Threat of Wider War in Syria Grows Daily

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19 June 2017 | | Military Times

Bolstered by coalition air-power, Kurdish forces in Syria have entered the second week of fighting to seize the city of Raqqa, where nearly 2,000 ISIS fighters are battling to maintain control of their de facto capital in a bloody street-by-street battle.

The fighting has slowed down inside of Raqqa, where just a week ago Kurdish fighters advanced rapidly to reach the historic walls of the Old City, a fortified area built in the eighth century by the Abbasid Caliphate.

But as that battle rages on, Syrian regime forces supported by Iranian militias have penetrated east, just south of Tabqa city, toward one of ISIS’ last bastions, the city of Deir ez-Zor and the small collection of Sunni majority villages along the Euphrates river.

As ISIS rapidly loses territory, the U.S. and its partner forces in the region have come into increasing conflict with Syrian regime and Iranian-backed militias in a competition to control the strategically important Euphrates River Valley.

The river valley and city of Deir ez-Zor are strategically important to the goals of the U.S., Syria, Iran and Russia. For the U.S. it has been the scene of more than 360 airstrikes since March, and its location and demographics are important to U.S. strategy in Syria and Iraq.  Deir ez-Zor is “where IS will survive, with Anbar on the other side of the border, unless it’s rooted out,” said Kyle Orton, a senior fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think tank.

The Sunni majority population in the Euphrates River Valley could complicate the U.S. goal of eradicating ISIS from the region. Analysts note that ISIS sympathies run deep in the region, and its proximity to the Iraqi border could become a destabilizing factor in rebuilding the war-devastated region and quelling any Sunni insurgency in a post-ISIS environment inside Iraq.

“Many of the important Sunni towns are located in the valley” said James Phillips, a senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at The Heritage Foundation, a think tank in Washington.

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