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

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs