Raqqa Doesn’t Want to Be Liberated By the West’s Partners

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 30 May 2017

Map of the tribes around Raqqa city (source: WINEP report)

We are now on the eve of the operation to evict the Islamic State (IS) from its Syrian capital, Raqqa, and, as expected, the United States will partner with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the front-group for the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which President Donald Trump’s administration has committed to directly arming.

Many of the doubts voiced about this course relate to Turkey, since the PYD/YPG is—despite continued efforts to obfuscate the fact—the Syrian department of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the premier internal security threat to Turkey for many decades. The discussion then tends to fall into one of two grooves.

One argument focuses on the Turkish government’s deeply problematic Syria policy and internal conduct—the democratic backsliding, including grave flaws in the recent referendum that will change Turkey’s presidency to an executive office, the corruption, and the abuses in the Kurdish-majority areas of Turkey—and concludes that this makes Turkey an unsuitable partner in Syria. The opposite point of view notes that, even if the repressive one-party autocracy being constructed by the PYD/PKK is overlooked, there is little strategic sense in the West potentially destroying relations with the state bridging East and West that guards Europe’s southern flank and possesses the second largest army in NATO for the sake of a Marxist militia trapped in the north-east corner of Syria, whose transnational ambitions have gained it the enmity of all of its neighbours and whose only positive relations are in the Iranian-Russian axis.

The Turkey-centric argument rather misses the point, however. The more important framing is local: that is where the success of the anti-IS operation will be determined. At the end of March, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) reported on the views of the four largest tribes in Raqqa—al-Bayattrah, al-Ajeel, al-Na’im, and al-Breij. They are unanimously opposed to the SDF/PKK occupying the city.

This matters so much because the growth of IS is a symptom of political illegitimacy across the Fertile Crescent, which means—in direct contrast to the assumptions behind years of failed U.S. policy that led to this moment—“how [IS is defeated] matters much more than when it is done.” The only stable outcome is for local populations govern themselves: displacing IS with the YPG, another force regarded as alien and illegitimate, will lead to populations seeking allies to overthrow this system. Turkey would surely seek to aid in undermining the YPG, but will probably be restrained by the U.S., and the U.S. itself is backing the YPG; this leaves IS as partner-of-last-resort, a lease on life that begins the cycle all over again while ensuring the West has even fewer allies and people who trust it next time.


Al-Bayattrah are a branch of the Aqidat, the WINEP report explains, the largest tribal federation in eastern Syria, with members throughout the provinces of Raqqa, Deir Ezzor, and Hasaka, plus the desert regions in the eastern parts of Hama and Homs Provinces. Al-Bayattrah were, with 10,000 residents, the largest tribe in Raqqa city on the eve of the uprising, and constituted half of the population of the down town or old city area, where they own many retail outlets and other buildings. There are six other important tribes in the city.[1] Some Bayattrah trained in the city schools and work physicians, engineers, and teachers, while still others work on the Gulf and send remittances back home.

The Bayattrah have been antagonistic to the Syrian Ba’ath regime from its inception in 1963, before the Assads, because of government land expropriations. The main political trends within the Bayattrah tribe are communist, pro-Iraqi Ba’athist, and Islamist of the Muslim Brotherhood kind—there is very little sympathy for the jihadi-salafists, neither Jabhat al-Nusra nor IS, within al-Bayattrah, though some of the more religiously-inclined did join Ahrar al-Sham. Just one Bayattrah family gave bay’a (an oath of allegiance) to IS, a poor family evidently seeking status.

The WINEP interviews find al-Bayattrah to be the most sternly anti-Assad of the four tribes, which leads to hostility to the YPG. The Bayattrah believe that the YPG’s conciliatory relationship with the regime coalition means Raqqa will be handed over to the Assadists after a YPG takeover of the city. Even if that did not happen, al-Bayattrah are opposed to the YPG’s idara dhatia (self-administration) system, seeing it as an expansionist, “Kurdization” project. The abuses in Tel Abyad—the first major Arab-majority city to fall under YPG rule—set a negative tone, and Minbij further eroded trust. The American promises that the YPG would withdraw once Minbij was liberated, leaving local Arabs to rule their own affairs, secured even Turkish backing for that operation. The YPG immediately violated these promises, imposing itself on the city and moving on Jarabulus, triggering the Turkish intervention. The current condition of Minbij—ruled from the shadows by PKK commanders, who hand over territory and residents to the regime—has confirmed some of their worst fears.

