On April 18, 2017, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the establishment of the Raqqa Civil City Council. They made this announcement on a meeting in Ayn Issa village north of Raqqa.
According to Kurdish officials, the Raqqa Civil Council includes representatives of Kurdish and Arab tribes from Raqqa province. The council is fully under the control of the Kurdish self-administration, in which the Kurds are an absolute majority.
In the official statement, “the participants decided to establish a Civil Council that will ensure the administration of the province after liberation through its specialized committees in the field of social justice, services, security, protection, education, health, media, youth and women. And they elected Sheikh Mahmoud al-Bursan and Miss Leila Mustafa for the joint presidency along with three deputies”.
After its formation, the Council issued a number of resolutions, including:
- The return of the displaced population to the province;
- Working on the development of the security and defense systems;
- Rebuilding after the liberation of the entire province;
- Giving the leading role for women and youth, and organizing society;
- Reactivating all institutions, organizations and services that have been disrupted or damaged because of the war.
The civil council is currently operating from Ayn Issa village as a temporary headquarters because Raqqa city is still controlled by ISIS.
The Raqqa Civil City Council was widely criticized as it is dominated by Kurds. The Kurdish population is a very small minority in Raqqa province. The council also includes representatives of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which has no supporters in the province.
In terms of security, the Syrian Democratic Forces and the US-led coalition are training “Security Forces” that will be deployed in the city after the US-backed forces get control over it. However, these forces have also been criticized despite the fact that inhabitants of Raqqa and the Arabs are a major part of them. Security forces also include Kurds who are not from Raqqa province. Kurds also occupy some of leadership positions, according to local sources.
On April 19, 2017, pro-opposition public figures, media activists and opposition activists from Raqqa issued an official statement rejecting the Raqqa Civil City Council, which was formed by the SDF. According to the statement, the SDF is engaged in forced displacement against the people of Raqqa province.
The statement said that the SDF is exploiting the support of the US-led coalition on the one hand and civilians’ need for the salvation from ISIS on the other. The head of the legal office in the former council of Raqqa, lawyer Asid al-Mousa, said that the civil council is illegal.
He said that the SDF tried to legislate the council by a meeting of the elders and Sheikhs of Raqqa tribes that were allegedly forced to attend it after the seizure of their towns and villages by the US-backed forces. Al-Mousa added that Raqqa’s elected council is headed by lawyer Saad al-Shawish, whose current headquarters is in the Turkish City of Orfa. He manages the work of the residents of Raqqa who were forced to fee to Turkey by the SDF and ISIS.
From its side, the Kurdish self-administration announced that Raqqa might join the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria proclaimed by the PYD. If it happens, it might further contribute to tensions between the Arabs from Raqqa and the SDF. The “self-administration” of the proclaimed federation is nothing more than a PYD administration.
Many experts believe that even if the SDF withdraws from Raqqa after its liberation and formally transfer control over it to the Raqqa Civilian Council, SDF-controlled security forces will remain a tool of the PYD control over the city.
Another problem is that the PYD/SDF plan to include Raqqa into its federation faces opposition from the local population. The locals believe that in this case the Arab city may end up under absolute control of the PYD and Kurdish-dominated security forces.
The Syrian government has not officially commented on the issue so far. US sources have talked about the impossibility of running the Raqqa Civil Council without cooperation with the government that can provide basic services. This cooperation seems to be difficult in light of the recent tensions between the SDF and the Syrian Arab Army.
The SDF-backed civil council has a very difficult task if it really seeks to establish a real self-administration in the city. It will face a number of difficulties:
- the PYD desire to keep Raqqa in its area of influence;
- an opposition of the Raqqa population to the PYD- controlled administration;
- a lack of coordination with the Syrian government that may contribute to restoration of crucial humanitarian services in the province destroyed by the war;
- Arab-Kurdish and Kurdish-Turkish tensions.