But efforts to drive a stake through its heart in Raqqa now depend on an uneasy alliance of Kurds and Arabs, in street battles where the only option is to push on or die.
Raqqa has been the capital of Islamic State since the Caliphate was declared by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi two years ago.
On its outskirts, a gruesome snuff-movie industry was born with the on screen murder of Jim Foley and other western hostages.
And it was from this city that edicts covering everything, from the price of wheat to how to execute a homosexual, were issued.
For the last two months, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) backed by special forces groups from the US, UK, France and elsewhere in the west and Arab world, have been steadily pushing IS back.
The SDF, led by Kurds but including Arabs from elsewhere in Syria, although well trained, is lightly armed and short of the sort of numbers that can allow for any pause in the campaign.
This was clear on the Eastern Front, where the SDF has been rapidly advancing parallel to the Euphrates River but was rattled by an IS counter-attack.
The death cult’s fighters used tunnels to sneak deep behind the SDF lines and attack at night. Five suicide bomb vehicles charged from the city towards SDF soldiers just as the tunnellers emerged.
Three vehicles were destroyed in airstrikes but two got through. Several anti-IS fighters, many of who have had intense training by American forces, were killed. We saw three bodies.
A Kurdish senior officer said that his men were cut off in a number of locations and that more dead and wounded were still stuck on the battlefield waiting to be removed.
“Dino”, a veteran Kurd fighter, said that 30 to 40 IS fighters had cut communications between comrades but had, by the end of that day, been beaten back.
This was only partly true. One kilometre further, a coalition special forces team was spotting for aircraft and SDF teams were still searching for more infiltrators.
This is a battle essentially without front lines.
The SDF do not have the numbers to hold ground, consolidate and move forward. Their only chance of a quick victory lies in racing hard, skirmishing all the way to the centre of the city.
An estimated 3,000 to 3,500 IS fighters – volunteers from outside Syria – are believed by the US to be at the core of this battle.
Brett McGuk, the US envoy to the coalition against IS, said this week that all foreign fighters will die in Raqqa.
A “take no prisoners” policy may appeal to a public disgusted by the violent antics of the so-called Caliphate and its henchmen. But human rights groups are unlikely to endorse such a wholesale death sentence.
More importantly, perhaps, is that a new administration for the area, the Civil Council for Raqqa, is taking charge of areas outside the city and making plans for the conurbation when IS is driven out.
Leila Mustafa, its Kurdish co-president and a civil engineer from Raqqa, said that Syrians who are with IS would be given amnesty if they did “not have blood on their hands'”.
She said 83 had been pardoned in Ain Issa and 152 near Tabqa to the south of the city.
She was confident that peace could be held in a post-IS dispensation. This may be wishful thinking.
It is unlikely that a city like Raqqa, so deeply Sunni Arab dominated, will accept even part rule by rival Kurds from the north west of their country.
But for now that is a problem that has been shelved. For now there is a fight to win, and one that must be won fast.