The battle for Raqqa, the Syrian city serving as the â€œcapitalâ€ of ISISâ€™ caliphate, has begun. Youâ€™d never know it from the media coverage, but a Christian force is taking part and is asking for U.S. support and prayers.
The Syriac Military Council (SMC) and its female wing, the Bethnahrin Women Protection Forces (HSNB), have issued a press release announcing their participation in the offensive on Raqqa. The SMC is a part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a U.S.-backed, multi-ethnic force led by Kurds. The Syrian Democratic Forces are about 55,000-strong and include 29,000 Arabs.
The 2,000 members of this Christian unit complains that the international community is discriminating against them in its support for the Syrian Democratic Forces. The press release reiterates their request for help — a request theyâ€™ve been making since April.
â€œWe ask them [the international coalition] to support us in equal measure as our Kurdish and Arab brothers and sisters,â€ it says.
The SMC is asking Christians around the world to pray for guns, ammunition, minimal bloodshed and a speedy victory. About 4,000 ISIS fighters are in Raqaa, preparing for a street-by-street battle.
The Christian female fighters and their Kurdish allies see themselves as warriors for women’s rights who will open a new chapter for their gender in the region.
â€œThis is a fight for all women in the world. ISIS is the worst oppressor in modern time, if I will be able to help release some of the women they are holding hostage and selling as sex slaves, itâ€™s enough for me. I am ready to die for that.
â€œItâ€™s also a struggle for the survival of my people, the Assyrians/Chaldeans/Syriacs and for all other Christians in Middle East. I am ready to die for that, too,â€ said Bushra, one of the Christian female fighters.
Among other objectives, the forces hope to liberate about a dozen Christian families who remain in Raqqa, a city that used to be 10% Christian. The Christians have reportedly been banned from leaving.
After ISIS took over, it issued seven strict rules for Christians living in Raqqa in accordance with traditional sharia law, such as banning criticism of Islam and the display of crosses in Muslim areas.
There are about 100,000 civilians living under ISISâ€™ theocratic rule in Raqqa. There are reports that ISIS is stopping them from leaving so they can be used as human shields.
Raqqa is the last of the three main cities of ISISâ€™ caliphate. Dabiq, a city that is central to ISISâ€™ claims of fulfilling apocalyptic prophecies, fell without much resistance in October. Mosul is in the last stage of liberation. ISIS fighters there are preparing a last stand at the Grand al-Nuri Mosque where their leader declared the ISIS caliphate in 2014.
Raqqa is expected to be a tough fight, but it is only one-fifth the size of Mosul. ISIS leaders are already moving to Deir Az-Zour, where the group is fighting forces loyal to Syrian dictator Assad backed by Iran and Russia. Others are retreating to Mayadin, including chemical weapons experts, as well as the Iraqi city of Al-Qaim near the border.
According to an Iraqi government assessment in early May, the â€œcaliphâ€ of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was hiding in one of four places: Al-Baaj near Mosul; Al-Qaim on the Iraqi side of the border; Deir al-Zour or al-Bukamal on the Syrian side of the border. Al-Baaj was recently captured.
The SMC and its allies have every reason to believe the fight with ISIS will continue after Raqqa falls, making the Christiansâ€™ requests even more urgent.
And, after ISIS falls, the SMC is likely to fight Al-Qaedaâ€™s affiliate in Syria and its allies, as it has done in the past. There is no shortage of Islamist â€œrebelsâ€ that the Christians will need to defend themselves against.
The Islamist government of Turkey is threatening to attack the Syrian Democratic Forces in Raqqa if President Erdogan deems them to be a threat. SMC condemned Turkey for bombing Kurdish targets in April and may very well come under attack from Turkish proxies in the near future.
The SMC is also opposed to the Assad regime. In other words, the SMC Christians have plenty of enemies to worry about for the foreseeable future. The aid they are asking for from the international community should be granted without hesitation.