May 23, 2018
By Whitney Webb
The growing discontent among Syrian civilians in areas under American control suggests the unraveling of the US occupation of Syria may come from internal not external forces.
A handful of groups claiming to resist the U.S.-led occupation of Northeastern Syria have sprung up throughout the region since the year began — targeting U.S. forces as well as the U.S. proxy in the area, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Since last year, the U.S. has been occupying over 30 percent of Syrian territory, as well as most of the country’s oil, gas, agricultural and fresh-water resources.
Most of the groups have sprung up in areas of Syria under U.S. and SDF control, citing the U.S.-appointed local government’s inability to tackle major issues, like restoring water supplies and stemming discrimination against non-Kurdish civilians as the main factors behind their decision to oppose U.S. occupation.
The first Syrian resistance group to target the U.S. occupation, the pro-government Popular Resistance of Raqqa (PRoR), was formed in February in the city of Raqqa, where according to monitors, a U.S.-led battle to retake the city killed over 1,800 civilians. Eighty percent of all of the city’s buildings were destroyed in the battle — including critical infrastructure and its water supply — and the area remains littered with landmines. Since the U.S.-appointed government has taken control, little has been done to improve living conditions in the city.
The PRoR announced in a video statement:
We officially declare the formation of the popular resistance in Raqqa to prevent the American aggression from taking over any part of our beloved Syria after it [the U.S.] gathered terrorists from all over the world as their proxies; who destroyed the city of Raqqa and killed its innocent people.”
The group later called on the people of Raqqa to resist the U.S. and its proxies by “engaging in demonstrations, strikes and opposing all efforts to partition Syria.” As has reported over the course of the conflict, partitioning Syria has long been a goal of the U.S.-led coalition and is the driving force behind the U.S. military’s ongoing presence in the region.
PRoR has since attacked U.S. military assets, including a U.S.-occupied Syrian military base near Raqqa, which the group shelled in early April. Al Masdar News reported at the time that the group has also had some success in covertly recruiting locals “who are opposed to the U.S.-appointed government’s policies and the U.S.-backed SDF.”
The message of the PRoR seems also to have taken hold among some of Raqqa’s civilians. Since the group encouraged local resistance in the form of protests and strikes, several civilian protests against the U.S. occupation have taken place in Raqqa, including those that have expressed support for the Syrian government and President Bashar al-Assad. The most recent of these protests took place in May.
Resistance to foreign rule no surprise
Though emergence of local resistance may seem to have been an unintended consequence of the U.S.’ occupation of the area, such resistance – namely from Arabs and non-Kurds native to the area – was anticipated by the U.S. and its proxies prior to their taking control of the city.
In June 2017, the greatest obstacle that faced U.S./SDF plans to annex Raqqa as part of the Kurdish “autonomous region” was the native population of Raqqa itself, which is historically Arab. At the time, it seemed highly unlikely that any Arab or non-Kurd would willingly choose to live as a second-class citizen under the rule of a Kurdish-dominated and U.S.-appointed council, as opposed to the equal standing they once enjoyed when the city was under Syrian government control.
These concerns were exacerbated by widespread reports of the Kurdish militia “ethnically cleansing” Arabs from villages around Raqqa, as well as the mass deaths of civilians that marked the U.S.-led coalition efforts to retake Raqqa.
However, Kurdish efforts to permanently expel Raqqa’s Arabs failed. Following the city’s liberation from Daesh (ISIS), over 95,000 native inhabitants of Raqqa – many of them Arab – returned. Since then, Russian military sources claim that “the native Arab population is subjected to repression and punishment” by U.S.-appointed leaders, many of whom are Kurdish and not native to Raqqa, causing “sharp discontent among local residents.”
The chief of staff of Russia’s military contingent in Syria, Col. Gen. Sergey Rudskoy, noted “[the commands] of the Syrian Democratic Forces and local governments, appointed by the Americans, do not cope with the need to resolve humanitarian problems.”
Indeed, given that the critical infrastructure destroyed by the U.S. coalition has yet to be restored – including the city’s water supply — and the fact that the U.S. has diverted funds for “rebuilding” the area into more weapons for the SDF, Raqqa’s civilians may soon become convinced that those resisting the U.S. occupation are more interested in their welfare than are their occupiers.
A spreading resistance
Recent events elsewhere in U.S.-occupied Syrian territory have suggested resistance to the U.S. military presence is spreading well beyond Raqqa.
On Monday, three U.S. Army soldiers were killed in the Syrian province of Hasakah, in the country’s Northeast — an area that is currently occupied by the United States and its Kurdish-majority military proxy, the SDF. While the soldiers’ deaths were largely ignored by Western media, local media noted that the deaths occurred after three military vehicles crashed while patrolling the town of Tal Tamr, and suggested a resistance group aimed at ending the U.S. occupation may be to blame.
Th deaths in Hasakah raise questions as to whether popular resistance against the U.S. occupation of the territory is spreading. Indeed, Hasakah has recently suffered from U.S. airstrikes, including one earlier this month that killed 25 civilians and injured 10 more near the town al-Shaddadi in Hasakah’s south. Other reports on the incident claimed an entire family was killed in the strike. Such atrocities are likely to spark further resistance to the U.S. occupation, as has happened on numerous occasions over the course of the U.S.’ “War on Terror.”
Time will tell if resistance to the U.S. occupation is spreading. Regardless, the growing discontent among civilians suggests that the unraveling of the U.S. occupation of Syria may come from internal, not external, forces.
*Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News and a contributor to Ben Swann’s Truth in Media. Her work has appeared on Global Research, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has also made radio and TV appearances on RT and Sputnik. She currently lives with her family in southern Chile.