After almost four years, the people of Raqqa have finally been freed from the heinous rule of Daesh.
Residents have described living under Daesh as absolute hell, with their views echoed by the tens of thousands of civilians who suffered under the same fate.
Over the last few months, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) comprised of Kurdish and Arab fighters surrounded Raqqa. On 6 June 2017, the SDF announced the ‘great battle’ and launched their offensive to retake the city from Daesh control.
The offensive began in the urban areas to the east, where the SDF rapidly gained control over several neighbourhoods. As witnessed in Mosul, Daesh began to infiltrate civilian homes, booby-trap and plant mines across the city, and used civilians as human shields and prevent civilians from leaving Raqqa.
The initial target for the SDF remained the Old City, which was the source of sustained heavy fighting. The Old City was eventually captured on Friday 1st September, signalling a major blow for Daesh. Over the last few weeks numerous central neighbourhoods were freed before the strategic 17th Division Base, which had remained divided for months, was finally captured. The capture of the National Hospital and the Na’im roundabout – the site of numerous executions and crucifixions carried out by Daesh – subsequently followed, and with it, the defeat of Daesh in Raqqa.
Following the expulsion of Daesh, the main priority for all actors now should be the humanitarian situation. Whilst some citizens have returned to their homes, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been displaced over the last year alone. Aid was restricted with water supplies and electricity being cut off. Raqqa has been a living hell for all its residents under Daesh rule. Civilians have been stoned in public, and innocent children have been brutalised into becoming executioners. Daesh believed it has the right to even arbitrarily kill Muslims on spurious religious grounds.
Raqqa civilians were terrorised by Daesh and their human rights violated. Those who were fortunate to escape Daesh remember the horrors committed by the group. “They killed my son four months ago,” said one man. “They took him and slaughtered him”.
Beyond the challenges of eliminating Daesh from the city, the ground forces fighting to take Raqqa face an uncertain future, with tensions between groups intensifying the challenge of administering the city post-Daesh.
However, a Raqqa Civilian Council is now in control of the city, and although disagreements over future governance remain, the inclusion of Arab, Kurdish and Turkmen members represents a promising early sign that it could yet offer an inclusive model for administering the city.