What did the US-led Coalition Decide to Defeat: Islamic State or Raqqa?

PART ONE

The ancient mud brick walls circling Raqqa’s deserted old city are almost the only structure still intact. Inside, shops and homes spill crumbling concrete onto either side of the narrow roads, block after block.

Fighting between U.S.-backed militias and Islamic State in the jihadist group’s former Syria stronghold has peppered mosques and minarets with machine-gun fire while air strikes flattened houses. No building is untouched. Senior council member Omar Alloush estimated at least half the city has been already completely destroyed.

“The old clock tower could be heard from outside the walls once. It’s damaged now. It’s silent,” Mohammed Hawi, a Raqqa-citizen, said at a nearby home occupied by the Syrian Democratic Forces alliance (SDF). Driving militants out has caused destruction that officials say will take years and cost millions of dollars to repair. A major bridge leading into eastern Raqqa lies collapsed after a latest coalition air strike. Beyond it, damaged water towers and the skeletons of teetering residential blocks dot the skyline. “We’re waiting for help to repair the east bridge,” co-president Leila Mustafa, a civil engineer, said. “If it doesn’t arrive soon, we’ll begin ourselves, using any means we have, though we have practically nothing.”

Smoke rises at the positions of the Islamic State militants after an air strike by the coalition forces near the stadium in Raqqa, Syria, October 4, 2017. (Reuters/Erik De Castro)

The nascent Raqqa Civil Council, set up to rebuild and govern Raqqa, faces a huge task. It says aid from countries in the U.S.-led coalition bombing and burning all around while fighting IS is ridiculous. The failure to quickly return services to the city that was once home to more than 200,000 people, mostly now displaced, risks unrest, Council warns.

“Infrastructure is completely destroyed by the airstrikes and mortar shelling. Water, electricity networks, bridges – all of the facilities are practically ruined or in very poor condition. There’s not a single service functioning,” said Ibrahim Hassan, who oversees reconstruction for the Raqqa council at its headquarters in nearby Ain Issa.

The other problem is civilians of Raqqa dying every day as a result of assaults. “There are also bodies under rubble, of civilians and terrorists. These need reburying to avoid disease outbreaks,” Omar Alloush said. Amnesty International has said the U.S.-led campaign, including air strikes, has killed hundreds of civilians trapped in Raqqa. Residents have reported civilian deaths, but it is difficult to establish how many people have died.

The coalition says it allegedly does all it can to avoid civilian casualties. But the city is densely built up and militants firing from homes are often targeted by air raids. Corridors for locals don’t work. People bear the brunt of the humanitarian catastrophe now taking place in Raqqa. There’s a gap in humanitarian assistance at a glance. The council said coalition countries were reluctant to aid the Raqqa council, made up of local engineers, teachers, and doctors.

“It seems that we gave our city as a sacrifice for the sake of defeating terrorism. Now it’s the world’s duty to help us,” say people of Raqqa. The questioned people also say that they have no support of the US-led coalition and of Western countries in restoring and reconstruction. The US-led coalition is fighting terrorism for months without considerable success but with significant damage to all. So it seems the coalition is trying to defeat Raqqa instead of ISIS. The only question is who will rebuild the city after horrible airstrikes of the coalition? People of Raqqa are asking themselves about it. They also seek help and justice and are crying out for care. Many locals described themselves as overwhelmed by fear about the future and feelings of hopelessness.

• Logical deductions of John Davison from Reuters were used in the piece.

PART TWO

Restoration of Syria: Who will Gain What?

Now that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has successfully defeated or neutralized much of the insurgency in his country, domestic and international attention has begun to turn toward stabilization and reconstruction. It is now possible to envision a postwar Syria, at least in parts of the country.

Yet large sections of the international community—including, critically, key donor countries—continue to reject the legitimacy of President al-Assad and his regime. The United States and its allies have given up on their proxy war in Syria, with which they had pushed for al-Assad’s negotiated removal from power. But now restoration seems like the next battle to shape Syria’s political order. For backers of the so-called moderate Syrian opposition, restoration funds are their last remaining tools to pressure the Government. Experts are now proposing convoluted schemes for how the West can rebuild Syria in spite of al-Assad or how it can condition its restoration money on political concessions from the regime.

There is a less complicated solution: Do not fund the restoration of al-Assad’s Syria.

In a high-profile speech in August, President al-Assad warned his adversaries that they would not negotiate their way to victory. “We won’t let enemies, adversaries, and terrorists, through any means, accomplish through politics what they failed to accomplish on the battlefield and through terrorism,” he said.

The West should take al-Assad at his word. Syria’s restoration cannot be dictated or meaningfully shaped by Western donors—at least not to any satisfactory political ends. There are limited humanitarian arguments for investing in reconstruction. But in political terms, the West does not have a role to play.

It seems that the West won’t put a dime in the restoration of Syria without any profit whether it would be political, economic or some other gains. President al-Assad may be faced with the problem onto one. The only thought that springs to mind is the help of al-Assad-backers. Hope a United Nations committee will help. Syrian Government allies have been already lending a helping hand despite the absence of visible plausible futures. Where are others?

Sam Heller ‘s logical deductions were used in the piece.

Sophie Mangal is co-editor of Inside Syria Media Center.

Read other articles by Sophie.