Compulsory draft is no longer the exclusive preserve of the Syrian regime's army; the “Daesh” organization has entered into this game, and began its announcements thereof in the city of Raqqa. This puts thousands of young Syrians between the hammer of being drafted into the regime’s armed forces, or the anvil of becoming fitted with explosive belts or driving booby-trapped vehicles!
Tears rarely ever leave Umm Ahmad’s face, neither do fear and anxiety. Her sons became fighters with Daesh; and she is faced with the unenviable equation of having her sons either would-be killers or be killed themselves!
The same applies to Abu Ahmad also, albeit somewhat differently. He avoids any contact with people—whether acquaintances or relatives, in his city of Raqqa. Says he: "I feel a sense of abandonment, I was unable to raise my children as I desire.”
Thus fares this Raqqa family, following one of its sons enrolled in the organization. He influence both his sister and brother, who soon followed his steps into Daesh.
During the past month of October, the organization circulated a decision on the northern sector of the province of Raqqa in northern Syria. It called on young men above the age of 14 to head to its police stations, and register themselves as a prelude to induct them into the [organization’s] troops, and his car bomb squads!
The population of the province of Raqqa currently numbers circa 800 thousand people; 500 thousand of whom, live in the city of Raqqa while 300 thousand live in the countryside. The estimated number of young males meeting the organization’s conditions to join its troops, is circa 100 thousand young people—a fraction of their number prior to the organization overtaking of Raqqa.
Raqqa, whose estimated area is circa 19 thousand square kilometers has witnessed, during the past three months alone, the exodus of circa 20 thousand young men. They were fleeing Daesh’s authority and its tight grip, which seems to target young men and teenagers to force them to take up arms, and serve as fuel for its machine striking other Syrian areas.
Abu Fadi, a Raqqa native, and his wife confirm periodically visiting the organization’s headquarters and its police, looking for their not-even-16-years-old son who was recruited into the ranks of Daesh. The couple say: "We heap our curses upon the organization. They kidnapped our son."
After the organization issued its circular on compulsory enlistment in its ranks, it threatened residents, and those violating it, to being subjected to "Sharia punishments”—a vague headline, comprising many meanings.
Upon polling the views of the Raqqa’s civilian residents—both city and countryside—one finds that they view “Sharia punishment” as quite a loose cover that leads to sanctioning murder. In the best of circumstances, anyone found in contravention of the organization’s laws, will be forced to undergo a prolonged Sharia course. This may even prompt an individual to swear allegiance to Daesh under duress—to do anything, to escape the attendant prison sentence that accompanies such courses; not to mention, the risk of expropriation.
Munir, a resident of the village of Kabsh Wasti in the northern region of the Raqqa province; confirms that the organization recently summoned the region’s elders to forcibly renew their pledge of allegiance, in anticipation of them attempting to evade the recruitment of their sons.
He adds: "Everyone here says that the organization wants to thrust us into its own battles; much as it had thrown numerous young men into the Ayn Arab [Kobanî] battle, in which hundreds from the northern region perished."
The majority of young men in the region, according to Munir, work in agriculture, sheep farming, and other rural occupations. Most people did not like the idea of joining any military factions, "the organization—via its cronies—is working hard to recruit the largest possible number of young people. Some of the region's youth have left it, to search their livelihood, "the young man explains.
Daesh’s Grip in Raqqa
Since the summer of 2013, the city of Raqqa has reeled under Daesh’s grip. To date, it controls the entire eastern and western rural areas of the Raqqa province; whereas 50% of the northern rural areas were wrested out of its control. It completely lost the areas of "Slouk, Tal Abiad, and Ayn Issa,” with only the areas Bir al-Hashm—and the farms surrounding it—remaining under its grip.
The number of displaced Syrians in the city of Raqqa and its countryside is estimated at circa 250,000 people; the bulk of whom come from the cities of Palmyra, al-Sukhneh, and Deir el-Zor. This number does not fall within the population of the province of Raqqa of 800 thousand.
One of the main reasons for Raqqa inhabitants joining the ranks of Daesh, is their material need. An example is Abu Ali's family, three of whose sons joined the ranks of Daesh’s forces.
“I have a family of 11. I cannot work. I was therefore compelled to enlist my sons into the organization. Each of them now gives m $200—not to mention food and other assistance," confirms Abu Ali.
Rozana and the “Raqqa is Being Silently Slaughtered” campaign conducted an opinion poll of a random sample of Raqqa’s residents. The poll comprised 70 individuals, with concern to their acceptance—or rejection—of Daesh.
10% of respondents said that they are forced to deal with Daesh by virtue of their dire living conditions, and the need for money and labor. 42% declined dealing with the organization—while recognizing that some of its elements are good [individuals]. 38.5% on the other hand, stressed their categorical rejection of any form of dealing with Daesh. The remainder of 7%, said they were looking for their livelihoods, and cared little if such could be found with the organization, or without it.
