News / Middle East

Assad Forces Defeated in Syria's Raqqa, Ambushed in Iraq

A statue of President Bashar Al-Assad's father, Hafez Al-Assad, is pulled down as people celebrate in Raqqa Mar. 4, 2013.
A statue of President Bashar Al-Assad's father, Hafez Al-Assad, is pulled down as people celebrate in Raqqa Mar. 4, 2013.
Syrian rebels appear to have captured the northern city of Raqqa, in one of the biggest gains of their two-year revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.
 
In another blow to the Syrian government Monday, suspected al-Qaida militants killed 48 Syrian security personnel inside Iraq, as the Syrians were traveling to a border crossing to return home.
 
In Raqqa, activists posted videos on the Internet showing residents celebrating the rebel victory on Monday, tearing down a banner of Assad over a central square and toppling a statue of his father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad.
 
Activists said some government troops remained holed up in a military compound in the city. Sunni-majority rebels opposed to Assad's 12-year minority Alawite rule have been trying to oust his forces from predominantly-Sunni Raqqa for weeks.
 
Uprising milestone
 
If the rebel takeover is independently confirmed, it would mark the first Syrian provincial capital to fall into opposition hands. Syrian rebels also hold parts of the major cities of Aleppo and Homs, and some suburbs of Damascus.
 
Syria observer Joshua Landis of the University of Oklahoma said Raqqa is strategically important because it is located on the highway to the major northeastern towns of Qamishli, Hasakah and Deir el-Zour.
 
Landis, who authors the blog Syria Comment, said Raqqa also is near a major oil producing region and is a farming hub because of its proximity to Assad Lake and the Euphrates River.
 
"This is a Sunni region [that] has been very faithful to [Assad's] Baath party throughout the years," he said.
 
"But [Raqqa] has been extremely poor and underprivileged. It has not gotten a lot from the state. It hoped that the building of Assad Dam along the Euphrates River would bring a lot of irrigation, new farmland and riches. None of that really panned out."
 
Government resistance
 
Despite the setback in Raqqa, pro-Assad fighters remain in control of central Damascus, his seat of power, and other parts of western Syria populated by his fellow Alawites.
 
Landis said Assad's army has been trying to consolidate its hold of those areas.
 
"The Syrian military is attacking around [the central city of] Homs and to the north of Latakia. It is fattening up the areas under its control, particularly around the Alawite mountains and on the highway from Damascus up toward Homs and to the west. But it is relinquishing much of the territory around Aleppo and to the east."
 
In other amateur videos posted on the Internet Monday, rebels in Homs appeared to fight back against a government offensive, while opposition fighters on the western outskirts of Aleppo claimed the capture of a police academy.
 
Conflict spreads
 
Dozens of Syrian security personnel who entered Iraq last week were ambushed as Iraqi authorities were escorting them back to Syria. Iraqi officials said the attack killed 48 Syrians and at least seven Iraqis, and they blamed it on Sunni al-Qaida militants.
 
The Assad loyalists had crossed into Iraq via the northern border terminal of Yaarabiya to escape Syrian rebel attacks. Iraqi security forces were transporting them to the southern border crossing of al-Walid when the ambush happened in Iraq's Anbar province.
 
Iraq's Shi'ite-led government publicly has refused to take sides in the Syrian civil war. Baghdad said it granted entry to the pro-Assad forces as a humanitarian gesture and warned all parties in Syria not to bring their fight into Iraq.
 
Islamist alliance
 
Landis said the ambush appears to be the work of al-Qaida's Iraqi branch working in tandem with Syria-based Sunni militants such as Jabhat al-Nusra.
 
"Most of the big tribes along the border have members on both sides, in Iraq and Syria. They are helping each other with arms, they are helping each other attack Syrian army elements in that region," he said.
 
"[Syrian Sunnis] are working hand-in-glove [together] with Iraqi Sunnis against the Shi'ite governments in Iraq and Syria, both [of whom] are allied with Iran."
 
Assad's Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam. Iraq's Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has warned that a rebel takeover of Syria could embolden Iraqi Sunni militants trying to destabilize his government.

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
March 05, 2013 7:20 PM
There is no escaping justice for Bashar al Assad. He is going to pay through the nose for the thousands of innocent civilians he has bombed, thousands and thousands he made homeless, and millions of lives he has ruined. This is 2013, you can't kill thousands of innocent people and get away with it. He will be served whether he likes it or not.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid