State Department Will Not Rule Out Return of Assad Cronies to Control of Raqqa

The State Department refused Thursday to categorically say that it will oppose associates of Bashar al-Assad’s regime serving in the new administration of the recently-liberated ISIS “capital” of Raqqa, Syria.

Asked at her Thursday press conference whether it would “be okay or acceptable” for pro-Assad figures to serve in the now-forming Raqqa Civil Council, State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert declined to give a definite answer.

“We have continued to say that whoever eventually would run local governments should be representative of the people, should embody and believe in fundamental human rights and protection of those civilians in the area,” Nauert said, adding later, “How do we handle the liberation of Raqqa from ISIS? We’re just about at that point right now. We’re very happy with that. We’re not there yet. It’s still going to be a long road.”

The United States’ position on the Assad regime has been in flux across the current and previous administrations. At times, the United States has called for the dictator’s immediate ouster and, at others, his continued role has been treated as a secondary concern compared to priorities like the defeat of the Islamic State, allowing for the possibility that he potentially could continue in power.

Raqqa fell to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Tuesday, to the applause of American diplomats. The eastern Syrian city had been run as a nightmarish theocratic totalitarian experiment by ISIS since 2014. The fate of the city’s governance, like that of the rest of Syria as the country’s six-year civil war looks to continue beyond the defeat of ISIS, remains unclear.

The United States appears willing to work with the SDF to find an interim solution in establishing the Raqqa Civil Council (RCC) to provide basic services to the city’s long-suffering residents. “[The RCC] is the organization that the U.S. helps to fund, along with coalition partners, to help do some of this important stabilization work, including the clean water, the rubble removal, the demining,” Nauert explained.


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