Al-Bayattrah present the most opportunity to U.S. policy, WINEP finds. While the tribe is “highly critical of … [President Barack] Obama’s Syria policy and his ‘weakness’,” which they see as having “strengthened Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, and the Assad regime,” their leaders “voice hope” that President Trump “would demonstrate more strength and seriousness in dealing with the Syria crisis.” The Bayattrah could be crucial to a post-IS governing structure in the city: they dominate the down town area, and the leader of the city council in the brief period it was free from Assad before it was plunged back into darkness under IS, Nabil al-Fawaz, was part of al-Bayattrah.

Al-Bayattrah have a “very welcoming” attitude to the possibility of extending Turkey’s Operation EUPHRATES SHIELD into Raqqa city, according to the interviews with WINEP. Al-Bayattrah have no illusions about the corruption and brigandage of some brigades of FSA-branded rebels through which the Turks are working, but they find Arab FSA fighters—some of whom are al-Bayattrah—far easier to deal with than the YPG and Assad.


Al-Ajeel are a branch of the Jabbur, the largest tribe in Hasaka Province, and the Jabbur’s territory stretches all the way to Saladin Province in Iraq. Totaling 50,000 people, al-Ajeel in Raqqa are mostly based in a fifty-square-mile territory between the areas west of Raqqa city and Tabqa, on the east bank of the Euphrates. The “family’s preeminent shaykh”, as WINEP puts it, lives in the village of al-Hamam, twenty miles west of Raqqa, though the “supreme shaykh” is in Azaz.

Most Ajeel “are uneducated farmers who live in their ancestral villages” growing crops or raising cattle, WINEP explains. Ideologically non-committed, the Ajeel were co-opted materially and became the most sympathetic to the Assad regime. When the Assad regime opened the first sugar beet factory in Raqqa, Ibrahim al-Hanadi of the Ajeel was appointed to head it. Al-Hanadi brought in hundreds of Ajeel tribesmen to receive these government jobs and soon became the secretary of Raqqa’s Ba’ath Party. This kind of cultivation had many equivalents, says WINEP. The patronage afforded the Ajeel since the 1980s has led to their reputation as regime clients. Fearful of the intelligence agencies and losing their income, the Ajeel did not participate in the early anti-regime protests. Most Ajeel have fled Raqqa since 2011, to Turkey or regime-held areas.

The Ajeel, especially the older ones, evince a strong nostalgia for the state salaries and “stability” of the regime’s rule, but the overall view of the tribe has become more mixed, with a trend toward an ever-more negative view gaining primacy among the young, who believe they will be persecuted as “collaborators” should the regime return. A significant reason for this is the regime’s perceived alignment with Iran, Hizballah, and other foreign Shi’a militias in a sectarian war against Syria’s Sunnis. In June 2016, when the pro-regime coalition launched an offensive toward Tabqa in Raqqa Province, about three-quarters of the military-age Ajeel tribesmen fled, fearing arrest, torture, and massacre.

There were always threads of anti-regime sentiment within al-Ajeel. One such trend that WINEP documents is an Islamist current, traceable to the younger tribesmen attending university in Aleppo where they came into contact with some of the more radical Salafi and Sufi preachers, who then took these ideas back to their villages. A classic case is the current IS wali (governor) of Raqqa, Ali Musa al-Shawakh (Abu Luqman or Abu Ayyub).[2]

Al-Ajeel, based to the west of Raqqa city, have no historical relationship with Kurdish communities, and are thus the least-strongly hostile to the YPG. Nevertheless, al-Ajeel have relatives in Azaz and steady reports of the YPG’s transgressions against Arabs in that area have been filtering back to the Ajeel. The Ajeel fear that the collaboration of people like al-Shawakh with IS will be used as cover by the YPG to expropriate property and expel al-Ajeel tribesmen. Overall, al-Ajeel oppose a YPG takeover of Raqqa city, but—ironically, since al-Ajeel are historically the most pro-Assad of the four tribes (though as mentioned this has altered now)—al-Ajeel present the second-most-promising source of opportunities for American strategy, after al-Bayattrah.

