On October 17, the US Special Envoy for the US-led coalition Brett McGurk visited the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)-held Ayn Issa town in the northern Raqqa countryside along with Saudi Arabia’s Minister of State for Arabian Gulf Affairs Thamer al-Sabhan, according to Syrian opposition sources.
Al-Sabhan is the former Saudi Ambassador to Iraq.
According to the sources, McGurk and al-Sabhan met with the SDF’s Raqqa Civil Council to discuss the rebuilding of Raqqa city. The sources added that al-Sabhan met with many leaders of Syrian Arab tribes in Raqqa. This was the first time when a Saudi official visited the SDF-held areas, and publicly met with officials of the SDF.
The real aim of the visit for sure goes beyond supporting the rebuilding of Raqqa city. The US might be pushing the Saudis to become a sponsor of the SDF.
While Saudi Arabia and the SDF share some goals in Syria, they also disagree on many matters. For example, the SDF wasn’t invited by Saudi Arabia to the Syrian opposition meeting in Riyadh on August 21. And from its side, many political leaders of the SDF blamed Saudi-sponsored Syrian opposition groups on many occasions.
Due to this, the US will need serious efforts to convince Saudi Arabia to become the supporter of the SDF, as the US may seek to decrease its direct support to the SDF after ISIS is defeated.
In a related development, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said at briefing on October 18 that US will “take the lead” in an effort to clear rubble and restore basic services in Raqqa, according to Reuters Agency.
“The United States and our allies have prepared for next steps and will continue to work with partners to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need and support the stabilization efforts in Raqqa and other liberated areas,” Nauert said.
Experts believe that running the Arab city of Raqqa will be a challenge for the Kurdish-dominated SDF even with the US support. If the SDF tries to implement some of its questionable policies in there, like forcing people to learn the Kurdish language, it will likely fail to run the city.
Meanwhile, the newly formed Qeyam Movement continued its attacks against Kurdish units across the SDF-held area. The group released a new video claiming that another member of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) was killed by its members. The Qeyam Movement is an Arab anti-SDF group operating in the SDF-held area.