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12 Feb, 2018 06:28

‘Ghost town’: Residents of ‘liberated’ Raqqa left to rebuild their ruined city unaided

Months after its liberation from ISIS by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, Raqqa still lies in ruins. However, neither the militants nor the coalition itself seem to be keen on helping to rebuild the destroyed Syrian city.

The north-eastern Syrian city, which was once the de-facto capital of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorist caliphate, was retaken back in October 2017. However, more than three months after what was hailed as a liberation, Raqqa still looks more like a battlefield rather than a living city.

Entire residential compounds have been reduced to rubble. Numerous residential buildings have sustained irreparable damage or been rendered uninhabitable. The streets of the city, which are surrounded by the ruins of what were once residential districts, are still filled with debris.

“We are living [in] a tragedy amongst destruction,” a local resident, who identified herself only as Khawla, told RT’s Ruptly video news agency. The misery of the people who once suffered from the tyranny of IS has not ended with the terrorists gone.

The city landscape is dominated by partially collapsed buildings. The anti-terrorist operation, praised by the US came at a high price: months of massive artillery shelling and the US-led coalition bombardments accompanied by intense clashes between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and terrorists devastated as much as 80 percent of the city.

“We are humiliated people, who were kicked out of their houses because of [IS], and as we returned to our houses they were gone. We got rid of [IS] but our houses were flattened to the ground. Look at the destruction around you, it is a ghost-city,” another Raqqa resident, Fayyad Omar Mayel, told Ruptly.

“There is no electricity, no water, no telephone, no mobile service,” Khawla said, adding that Raqqa residents are still “suffering from the destruction” as well as “from the lack of markets and shops.”

However, the SDF that controls the area does not seem to be particularly concerned about the plight of local residents. The US-led coalition that played a major role in the offensive on the “terrorist stronghold” and contributed to reducing almost the entire city to dust also appears to be in no rush to help those in need.

“Really, the truth is that life is horrible here. We saw no progress with removing the rubble and destruction, no one helped us,” Mohammad Junaid, a former local teacher, said. The locals, who have been abandoned by their “saviors” and left to struggle with the post-war devastation on their own, have to pay for the clearing-up operations from their own pocket.

“We are paying for the bulldozers ourselves, we are buying water ourselves,” Junaid said. He noted that he once saw a banner for the ‘Early Rescue Association,’ which is supposed to be one of the relief groups allegedly working in the city. However, the former teacher said that he never saw anyone from this group.

The coalition also apparently forgot about those it helped as Raqqa residents received “nothing at all” from the US and its allies, who did not spend “even a penny” on humanitarian aid to the city, according to Junaid.

“All we know is that it is the coalition that is responsible [for the destruction of Raqqa] in the first place and it should be the first to help us. Clearing the wreckage from Raqqa and offering utilities like water is easy for them, but they are difficult for us. We don’t have vehicles to bring water from far with water tanks,” a local resident, Fayyad Omar Mayel, told Ruptly.

The SDF also took almost no interest in the life and struggles of the people living on the territories they now control. The Raqqa residents even started to doubt whether life under the “liberators” would be as democratic as claimed. “What is the meaning of the ‘democratic’? It is supposed that there is tolerance and cooperation, freedom, aids for the people, because people had more than enough. We came here since eight months and we received nothing,” Junaid said.

In the meantime, the SDF appears to have already imposed some sort of curfew, effectively barring locals from accessing basic commodities. “I want to be able to go outside [the house] if my son gets sick during the night but it is forbidden here,” Mayel said, adding that the locals are also not allowed to rent or ride a car at night.

The most shocking fact about the life of Raqqa residents is that the city is still full of mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) left by the terrorists, as the US-backed forces and the coalition itself apparently gave not conducted a proper demining operation in the area. The grim legacy of the jihadists has already started taking its toll on the local population.

Left without any assistance, the locals had to remove the dangerous explosives by themselves, and some of them died trying to defuse the IEDs. “We are citizens, not soldiers,” Radwan Hajji Jasim, a man, who was injured in one of such operation, told Ruptly.

Jasim’s friend and neighbor told him “there was a mine between [their] houses” and the two decided to remove it, fearing a “kid might play with the wires” and unintentionally detonate it. “My friend ... he died,” the man said, as he told Ruptly about the incident, in which he was injured.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday that homemade landmines have killed and injured hundreds of civilians — including more than 150 children — in Raqqa since IS was pushed out of the city in October 2017.

“These numbers will most likely increase as more people return,” said Nadim Houry, HRW’s terrorism/counter-terrorism program director. 

The organization said that IS planted the antipersonnel mines when it controlled the city, and that the explosives include “devices often called ‘booby traps’ or improvised explosive devices (IEDs).”

The plight of Raqqa residents is strikingly similar to that of the people who live in another big city recaptured forces backed by the US-led coalition. Mosul in northern Iraq still lies in ruins seven months after it was retaken from IS.

The landscape of the once bustling second city of Iraq is now dominated by devastation left by the months of heavy fighting between Iraqi forces and the terrorists. Bodies of militants and civilians are still scattered around the city streets half-buried in the rubble. Meanwhile, the US-led coalition seems to be in no rush with the aid it once promised to its residents.

Washington also recently announced it does not plan to contribute any money to Iraq’s reconstruction at a donors’ conference in Kuwait that is scheduled to take place on Monday. “We are not planning to announce anything,” a US official told Reuters ahead of the event.

In early January, the US announced it would double the sum of reconstruction aid to the Iraqi government in 2018 to $150 million, but this is just a tiny fraction of what is needed. The reconstruction of Mosul alone could take billions of dollars and as long as five years, Iraqi officials assessed.

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