EXCLUSIVE – Aghiad Al Kheder
The city of al-Raqqa gained the title “caliphate capital” internationally, despite the hatred of the people of the city for this name, which is considered as a curse to them. Nevertheless, the reality is that the world and ISIS contributed to imposing it, despite the existence of cities that are more significant for ISIS than the city of al-Raqqa, which is one of the first cities that ISIS imposed its control over, turning it from a desert’s life to urban.
ISIS kept governorates like al-Anbar and al-Mosul outside its media coverage to keep the attention away from them and spare its fighters the monitoring and bombing by the coalition. The camp that trained the executors of Paris attacks was located in Deir Ezzor desert and al-Anbar, contrary to what was shown in an ISIS video that the training was conducted in the headquarters of Division 17 that undertakes weekly bombings, making it impossible to have the camp there. These governorates are the economic reservoir used by ISIS in financing its movements.
ISIS succeeded in attracting bombardment to al-Raqqa and made it the point of revenge for anyone wanting to fight terrorism. Civilians have to pay for any terrorist acts happening in other countries, jokingly thanking God that Barcelona tied with Real Madrid, otherwise the losing team would have bombed them, implying that “everybody takes revenge through bombing al-Raqqa”.
Having al-Raqqa under scrutiny caused ISIS to lose a number of prominent western and Arab leaders, noting that they were targeted while they were passing through or visiting the city. This prompted ISIS to reconsider and avoid additional losses, especially with launching the “Euphrates Anger” battle led by the People’s Protection Units (YPG) militias. ISIS took it seriously in the beginning and transferred a number of its fighters’ families that had newly arrived from the Iraqi city of al-Mosul, to the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor. These families were Turkish, Uzbek, and Asian only.
Subsequently, ISIS deliberately distributed the European families to villages and small towns in Deir Ezzor governorate, as well as Iraqi villages across the borders, since it was geographically far from the operations against ISIS and the coalition’s attention. It kept the Arab fighters and families in al-Raqqa to maintain an atmosphere of competition between the so-called “foreigners and supporters”.
Although not all European fighters occupy leading positions or are within the leaders of the second and third ranks – as the first rank leadership is exclusively for Iraqis, their significance to ISIS is for promotional purposes and within its media war against coalition countries, since these fighters are not all experienced in combat and ISIS does not aspire to return them to their homelands to carry out attacks. The cease of the flow of fighters to ISIS-controlled areas made it think hard how to secure the few remaining fighters who were not bombed by the coalition or died in ongoing battles.
ISIS transferred the European fighters from al-Raqqa city to the Syrian-Iraqi borders, and distributed them on both sides, thus hiding them and ensuring that fighters of the same nationality do not gather in one area. ISIS feared that they would establish an inside bloc that would topple its leadership, after the incident with “Battalion al-Battar” in Deir Ezzor whose members were Libyan and tried to take over the leadership of ISIS that was able to disperse and control them.
Although there are no Europeans in al-Raqqa, it remains the target of airstrikes and missiles as it is perceived as the “caliphate capital” by the world, the capital of revolution by al-Assad regime, and people of al-Raqqa as infidels in the eyes of ISIS; as such, al-Raqqa is the way to all those who wanted to release their anger.