Located in the southern Raqqa countryside, the history of Tabqa City represents one of the more important milestones in the war against ISIS. Like the provincial capital of Raqqa City, Tabqa was taken over by ISIS militants in 2014 and remained under their control until May 2017 when the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) liberated the city. The SDF would use the city as a springboard to besiege Raqqa City from the south.
The city was the second largest urban area taken by the SDF and the first with a significant Sunni Arab majority. It would therefore prove to be a significant test of the self-governance project initiated by the SDF. So far, the efforts to return life in the city to normal have gone reasonably well. Numerous residents of the city, as well as people displaced from other parts, have returned. The Tabqa City municipality has been working hard to ensure that all their services can reach their intended recipients. Although traces of ISIS rule remains, much of the city has shown signs of moving past the group’s three-year rule.
Despite the positive mood, however, the pace of reconstruction and economic revival continues to be a concern. In particular, citizens and members of the local government are concerned about the high unemployment levels. Before the war, Tabqa was a manufacturing city, with much of the citizenry employed in local industries, government institutions or the nearby Tabqa Dam. The war has destroyed the local industries and severely limited the operational capacity of the dam. Meanwhile, the self-governance institutions are cash-strapped and are not able to pay their employees enough, especially compared to pre-war levels. In order to make ends meet, many employees in these sectors sought work in trades and services, causing fiercer competition in these sectors.
High commodity prices remain another concern. Prices for many commodities such as fuel and food skyrocketed during the last days of ISIS rule, as a siege was imposed on the city. Although transport routes have reopened, they are still subject to interruptions due to the territories south of the city being controlled by Syrian Government forces while in the north, Turkey has closed nearly all its borders leading into SDF territories. As such, prices remain high for ordinary families, especially as unemployment remains a concern.
Despite these troubles, many citizens in Tabqa agree that life has improved notably since the departure of the militants. However, the pace of reconstruction must continue in order to ensure that the group’s virulent ideology, tied to its claims of capable governance, do not find hold on the city once again.