March 28 – By Scott Lucas – eaworldview – The leader of the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Party (PYD) has made a play for the city of Raqqa, saying it should join a Kurdish autonomous region when it is taken from the Islamic State.Salih Muslim said his plan is for the city to join a “democratic federal” system: “We expect [this] because our project is for all Syria…and Raqqa can be part of it. Our only concern is that the people of Raqqa are the ones who take the decision on everything.”

Raqqa does not have a large Kurdish population, unlike areas of northeastern and northwestern Syria; however, control of the city would help the PYD pursue the goal of joining the two northeastern cantons of Kobane and Cezire with the northwestern canton of Afrin. The blueprint for the new Kurdish region, Rojava, was approved by a constituent assembly in December. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have sought for months to move on Raqqa, fully controlled by ISIS since early 2014. However, the offensive has been delayed by political issues: Turkey believes the PYD and its YPG militia, the largest force in the SDF, are part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK.

In the past week, there has been an escalation which could lead to an assault on Raqqa. The US, the main backer of the SDF, has put in more equipment and special forces, and it has carried out the first airlift of SDF fighters. On Sunday, the SDF captured Taqba airbase, about 40 km (25 miles) west of Raqqa, which ISIS took from the Assad regime in August 2014. Turkey’s Daily Sabah, close to the Erdoğan Government, immediately lashed out at Muslim’s statement: “The outlawed terrorist PKK’s Syrian offshoot the Democratic Union Party’s (PYD) on Monday hinted that, once liberated, it would treat Raqqa, a predominantly Arab Syrian town, as part of its territory.

US & SDF: “No Risk” of Tabqa Dam Collapse

Both the US military and SDF have asserted that there is no “imminent danger” of the collapse of the Tabqa Dam, as the Kurdish-led forces closes on the Islamic State. ISIS warned on Sunday, as the SDF took the Taqba airbase, that the dam could collapse because of high water levels and a halt to working systems. It said the control room had been damaged by US airstrikes.

The SDF said it paused operations for four hours on Monday so engineers could carry out inspections. A spokesman said the 4.5-km dam, 40 km (25 miles) downstream on the Euphrates River from Raqqa, should be fully captured within days after the its northern entrance was seized last week. Colonel Joseph Scrocca, a spokesman for the US-led coalition, said, “To our knowledge, the dam has not been structurally damaged. We do not assess the dam to be in imminent danger unless ISIS plans to destroy it.”