‘People in Raqqa have to deal with two evils, ISIS or Assad’

The Guardian reports: The city where the western hostages slain by the Islamic State (Isis) terror group were held is nervously preparing for an onslaught. Each night since Barack Obama said he would bomb Isis targets in Syria, residents of the eastern city of Raqqa – those who support the group and those who abhor it – have sat in fear waiting for the air strikes to begin.

Many believe that the city’s civilians will pay the price of a campaign to root out Isis, which after controlling Raqqa for more than a year is now well embedded in its ramshackle neighbourhoods and entwined into much of its social fabric.

Isis has run Raqqa with impunity since it ousted the Syrian regime in mid-2013, fearing no foe and ruthlessly imposing its worldview on a population that has been unwilling to confront them.

There is widespread revulsion at Isis’s brutal ways. Most know of the beheadings of the hostages. The same sort of summary slaughter takes place most days in the city’s main square – routine killings without hearing or mercy. Many families say they have stopped taking their children to public parks.

It is Raqqa’s silent, seething anti-Isis rump on whom the US and its regional partners will depend to eventually rise up. But before that happens, the spectre of a deadly air assault is terrifying many.

“I believe most of the casualties will be civilian,” said Abu Mohammed, 33, a shopkeeper. “The majority will be from Raqqa and very few from Isis. Many of our young men in the city have joined Isis either because of fear or because of the wages they give, which is $400 (£246) per month. This is a very good salary for us here.”

Abu Mohammed said he had adapted to the group’s hardline rule and saw Isis as a better option than the regime of Bashar al-Assad. “We are afraid that after the US air strikes, the regime will take control of the city. Assad is a criminal and his regime is brutal. We had bad experience with the Free Syria Army [FSA], they are corrupt and now we are getting used to Isis’s Islamic rules. Day after day, they are getting better with people.”

Abu Maya Al-Raqawi, 40, a media worker from the city, said: “Some people are already fleeing the city as they know that civilians are going to be the real victims for these air strikes. Raqqa will be completely destroyed. We all know that Isis are spreading themselves among civilians and they occupy the FSA and old regime headquarters, which are in civilian areas. People in Raqqa have to deal with two evils, Isis or Assad. Which one is better? I don’t know the answer.” [Continue reading…]

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