Winter is coming: Who will rebuild Raqqa?

Syrians displaced from the fight against IS in Ain Issa camp, north of Raqqa (Andrea DICenzo/IRIN)

A city without people

Since the SDF offensive began in June, the US-led coalition has reportedly dropped some 20,000 munitions on Raqqa. According to the monitoring group Airwars, in August alone the city was pummelled with 10 times more bombs than all of Afghanistan over the same period.

YPG fighters on the western front of the battle for Raqqa (Andrea DICenzo/IRIN)

Bombs under the rubble

The security situation in Raqqa is extremely precarious. SDF sources told IRIN that IS fighters are still thought to be hiding inside the city, claiming to have caught one as recently as Friday.

The Raqqa Civil Council

The SDF has said it will hand power over to the Raqqa Civil Council, a group set up in Ain Issa last April. Like most SDF-backed organs, and in stark contrast to the values enforced by IS, the council has a gender-balanced double presidency: Leadership is shared by Leila Mustafa, a Kurdish woman from the border town of Tel Abyad, and her male Arab counterpart Mahmoud al-Borsan, a former member of the Syrian parliament and a leader of the Walda tribe, which is influential in Raqqa.

The politics of reconstruction

Though the PKK’s Syrian affiliates are known to run a tight ship — they have proven themselves far more adept at administering territory than most of Syria’s armed groups — they lack the resources and trained cadre necessary for launching a major rebuilding programme on their own. The SDF will have to depend on foreign allies to fund the reconstruction of Raqqa, and that’s where things start to get complicated.

With reconstruction a longer-term goal, preparing for winter in camps like Ain Issa is a priority for aid groups (Delil Souleiman/UNICEF)

A role for Riyadh?

But there may be ways to bypass the political blockages in Washington: The US-led coalition has reportedly tried to get Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to step in and pay for Raqqa’s reconstruction.

Hurdles on the road to Damascus

This is a bit of a problem for the SDF, which seems to view cooperation with al-Assad as a necessary evil to ensure the survival of their project in northern Syria.

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