Sunday, 22 November 2015

Telling the Truth About ISIS and Raqqa

The group Raqqa Is Being Silently Slaughtered faces unceasing peril from ISIS as they smuggle out information about what's happening in their city.

 'When anti-regime demonstrations broke out in March, 2011, in Dara’a, a city in the south, and reports spread throughout Syria that Bashar Al-Assad’s security forces were firing on civilians, Al-Hamza and many others joined in protests, in Raqqa. “We wanted to be free,” he said. “It seemed simple.”

 As the uprising against Assad spread throughout Syria and the casualty counts rose, tens of thousands of people left Aleppo, Homs, Idlib and other embattled cities and towns and arrived in Raqqa, which is on the northern bank of the Euphrates River. The city swelled and became known for a while as “the hotel of the revolution.”

 By March, 2013, Free Syrian Army (F.S.A.) troops, as well as Islamist rebel forces, including al-Nusra, controlled the city and tore down a statue of Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, to celebrate. “Raqqa was the first liberated city in Syria,” Al-Hamza said.

 But at around the same time, members of ISIS, or the Islamic State, bearing black flags, began accumulating in the nearby town of Slouk. “At first, there were only around fifteen people,” Al-Hamza said. “None of us knew about it” until fighters from al-Nusra began switching over to ISIS, which had its origin in Iraq. “Over time, around ninety per cent of the Nusra fighters in the area became ISIS, and only ten per cent of them refused,” Al-Hamza said.

 In May, 2013, ISIS fighters started making kidnapping runs and attacking F.S.A. leaders, and, by late summer, there were full-scale battles with F.S.A. troops. As the F.S.A. began to suffer defeats, car bombings, kidnappings, and executions, one of the journalists at the table said, some F.S.A. soldiers “out of complete fear” also joined ISIS. People in Raqqa could see that ISIS was growing stronger, as they brought in heavy weapons from Iraq and seasoned soldiers who had fought in the Iraqi Army under Saddam Hussein. By the beginning of 2014, ISIS had absolute control of the city. They now overran the mosques, drove out Christians from the city, and turned major municipal buildings into their various headquarters. The propaganda campaign that ISIS mustered following the capture of Raqqa brought on a wave of foreigners.

 The member of R.B.S.S. are utterly frustrated with the efforts of the West to defeat both Assad, who has fended off the opposition so far, and ISIS, which has suffered recent losses in Iraq and Syria, but which has proved capable of exacting suffering from Sinai to Beirut to Paris.

“The problem the Syrian people have with the United States is that we are suffering for five years with barrel bombs,” one R.B.S.S. journalist said. “Assad has killed so many innocents, and many people have lost hope. After Assad’s chemical attack, when he crossed the so-called ‘red line,’ the U.S. just took the weapons. It made America look like a liar and weak.

“When you say ‘Raqqa’ the first thing people think of is ISIS,” he continued. “They forget hundreds of thousands of civilians, normal people like us. I am not a terrorist. There are so many people, normal people, who want to live in a free, democratic Syria. We want to rebuild Syria, and the only way we can do it is through our civil-society group and others like it. If the United States government and other governments want to fight ISIS on social media, their Twitter accounts are seen as propaganda. But when real life is shown through us, and you see what life is like, normal people believe it.” '

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