While some Ajeel tribesmen remain opposed to the U.S., partly out of a lingering sympathy for Saddam Husayn, whom dozens of Ajeel like al-Shawakh went to Iraq to try to defend in 2003, coming into contact with the IS movement, other Ajeel voice support for an American-organized and -led operation to liberate Raqqa city, so long as they do not do it via the YPG and do not do it Iraq-style. These Ajeel figures prefer that U.S. “military leaders and advisors” aid local tribesmen, WINEP reports, while Turkey provides direct support—money, weapons, and troops. The Ajeel near-unanimously welcome an expansion of EUPHRATE SHIELD to Raqqa city, believing Turkey intervened with no avaricious motives but only to block YPG maximalism, and Ankara’s FSA allies are seen as easy to engage with.


Al-Na’im “is one of the largest extended tribes in Syria,” WINEP notes, with members extending from Raqqa to Aleppo, Hama, Homs, and all the way down to Qunaytra Province (Golan Heights). Al-Na’im’s 15,000 or so members are found mostly on the fertile land north of Raqqa city, toward the Turkish border, in the Tel Abyad area, which is about the size of Lebanon and produced about two-thirds of Syria’s pre-war supplies of wheat, barley, and cotton. The Na’im were also beneficiaries of the warming Syria-Turkey relations between 2005 and 2011, which allowed an industrial boom alongside the agricultural one that modernized and expanded local production.

Like al-Ajeel, al-Na’im was generally apolitical with a history of regime patronage, but al-Na’im are not popularly seen as being as closely aligned with the regime as al-Ajeel, despite al-Na’im being known for having “good handwriting” (a euphemism for filing reports with the secret police). It is possible, however, that at this stage the Na’im are more sympathetic to the regime than the Ajeel, WINEP writes. Al-Na’im tend to enforce a clear distinction between the Assad regime and the Syrian Arab Army on one side, and the Iranian-controlled foreign and local militias on the other side, which al-Na’im see as viciously sectarian, bent on massacre and theft against Sunnis, and whom they are prepared to fight. Al-Na’im disapprove of the regime’s anti-rebel crackdown, but without much personal experience of it, since Rif Raqqa hasn’t experienced many airstrikes. This makes Bashar’s criminality more of an abstraction for al-Na’im when set against the memory of Hafez al-Assad, whom they see as providing security and subsidies to farmers, a set-up for which al-Na’im feel a deep affinity and nostalgia.

The Na’im, concentrated around Tel Abyad, are “the most hostile” to the YPG, according to WINEP. One al-Na’im tribesman says they “hate Kurds more than Israelis”. The Arab-Kurdish tensions across this belt of fertile territory long predate the Syrian war, and this has, so al-Na’im contend, escalated over the last two decades as Kurds have gotten “greedier,” with wealthy Kurds buying out Arab home-owners and farmers. Whatever the truth of that, the YPG is at present in the process of “seizing these lands, even though they are occupied by 95 percent Arabs”, says WINEP. The influence of Salafism/Wahhabism on al-Na’im tribesmen who went to Saudi Arabia for work proved not to be transmittable among the broader tribe in the way it was with sections of the Ajeel who brought Salafist and Islamist ideas back from Aleppo, but this fault-line with the Kurds has given IS its inroads into the Na’im tribe.

Al-Na’im’s key figures went over to IS quickly. In exchange for help against the YPG/PKK, al-Na’im facilitated the arrival of foreign jihadists for IS and their passage to Iraq, and filled the ranks of the organization. Dozens of al-Na’im tribesmen were killed fighting for IS at Kobani in October and November 2014, and WINEP records that about one-hundred al-Na’im “now hold prominent administrative or military roles with the Islamic State”.

WINEP concludes that the U.S. probably cannot do very much with al-Na’im at this stage: the resentment the Na’im share with the Ajeel for the U.S. deposing Saddam and (as they see it) handing Iraq to Iran could have been gotten past, but the U.S.’s exclusivist support for the YPG probably cannot.[3] That said, because the YPG is so central to al-Na’im calculations, that tribe is the most favourable to a Turkish-led operation to eject IS from Raqqa city, grateful for Turkey checking the maximalist ambitions of the YPG and hosting fully a third of the tribe. The Na’im are also impressed with the FSA groups that have worked under the EUPHRATES SHIELD Operation, seeing the FSA as having scrupulously avoided disrupting civilian life and even facilitated an intake of displaced persons to liberated areas, rather than causing displacement, as is fully expected from a YPG-led operation.


Al-Breij are a branch of Afadla, the largest tribe in eastern Raqqa Province. The Breij comprise about 40,000 people, concentrated east of Raqqa city along the Euphrates River Valley. The Breij areas start in the village of Fatisah Lakson, just over five miles east of Raqqa city, and extend through the town of Karama (population: 8,000), the Breij “capital,” to Judaydat Khabur, WINEP notes. Al-Breij live and work on good farmland, growing wheat, barley, cotton, corn, and other vegetables, but they are not wealthy.