What of "Immigrants" in Raqqa?
The proportion of foreigners—or the so-called “immigrants”—out of the organization’s members in Raqqa is circa 30%. The rest are Syrians from different regions.
Sources from within Raqqa confirm that the people of the province make up circa 40% of the Syrians who joined Daesh. They work within the organization’s administrative offices in the city—the services bureau, and the Hisbah [internal security/justice] bureau; they are employees, implementing the orders no more, no less.
Sensitive and high positions, however, are invariably the domain of immigrant Daesh adherents, who control the Sharia, judicial, and executive authorities.
Syrians, it seems, have become Daesh’s pawns—whether as soldiers or lower. They fuel its battles, a fact that has been highlighted by the proportion of the organization’s death toll in the Ayn Arab [Kobanî] battle last year—most of whom had been Syrians!
The Organization’s Military Might!
Daesh has a large military force of fighters in Raqqa, estimated to be well in the thousands. The organization has also dramatically fortified the area, digging many trenches north, west, and east of the city; building barricades; as well as laying numerous minefields.
In addition to these military tactics, according to city residents, there have been calculated deployments of the organization’s suicide bombers amidst Raqqa’s homes. They will, in the future, become points of engagement in the event of a street fighting breaking out.
“The organization is well prepared for battle. It has distributed and laid pipes in street medians. These can be filled with fuel and ignited—as a way of camouflage for warplanes. It also actively distributes ammunition inside the city and its neighborhoods," confirms a Raqqa native.
These words dovetail with those of Abu Mahmud: "We do not expect that there will be anything similar to the [coming] Battle of Raqqa. The organization will not repeat its Tal Abiad experience. Their deployment amid civilian houses, their transfer of arms, and other moves indicate that they will leave Raqqa in rubble [before losing it]."
He concludes with his distinct Raqqa dialect: "If the air raids do not bring Raqqa down—if 3,000 of them [Daesh suicide bombers] blow themselves up, that will surely lay it in ruins.”
The Bone-Breaking Battle is Around the Corner!
In a move to challenge Daesh in Raqqa—its self-proclaimed capital—a “Raqqa Tribes’ Army” was formed in early October 2015. It comes under the direct command of the Raqqa Rebels’ Brigade, itself under the command of the Burkan al-Furat [Furat Volcano] military operation room.
This most recent faction proclaimed via a communiqué—and exclusively comprising local Arab clans and tribes—is headed by Shaykh Obaid al-Hassan (Abu Fahd). All clans and tribes north of Raqqa were approached with an attempt to persuade them to join the new formation.
According to sources that cannot be disclosed for security reasons, the formation’s goals are to create a state of balance with the Kurdish units in control of the northern region; combating Daesh; and in to give the tribes power that would allow them to become a key force in the future running of the region.
The sources add that the “Raqqa Tribes Army" will serve to protect the tribespeople from any military faction—whether the Free Syrian Army [FSA], Islamic factions, or Daesh; and will adopt an the tactic of areas being directly protected by its own people. It will receive no recruits from outside these areas.
The question, therefore, arises: is the bone-breaking battle between the tribes and the organization—from Jarablus northeast of Aleppo, To Raqqa—approaching us?
The coming days seem to hold the definitive answer to this question—especially with the Raqqa Rebels’ Brigade announcing on Thursday 29 October 29 that the battle to "liberate" the city of Raqqa is close!
The New Formation Through the Eyes of Raqqa’s Inhabitants
As to the opinion of the Raqqa residents vis-a-vis the “Raqqa Tribes Army;” there is wide divergence. There is great welcoming thereof in those areas outside Daesh’s control in the Raqqa countryside; whereas in those areas controlled by Daesh, people are trying to communicate with the tribal army, so as to secure themselves a future role therein. The organization has seemingly become aware of such moves—which was one of the reasons behind its issuance of its forced enlistment circular, some believe.
Inside Raqqa, there is no specific opinion vis-a-vis this new configuration—the so-called “Tribal Army.” People fear a renewed return to the chaos of fighting, of which they have grown exhausted. They want stability, despite the great distress that Daesh has engendered. The experience of Ayn Arab [Kobanî] has helped increase their fears. They seem to stand facing many potential incendiary situations.
The notion that Daesh is a fleeting phenomenon is taking root among a large segment Raqqa residents. One family has even disowned its own son, who joined the organization; his mother, father, and brothers now even cursing him, and tirelessly invoking divine punishment upon him!
In the event of a battle breaking out, one civilian exclaims in his Raqqa accent: "The problem is: Where would we flee? Where would we go to? We do not know. If the people of Palmyra, al-Sukhneh, Deir [el-Zor], and al-Safirah are themselves refugees in Raqqa—where would we find refuge? The only place open for us is the countryside… Turkey is only for those with means—and we barely make enough to survive, woe unto us.”
* This poll was completed in cooperation between Rozana Media and the “Raqqa is Being Silently Slaughtered” Campaign.