By Bryan Yeoh Quan Jin, International News Writer
On October 17, the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) ceased all military operations in the city of Raqqa after four months of continuous battles with Islamic State forces.
SDF spokesperson, Talal Selo said to The Guardian that although military operations have ended in Raqqa, sweeping operations are continuing to destroy sleeper cells if they exist and to cleanse the city from mines. However, he stopped short of declaring the liberation of Raqqa. “The situation is under control in Raqqa and soon we will announce the liberation of the city.”
The recapture of Raqqa is symbolic, as the Islamic State had designated Raqqa as the capital of its self-declared caliphate. With the fall of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s territory now consists of a strip of the Euphrates valley and surrounding desert between Syria and Iraq. Prior to the recapture of Raqqa, Iraqi forces had managed to seize control of Mosul from Islamic State forces earlier this year.
Although the recapture of Raqqa is a momentous event in the fight against the Islamic State, the human cost has been massive. UK-based monitoring group, The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least 3,250 people had been killed in the past five months. Besides that, months of incessant airstrikes and ground fighting have destroyed essential infrastructure and living areas. The recapture of Raqqa by Syrian forces is but the start of a long rebuilding process that will take years.
Lina Khatib, head of the Middle East and North African program at Chatham House in an interview with The Guardian warns that there are fundamental issues of governance and ethnic tensions that require attention first before the rebuilding process can move forward. The SDF is mostly composed of Kurds while the local residents of Raqqa are mostly Arabs.
On the other hand, Nick Heras of the Center for a New American Strategy mentioned in his interview to Reuters that the greatest challenge for Raqqa and local Syrian partners who are trying to rebuild Raqqa is the ambiguity of Trump administration’s Syrian policy.
The removal of Islamic State in the region presents a gap in regional governance that may stoke future conflicts over territories. Local governance needs to be reinstituted to prevent power grabs from occurring.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, October 24th print edition.
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