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

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine 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.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid