Raqqa: ISIS’s De Facto Capital
By Paloma Delgado
Raqqa is located on the Northeast bank of Euphrates river in Syria. The city was first captured by the Syrian opposition and then ISIL (or ISIS) forces in 2013. In 2014, ISIL made Raqqa its capital city. Now, Raqqa is home to ruins and decrepit homes destroyed by airstrikes on behalf of the Syrian government, Russia and the U.S.
According to media activist Bashaar Abu Hadi, “The regime withdrew from Raqqa like the Israelis withdrew from Gaza – they wanted a bad example.” Isis began to attack shrines and churches, causing much of the Christian population to flee Raqqa in fear. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is a multi-ethnic group of Kurdish and Arab bands whose mission is to defeat ISIS in Raqqa. This coalition was first established in
late 2015 and is backed by the U.S. The SDF was able to breach the 1,300 year old wall that surrounds the city of Raqqa on the 4th of July. It is estimated that there are around 2,000 ISIS fighters still in Raqqa. The SDF was recently able to retake control of the al-Yarmouk neighborhood which is west of the city of Raqqa.
The effort to regain the city of Raqqa, however, is not only being pursued by Syrians but many foreigners as well. In fact, there are a handful of American and British volunteers who are seeking justice. A 33-year-old from Pasadena, California, Taylor Hudson, compares the fight in Raqqa to the Battle of Berlin during World War II. "This is the Berlin of our times," Hudson says. This war is something extremely personal for the men that have come to Raqqa to fight. For some, it is seeing the pain that so many have endured and for others, it is a way to avenge the pain that they themselves have suffered.
The Syrian Air Force has heightened airstrikes in the city of Raqqa, striking their headquarters in the south of al-Zamla Village and in the city of Madan, killing a number of terrorists. They have also continued a number of airstrikes in the eastern countryside of Homs and the western part of Deir Ezzor, destroying many armored vehicles that belonged to ISIS. It is now estimated that 35 percent of Raqqa is under control by the SDF.
Regaining Raqqa from the hands of ISIS is extremely significant, it being the location in which they have designed much of their attacks abroad. It would send a message. But how close are the SDF and other opposition groups to taking back Raqqa? There is much disagreement, some saying that the fight will not last much longer, others believing that ISIS will never be expelled from Raqqa. And while it will take time and strategic planning, the SDF may possibly find victory in upcoming months. However, this is not to say this is time for celebration. The killing and torturing continues and there will be no reassurance and peace until ISIS has been completely immobilized.