Three years after the liberation of Raqqa

Three years ago Raqqa was freed from IS domination. The city, located about 200 kilometers west of Aleppo, has since been rebuilt. The previous three years of reign of terror have left deep traces.

After the Iraqi city of Mosul was occupied by the so-called Islamic State (IS) in 2014, the jihadists marched into Raqqa, one of the largest cities in Syria, with the weapons captured there. The Al-Qaeda group Jabhat al-Nusra and the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) abandoned the city. A little later, Raqqa was named the capital of the "IS Caliphate" and covered with a reign of terror oriented on the Salafist interpretation of the Sharia. From Raqqa, the IS gradually took over many other Northern Syrian cities and turned its attention to Kobanê in September 2014. The IS attacked the city on three fronts but met with unparalleled resistance. In Kobanê, the terrorist militia suffered its first defeat and was from then on pushed back bit by bit to its center Raqqa.

On June 6, 2017, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched an offensive to liberate Raqqa and, after five months of fierce fighting, ended IS rule there on October 17. The declaration for the liberation of the city was made by the Women's Defense Units (YPJ), which were fighting on the front line against the IS. The declaration was announced to the whole world in Al-Naim Square, where the Islamic State had carried out public executions.

The administration of the liberated city of Raqqa was handed over after a short time to a civil council already founded in April in Ain Issa. A large part of the city had been destroyed by the IS and during the liberation offensive. Reconstruction was hampered above all by the booby traps left behind by the IS. At the same time, covert cells of the IS continued to carry out attacks. Today, according to information from security circles, there is relative calm and stability in the city. Mahmut al-Said, who belongs to the management level of internal security, emphasizes that this was a very difficult process: "First, mines and explosive devices were cleared. Then the cells of the IS and more recently those of the Turkish state and government in Damascus had to be prosecuted".

The Arab tribes from the region played an important role in the social reconstruction by the civil council. With the beginning of the Turkish invasion in October 2019 in Serêkaniyê (Ras al-Ain) and Girê Spî (Tal Abyad), cells that had continued to exist in Raqqa were also reactivated. Some of them belonged to the IS, while others were under the control of the Turkish state and the jihadists it recruited. On October 22, 2019, armed units of the Syrian government were stationed on the Turkish border as a result of an agreement between Russia and Turkey. After that, the cells of the Assad regime also became active in the region.

The common goal of these cells, commanded from different centers, is to destroy security and stability in the region. To this end, attacks were carried out in Raqqa on members of the civil council, politicians and tribal elders.

Nur al-Zib, co-chair of the Civil Council of Raqqa, points out that after the announced withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern and eastern Syria, it was assumed by many sides that the system that had been laboriously built up in the city would collapse. It was even claimed that the Civil Council would hand over the leadership of the city to Damascus again. "Thanks to the cohesion of the population and the tribes and the declared rejection of external interference, the Civil Council was able to successfully remain in place," explains the co-chairman. Social solidarity ensured that the attempt to stir up conflicts between the population groups failed, he says and adds: "Through the cells of the Syrian regime, people close to the autonomous administration were attacked several times. Attempts were made to create chaos in the region. However, the population has acted prudently and thus these attempts have come to nothing".