arab-majority Tel Abyad, activists published reports that the People’s Protection Units [YPG] arrested Arabs in the area under the pretext of their belonging to IS. Do Raqqa civilians fear a similar scenario should the Euphrates Volcano (the Kurds-FSA alliance) take over Raqqa?
The People’s Protection Units employed the same strategy against residents [of Tel Abyad] as IS did, but on ethnic rather than religious grounds, under the pretext that residents belonged to IS—a claim that contradicts reality. As for the citizens of Raqqa, they really are afraid of YPG control over the city. The world is no longer unaware of the YPG’s racism and how they treated the Arabs of Tel Abyad and neighboring villages.