Al-Breij have been heavily persecuted by the Assad regime, partly because of their communist inclinations, and partly because of the slight but definite Salafi tendency within the tribe. Before 2011, a number of al-Breij families had been converted to Salafism, either by contact with Wahhabi doctrine during work in Saudi Arabia or under the influence of Muhammad al-Khaddir, a cleric from Maadan. But the primary cause of the regime’s hostility to al-Breij was the tribe’s connection with the fallen Saddam regime, the Assad family’s great nemesis. In the 1980s, Shaykh Breij al-Abdulhadi fled to Saddam’s Iraq and lived in Baghdad, where he was granted economic and social benefits. It was al-Abdulhadi’s 35-year-old son, Tobad al-Breij, who fused the two strands—Saddamism and Islamism—within the Breij, which has proven the most receptive to IS.

Born in Iraq, Tobad moved to Syria after 2003 and earned a lot of money on construction projects in Raqqa city. Many Breij came to regard Tobad, not Ismael al-Hajo, the regime-recognized head of the tribe and a Communist MP, as the true shaykh of the tribe. Tobad led sections of the tribe into IS’s arms. Tobad financed anti-regime protests in 2011 and took the lead in supplying arms as the protest spiralled into an insurrection under pressure from the regime’s crackdown. Initially, many al-Breij—including the few who had joined the regime’s police—joined the FSA. Later, Tobad reached out to his father’s friends, the former (Saddam) regime elements (FREs) who were by this time senior members in IS. Tobad was appointed to chair the IS-run “Tribal Council” and functions as the Raqqa liaison for Dhaigham Abu Abdullah, the Saudi IS leader who runs the Office of Tribes. Tobad convinced many of his fellow tribesmen to take administrative jobs in the caliphate.

There was another factor that recommended the Breij to IS, according to WINEP: “al-Breij tribesmen have a reputation for toughness, setting the standard in Raqqa. If, for instance, two cousins have a dispute over land, such a disagreement could well prove fatal.” IS sent hundreds of Breij tribesmen to Kobani for the battle at the end of 2014, and the tribe itself estimates that it has lost one-thousand people fighting for IS, at least two-hundred from Karama, WINEP reports.

WINEP found that the Breij have an “extremely negative” view of the YPG, and, unlike the situation with al-Na’im, who share a border with Kurdish-majority areas, there was no Breij-Kurdish conflict before 2011. The Breij, like the Ajeel, believe a YPG occupation of Raqqa city will result in their being labelled IS sympathizers and subjected to dispossession and expulsion. The fear is even more intense for the Breij since “each al-Breij family has at least one member fighting [in the ranks of] the Islamic State,” WINEP writes, and the YPG have not been especially discriminating. The Breij see a future of enmity and even conflict with YPG, which the YPG seems happy to reciprocate. A YPG commander “said … he dreams of going to Raqqa province solely to kill al-Breij tribesmen who joined IS and attacked his hometown of Kobani. He expressed no outward hostility toward any Arab tribe except the al-Breij.”

In general, at every level—from educated, secular tribesmen to the farmers without formal schooling—al-Beij are vehemently opposed to Assad, Iran, and the mostly-Iraqi Shi’a militias.[4] But, says WINEP, the bitterness of al-Breij toward the YPG has led some of them to prefer the return of the Assad regime to control Raqqa city, rather than the YPG, if that binary choice is forced upon them. Some of the communists among the Breij also express a desire for anyone, “even Satan,” to save them from IS, and believe they might be able to find some common ground with the Assad regime—though they acknowledge this will probably lead to hundreds of executions of collaborators.

The Breij are the least promising tribe for an American-led strategy, WINEP concludes. It would be difficult to disentangle al-Breij from the IS governance structure. Even if Tobad al-Breij could be challenged or replaced, most of the tribe will never forgive the United States for sending Saddam to the gallows and—in their perception—handing Iraq over to Iranian-controlled Shi’a militias. The Breij also resent the failure of the U.S. to seriously support the mainstream, FSA-style rebels when it could have made a difference. The airstrikes on al-Breij villages have compounded this: what might have been an acceptable price for liberation is seen as further evidence of U.S. malign intent.

