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Syrian Refugees Express High Hopes for Obama’s IS Plan

A resident of Tabqa city touring the streets on a motorcycle waves an Islamist flag in celebration after Islamic State militants took over Tabqa air base, in nearby Raqqa city, Aug. 24, 2014.

Expectations are high among refugees fleeing the Islamic State in Syria after U.S. President Barack Obama laid out a plan to destroy the militants that have taken over large swaths of Iraq and Syria. Families say life in Islamic State-controlled territories in Syria is terrifying, though some analysts say Obama’s plan is likely to be more successful in Iraq than in Syria.

Ibrahim is a father of five who works in construction outside Beirut. Four days ago he went back to his home in Syria to collect his wife and five children. Islamic State fighters took over their region almost two months ago and his family was terrified.

As he whisked them out of town, Ibrahim failed to shield his children's eyes from the horror in front of them. In the square, the bodies of three so-called “law breakers” lay next to their decapitated heads, as a warning to other residents.

Under the Islamic State in his part of Syria, Ibrahim said, smoking a cigarette is punishable by death. If a man wears shorts, his legs can be cut off. Women must be covered head to toe. His only hope right now, he said, is in President Obama.

"Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy," said Obama in his speech Wednesday night.

Multi-pronged plan

Obama’s plan to defeat the Islamic State includes intensifying airstrikes and humanitarian aid, sending 475 military personnel to Iraq as advisors, ramping up international counter-terrorism strategies and supporting opposition fighters in Syria.

A senior analyst for the Middle East at Control Risks, James Fallon, said this strategy, however, may be more successful in Iraq than in Syria.

“Really it is the ability of the Iraqi political parties to form a unity government, that triggered such an increase in assistance," said Fallon. "The plan takes quite a realist view of the situation and it does take a long view of the situation, but the bottom line is it is heavily predicated on having a partner.”

Such a partner, he added, is not identifiable in Syria, where there is what he called a “constellation” of opposition groups.

“The Obama administration has clearly not identified a partner on the ground in Syria and that is why it appears that the character of any military action in Syria is going to be quite different from that which takes place in Iraq,” said Fallon.

But for some Syrian refugees fleeing Islamic State fighters, the idea of an uneven international battle against militants is more terrifying than no international battle at all.

Firas, a 25-year-old teacher, left his home five days ago, as Islamic State fighters battled with the Free Syrian Army.

He said he believes the Islamic State can and should be wiped out by the United States, but it needs to be swift and complete. If they are beaten down in one area, he says, they will just move to another. He hopes if the United States succeeds in Iraq, it will not mean more tragedy for Syria.