Top Developments: Why the Battle of Raqqa Matters


SEATTLE — Since 2014, the city of Raqqa, an important economic hub of Syria, has been at the forefront of the war against the Islamic State. Raqqa is known as the de facto capital of IS. The Kurdish-dominated Syrian Defense Forces and U.S. coalition groups have played a pivotal role in the final phases of the war offensive in Syria.

According to the United Nations and the international charity Mercy Corps, nearly 80 percent of the city has been deemed uninhabitable. Since April 2017, over 200,000 individuals have been trapped in the city. Moreover, casualties currently number over 1,800. Unfortunately, Raqqa has also been the scene of some of the worst human rights violations in recent times, with civilians being used as human shields for IS fighters.

Consequently, a similar struggle was also seen in the fight against IS in the cities of Aleppo and Mosul, which have been the site of some of the most extreme forms of urban warfare. In order to fortify the city effectively, IS forces have resorted to a number of methods like digging trenches, developing intricate tunnel systems and erecting barricades.

The city of Tabqa, a key part of the military operation, has been a major place of refuge for countless civilians fleeing the aftermath of the Battle of Raqqa. Tabqa is also an economically prosperous and resource-rich city due to the presence of oilfields. The Tabqa dam, a key strategic frontier, was recaptured from IS forces.

Additionally, infrastructure in the city is still in rapid decline after the Battle of Raqqa. Hospitals and healthcare services in Tabqa are in a state of disrepair, and a number of schools throughout the city have been destroyed by artillery fire and airstrikes.

A top priority after the Battle of Raqqa is to mitigate the negative impacts of the offensive on the civilian population, trade and commerce of the city.

During the course of the Battle of Raqqa, the UNHCR sent aid convoys to multiple fronts of the insurrection so that aid could be distributed evenly. Yet, the UNHCR still estimates that 30,000 to 50,000 people are crippled by the unavailability of necessities like clothing, food, water and shelter.

To date, the United Nations has provided important life-saving humanitarian aid and assistance to over 13.1 million individuals across Syria. However, despite success on this front, U.N. aid agencies face many problems as they still remain confined by crossline convoys. Cross-border aid routes are essential, as they reach a larger percentage of the civilian population. Many individuals remain in dire need of humanitarian aid. Aid workers also had to work in extreme conditions in Raqqa in July, with temperatures reaching over 50 degrees Celsius.

Saudi Arabia, an important coalition partner in the Battle of Raqqa against IS militias, is aiding in the reconstruction of the city of Raqqa. Saudi officials are planning to contribute to the rebuilding of critical infrastructure and other essential facilities. The first step of the process will include clearing landmines and bodies, along with repairing electricity and water supply services.

USAID chief Mark Green made an unscheduled visit in an effort to monitor the stabilization and progress of the city after the withdrawal of U.S. forces. So far, the U.S. has provided funding of over $875 million in stabilization efforts and initiatives in the city.

Recently, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ursula Mueller pledged the support of the United Nations to the citizens of Raqqa. Mueller highlighted the absence of trauma care services and the importance of interacting with other crucial stakeholders on the ground.

The success of the Battle of Raqqa is emblematic of the diminishing control and dominance of IS in the region. Similar to the progress in other key cities like Mosul and Aleppo, local civilians can soon hope to resume their normal lives after resettlement and restoration initiatives in the near future after the clamorous civil war.

– Shivani Ekkanath

Photo: Flickr


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