January 9, 2014

As Rebels Fight Rebels, Grim Reports From A Syrian City - RAQQA

As Rebels Fight Rebels, Grim Reports From A Syrian City - RAQQA

 

 

 

The flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, flutters on the dome of an Armenian Catholic Church in the northern rebel-held Syrian city of Raqqa on Sept. 28, 2013. At first, Syrian rebels and civilians welcomed the experienced Islamist fighters, and the groups fought together to take over the city from Syrian troops. Now, many Syrians fear and resent ISIS.

 

Reports from the Syrian city of Raqqa are dire. In the north-central provincial capital, "the atmosphere has gone from bad to worse," says one activist with a rare link to the Internet. He reports the city is "completely paralyzed," the hospital is abandoned, and there are bodies in the central square. There is no power or water for a city of more than half a million people. Even the critical bread ovens are shut.

The appalling description from Raqqa is just one scene from a new phase in the Syrian war. Fractious Syrian rebels have shown a rare unity in challenging an al-Qaida-linked group known as ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, demanding these foreign fighters leave the country.

The uprising against the al-Qaida affiliate is a surprise, but the anger was well known and has been building for months.

Rebels and civilians alike once welcomed ISIS as experienced and well-armed fighters who crossed the Iraqi border and shared the goal of toppling the Syrian regime. They were later joined by thousands of extremists from around the globe.

But their brutal tactics in ruling Raqqa and neighborhoods in the contested city of Aleppo have turned many Syrians against them.

To understand why Syrian rebels turned against the ISIS fighters, you just have to talk to Syrian activists and local journalists, the first victims of al-Qaida's ruthless ways, says journalist Adnan Haddad, who fled Aleppo after the group targeted him.

"It's about feeling afraid of being tortured and getting kidnapped," he says from his new base in the southern Turkish town of Gaziantep, where he is helping to rebuild a radio network to broadcast inside Syria. ISIS militants held Haddad for three days.

"It's a typical way of al-Qaida kind of thinking," he says. "They don't want activists and journalists covering the violations they commit."

Controlling The Local Economy

With the infusion of cash, Looney adds, ISIS ensured its control over Raqqa's economy.

"Citizens have become dependent on ISIS for the provision of goods and services," he explains. "They feel if they establish themselves as the only group that Raqqa is able to turn to, it will generate some support for them among the community."

Much of that support vanished this week, as the new rebel coalition challenged ISIS across northern Syria and the fighting spread to the extremists' stronghold of Raqqa.

In the early days of the fighting, rebels captured an ISIS prison and released 50 captives; the fate of thousands of other prisoners, including Western journalists and humanitarian aid workers, is unknown. On Tuesday, ISIS mounted a counterattack, spurning offers of a mediated truce, to defend their most important base of operations.

One local activist describes the ISIS tactics — using suicide attacks against any challenger and laying land mines throughout the city for protection — as "monstrous." There are credible reports that ISIS now dominates two key routes out of Raqqa: to the east toward the Iraqi border and also the road north to the Turkish frontier.

Now, rebels fighting ISIS must decide whether to continue the campaign against the extremists, which will split their efforts to fight the army of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The internal struggle among the rebels gives the regime a firmer hold on power.

 

Deborah Amos

NPR

Natioanal Public Radio

         
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