WINEP also found that the Breij were the only tribe that did not show a general receptiveness to a Turkey/FSA operation to liberate Raqqa city, so a U.S. strategy working through its NATO partner, which could be effective even with a hostile tribe like al-Na’im, is probably a non-starter with al-Breij. The Breij were instrumentalized by Assad at the outset of the uprising, its youth mobilized to quell the anti-regime protests, and the Breij feel they would be subjected to retribution should the city fall under the control of the Syrian opposition.


There was for a time some dismissal of the importance of the tribes; it was said to be a hangover from the Surge in Iraq and of no use to Syria. But the pro-regime coalition doesn’t seem to agree. In its quest to reconquer the country, Assad has continued t0 annex zones one clan at a time; Iran has built on the influence it had gained by proselytism before the war by penetrating and co-opting tribes across the north and east, even Russia has gotten involved in the tribal game. The fact is that tribes will remain crucial to the governance of the Jazira, and the contest for whose patronage they accept will determine the balance of power across the region and the success or failure of the mission to sustainably defeat IS.

The WINEP findings show that the brutality of the regime and its reliance on foreign Shi’a militias has created an increased anti-Assad view among the tribes, but there remains a nostalgia for the “stability” of the old order and various connections, notably among al-Ajeel and al-Na’im, that will allow the pro-regime coalition cards to play in the contest for Raqqa and the Euphrates River Valley.

The tribes have “a generally poor opinion of the United States,”, WINEP records, based on the mishandling of Syria by Obama and reinforced by the civilian casualties from the Coalition airstrikes against IS—which in the tribes’ perception come out of the same airspace as the regime and Russia, to enable the expansion of an alien occupier. But the tribes’ perception of this as an Obama problem means that there are—or were—some opportunities. There is great fear that accusations of being “pro-IS” will be used as a pretext to persecute tribesmen, so the U.S. has some room to move if it offers stability through a local, non-sectarian political program, and energizes its anti-Assad policy. The crucial recognition, WINEP stresses, is that all four tribes are “hostile” to the U.S.’s current partner, the YPG/SDF, and the political structure it is proposing to erect in Raqqa.

The SDF’s “failure to enlist almost any members from Raqqa’s Arab tribes” has hardly helped, WINEP notes, and none of the tribes take seriously the claims that Arabs have any influence within the SDF. Perhaps taking in Raqqawi tribesmen would make the SDF more acceptable, but there are reasons to doubt this. The tribes’ fears about the YPG include: its political system, particularly its conscription of women, its alignment with the pro-Assad coalition, and the reports of abuses against Arabs in other areas. “[I]t appears to be that familiarity breeds contempt,” as the WINEP report notes: “only the tribe farthest from Kurdish areas and south of the Euphrates, the al-Ajeel, is willing to even contemplate a future Raqqa in which the YPG/SDF would play a major role”.

Synthesising WINEP’s findings: If the U.S. offered a track independent of the YPG, al-Bayattrah could be the basis of a stabilization force in post-IS Raqqa city, and with the right incentives and manoeuvring—to empower older tribesmen over the younger ones, for example—some accord could be reached with the Ajeel to undermine al-Shawakh’s wing of the tribe, allowing the clearance of the west and southern zones around the city. To enlist the Na’im north of the city would be more difficult, but a serious re-evaluation of the balance in the U.S. policy between support for the YPG/PYD and the Syrian opposition, with the YPG’s expansionism contained and lethal munitions able to be used against Assad, too, might—or might have—brought al-Na’im on board. The Breij are likely irreconcilable, and will perhaps form the basis of a sustained insurgency from the east of the city against any new order.

While the tribes prepared to work with the U.S. will countenance more U.S. troops being deployed in eastern Syria, none of them envision a “heavy footprint,” and such a move could ignite a broader insurgency. What these tribes want is indirect support—trainers, logisticians, and advisors—for a Turkey-led operation on the EUPHRATES SHIELD model, about which there is “cautious optimism,” WINEP reports, from all except the Breij, with whom Turkey could perhaps reach an accommodation if she really meant to move into Raqqa. “To some, Turkey represents a seemingly nonexpansionist counterweight to the YPG/SDF forces … Those tribesmen skeptical of Turkey’s role say they have been impressed by the degree to which Euphrates Shield leaves local people to their own affairs,” and “Turkey’s training of Raqqa tribesmen in southern Turkey for an operation against IS has made a strong favourable impression”.[5] The belief that Turkey will depart any time soon is wishful thinking since whatever force displaces IS will be needed to stabilize the area for some time to come.[6]

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[1] Six other important tribes in Raqqa city are: al-Ojely, al-Bashri, al-Hassoun, al-Akrad, al-Shabil Salamah, and al-Goeder.

