The U.S. and Russia-backed Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) has offered the people of Raqqa the opportunity to join its autonomous federal region in northern Syria once the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) is pushed out of the city.
Saleh Muslim, the co-chair of the PYD party, told Reuters that the residents of Raqqa would be the ones to decide their fate once the city is liberated from ISIS, adding that he believes the city will join the Kurdish autonomous “democratic federal” system.
“We expect [this] because our project is for all Syria… and Raqqa can be part of it,” Muslim told Reuters during a telephone conversation. ”Our only concern is that the people of Raqqa are the ones who take the decision on everything.”
The PYD’s leader Saleh Muslim noted that Raqqa needs to be in “friendly hands” otherwise it would pose a “danger to all Syria,” particularly the region where they have established their self-administered area.
Reuters learned of the PYD proposal, which has drawn ire from U.S. NATO ally Turkey, on Monday.
Turkey considers the PYD and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) an extension of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), a group that has been designated a terrorist organization by both Ankara and Turkey.
However, the United States does not share Turkey’s view that the Syrian Kurds are terrorists. In fact, the U.S. considered the YPG one of the most strong fighters against ISIS.
ISIS is expected to soon lose Raqqa, its de-facto capital in Syria, to U.S. and Russian-backed local forces.
The offensive to retake Raqqa is expected to begin in early April, notes BBC, citing the YPG.
Meanwhile, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian proclaimed last Friday that the operation would likely start “in the coming days.”
“US officials estimate that there are 3,000 to 4,000 militants in the Raqqa area, alongside hundreds of thousands of civilians,” points out BBC.
The American-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Arab and Kurdish forces led by the YPG, is advancing towards Raqqa.
SDF fighters recently captured the strategically important Tabqa airbase west of the Islamic State (IS) stronghold Raqqa.
“The airbase’s capture is seen as a significant step in the campaign to drive IS militants out of Raqqa,” reports BBC.
“In all the areas under our control, we do not have an airport that can receive planes,” SDF spokesman Talal Silo told Reuters. ”The coalition planes will benefit from the airport.”
The Tabqa operation is intended to encircle Raqqa.
Backed by U.S-led coalition troops, the 50,000-strong SDF, made up of Kurdish, Arab, Turkmen, and Armenian militias, have captured an estimated 2,300 square miles of territory from ISIS in Syria.
Although the majority of the SDF is believed to be Arab, the force is led by the YPG, which recently acknowledged having “direct relations with Russia,” noting the Kremlin is providing them training.
In March 2016, the PYD and YPG declared that they would combine three Kurdish-led autonomous areas in northern Syria into a federal system.
Although the United States supports the Syrian Kurds, the Americans under former President Barack Obama joined Syria and Turkey in expressing dismay towards the effort of dividing the war-devastated country.
It remains unclear whether President Donald Trump’s administration would support an independent Kurdish state.