(Repeats with no changes)
* Raqqa assault may be a defining moment in the U.S.-led war
* Kurdish flags hang on walls, women sing patriotic songs
* Kurdish commanders seem confident of victory in coming
* Coalition air strikes continue but fewer car bombs
By By, Michael and Georgy
RAQQA, Syria, June 15 Kurdish fighter Habun
Kamishli proudly recalled the cat and mouse game she played with
an Islamic State suicide bomber in the Syrian town of Raqqa,
where the militant group is likely to make its last stand.
“I was standing on a rooftop yesterday as our forces
advanced. I noticed he was trying to sneak from one street to
another to get into the building and kill us,” she said.
“Then I took a picture of his body with my phone. We are
avenging the deaths of our fellow Kurds.”
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, made up
predominantly of Kurdish fighters, has seized territory to the
north, east and west of Raqqa. The city of about 200,000 has
been the base of operations for Islamic State, which has claimed
responsibility for multiple attacks on civilians across the
The assault on Raqqa is likely to be a defining moment in
the U.S.-led war on Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Along with the Iraqi army’s campaign to drive out Islamic
State in Mosul, the other centre of its self-proclaimed
caliphate, it threatens to deal a major blow to the militants.
Spirits were high among Kurds on Thursday, as they
identified Islamic State targets on an iPad and fired mortar
rounds towards them.
Nearby, a Kurdish fighter listened to communications on a
radio. Coalition aircraft had spotted militants in a car and
were about to attack.
The mood along a Raqqa street was a far cry from the fear
that took hold when the extremist Sunni militants group declared
a caliphate in Iraq and Syria and moved towards building a
Kurdish YPG militia flags hang on the walls of buildings
beside names of fighters and women sang patriotic songs.
Shops taken over by the militants were abandoned, with just
a few empty chocolate boxes left. Large billboards with the
group’s original name Islamic State in Iraq and Syria felt like
part of a bygone era.
Kurdish women commanders seemed confident of victory in the
next few months.
“We have them surrounded on three sides and many can’t
escape anymore,” said Samaa Sarya. “Some manage to escape on
wooden boats along the river at night.”
The number of car bombs, a favourite Islamic State weapon,
has fallen from about 20 to 7 a day. Coalition air strikes are
exerting heavy pressure on Islamic State.
Still, dangers persist. Minutes later, Sarya received word
that a drone operated by Islamic State dropped a bomb on Raqqa,
wounding 12 of her comrades.
Some Kurdish fighters estimate there could be as many as
3,000 militants left in Raqqa, where buildings are pockmarked
The Syrians left, but foreign fighters stayed and were busy
planting landmines and booby trapping houses, Kurdish fighters
said. Islamic State snipers were highly effective, they said.
“Today our movements were delayed by snipers,” said Kurdish
fighter Mostafa Sirikanu.
Gunfire could be heard as Kurdish militiaman Orkash Saldan
pointed to a wall about 500 metres away.
“Daesh are just beyond that point,” he said, walking past a
rocket Islamic State fired two days ago.
In a nearby building, where Islamic State had left behind
mattresses and clothes, he pointed to a small teapot.
“You never know they could have put a bomb in that teapot or
that television,” he said.
(Editing by Anna Willard)