[2] Ali al-Shawakh (Abu Luqman) was radicalized by Mahmoud al-Aghasi (Abu al-Qaqa), a jihadi cleric in the pocket of Assad’s military-intelligence service, who was set up in a mosque in Aleppo City by the Assad regime and helped mobilize thousands of jihadists to cross the border into Iraq during the invasion. Al-Aghasi played a part in the Assad regime’s collaboration with the IS movement to destabilize post-Saddam Iraq right up until he was assassinated in 2007. Al-Shawakh went to Iraq many times between 2003 and 2010, but was primarily a Syrian-based facilitator shipping the foreign fighters into IS’s predecessor—under the close watch of the regime. Al-Shawakh was taken into custody a number of times and finally arrested for a longer stretch in one of the periodic crackdowns of the mid-2000s. Al-Shawakh was imprisoned in Sednaya, but turned loose by the regime in the wave of amnesties in the first weeks of the protest movement in 2011 that freed many jihadists—while filling the cells at Sednaya with peaceful oppositionists—in an attempt to stain the opposition with sectarianism and terror. Al-Shawakh had been al-Nusra’s deputy governor in Raqqa; when he broke away and joined IS, he personally killed his superior, Abu Saad al-Hadrami, in January 2014, and since then “became IS’s most trusted leader from Raqqa province,” helping solidify IS’s control of the province by, inter alia, inducing the defection of al-Nusra operatives. Al-Shawakh was also responsible for empowering Fawaz al-Hassan (Abu Ali al-Shar’i), a fanatical preacher from the (below mentioned) Breij tribe and the group’s “dirty hand” in Raqqa, who was killed in April 2016, and Ali al-Sahou (Abu Abdurrahman al-Amni), a Raqqa Province native who had been studying agricultural engineering in Deir Ezzor and was IS’s security chief in Raqqa city.

[3] Al-Na’im tried to work with the U.S.—even after the U.S. begun facilitating the expansion of the YPG into Arab areas as a side-effect of the anti-IS war—by providing 10,000 names for a train-and-equip program in Turkey, only to be told this was conditional on support only being used against IS, not Assad or the YPG. The Na’im withdrew from the program in fury, and now “most al-Na’im tribesmen … reject U.S. involvement” in Raqqa.

[4] There is a common perception among the Breij that, after the fall of Mosul, al-Hashd al-Shabi will be moved over the border to help Assad/Iran occupy Raqqa. Some Breij tribesmen say they are willing to go to Iraq to fight the Iranian proxy Shi’a militias. In some cases this willingness to fight the militias in Iraq is because of a lasting resentment at the Shi’a militias for (in the Breij view) being responsible for executing Saddam Husayn. And some Breij in the ranks of IS actually did go to Mosul to confront the Hashd.

[5] Another view was expressed to me by Hassan Hassan, who comes from al-Bukamal and retains contacts inside Syria, notably in the tribal areas. “[M]ore and more people are disillusioned with the Turkish role in northern Syria,” says Hassan, and this is true even among those who previously aligned with the Turks. “One reason for this is that Turkey has shifted focus and abandoned the rebels midway [through] in northern Syria,” letting Aleppo city fall in exchange for keeping the EUPHRATES SHIELD area safe. The Arab rebels feel they have been usurped and used as proxies against the YPG and IS by Turkey, and the fear of a repeat is making some notables among the tribes look more fondly on the U.S., even if it means having to make terms with the YPG. This dynamic is present in Raqqa, but it is more powerful in Deir Ezzor, the final redoubt, “because there are no Kurds in the province, so there are no concerns about a Kurdish dominance of Deir Ezzor,” Hassan says. The tribes “are keen to work with the U.S. and the YPG as long as there is a fair political formula. This is of course a reflection of current attitudes, it does not mean that is the optimal solution. Things may unravel after the Islamic State is defeated.”

[6] While a protracted Turkish presence in eastern Syria could serve Western interests, there is also an argument to say that Turkey is engaged in ethno-social engineering, of a kind not-dissimilar to that of which it accuses the YPG/PKK, through the empowerment of Turkomen proxies, importation of Turkish ultra-nationalists, and the payment of teachers and police in the EUPHRATES SHIELD areas.