Far from front line, vol­un­teers pre­pare to re­build Raqa

Manila Times - - OPINION - AFP PHOTO AFP

As US-backed forces from its last hide­outs in Syria’s Raqa, a city coun­cil-in-ex­ile is al­ready work­ing to bring life back to its dev­as­tated home­town.

From a buzzing head­quar­ters in Ain Issa, 50 kilo­me­ters north of Raqa, Syr­ian en­gi­neers and lawyers are set­ting pri­or­i­ties for re­build­ing their bat­tle-scarred city.

“We know ev­ery inch of Raqa. All we need is the announcement of lib­er­a­tion—which we ex­pect to hear in the com­ing days,” said 27-year-old Mo­ham­mad Has­san, an en­gi­neer and mem­ber of the Raqa Civil Coun­cil.

He laid out a map of the city, point­ing out a pair of wa­ter pump­ing sta­tions re­quir­ing restora­tion and ma­jor thor­ough­fares that will need to be cleared of rub­ble.

“We’ll start on the out­side and work our way in,” Has­san said en­er­get­i­cally.

Around 90 per­cent of Raqa has been re­cap­tured by the US-backed Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces since June, but much of the city has been re­duced to ru­ins by heavy bom­bard­ment that has ren­dered whole streets un­rec­og­niz­able.

Al­most like a sym­bol of the RCC’s ea­ger­ness to get to work, bull­doz­ers for re­mov­ing de­bris are parked out­side its hum­ble

Founded six months ago by the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces, the Kur­dish RCC boasts more than 100 vol­un­teers from the city and its out­skirts.

Men and women of var­i­ous ages, eth­nic­i­ties, religious sects, and pro­fes­sional back­grounds, they are di­vided into 14 com­mit­tees work­ing on every­thing from re­open­ing schools to restor­ing wa­ter and elec­tric­ity sup­plies and re­pair­ing hos­pi­tals and homes.

First, the mines

of the coun­cil’s re­con­struc­tion com­mit­tee, is re­mov­ing a sea of ex­plo­sive de­vices the ji­hadists have left in Raqa’s streets, public in­sti­tu­tions and even pri­vate homes.

“This is a huge chal­lenge—we can’t do any­thing else be­fore get­ting rid of the mines,” Ibrahim al-Has­san, a sil­ver-haired en­gi­neer with thick-rimmed glasses, told AFP

“The sec­ond phase is restor­ing the wa­ter and elec­tric­ity net­works. After all that, we can turn to the schools. These are the es­sen­tial pri­or­i­ties.”

Has­san said most build­ing ma­te­rial would likely be im­ported from the neigh­bor­ing Kur­dish re­gion of Iraq, although he did not rule out sup­plies com­ing in from Syr­ian gov­ern­ment-held ar­eas in Aleppo or Da­m­as­cus.

The bull­doz­ers parked out­side, to­tal of 56 ma­chines the coun­cil is set to re­ceive in the com­ing weeks as part of a grant from the US State Depart­ment.

Both the American gov­ern­ment and the US-led coali­tion back­ing the of­fen­sive to re­cap­ture Raqa are in­volved in “short-term, quick impact projects” to bring Raqa back to life, op­er­a­tions in Syria.

They would in­clude sup­port­ing de-min­ing op­er­a­tions in and around crit­i­cal build­ings like schools and hos­pi­tals, and pro­vid­ing food and health sup­port once Raqa is re­cap­tured.

every­thing. We have no money or de­sire to spend 20 years here demin

emer­gency aid op­er­a­tions for Syria said the US had helped the RCC “prepo­si­tion” more than 900 tons of food—in­clud­ing rice, beans, and wheat—for im­me­di­ate de­liv­ery once the Raqa of­fen­sive is over.

The op­er­a­tion has also ear­marked wa­ter tanks, sewage trucks, and hy­giene kits for tens of thou back into the city.

‘A lot of pain’

The Euro­pean Union has also pledged some $3.5 mil­lion (three mil­lion eu­ros) to fund de-min­ing projects, said RCC mem­ber Ab­dul­lah Arian, a lawyer from Raqa who vis­ited Rome last month with other coun­cil mem­bers to so­licit in­ter­na­tional funds.

“Raqa was de­stroyed so that ter­ror would not hit Wash­ing­ton, Paris, or Lon­don,” Arian told AFP.

Raqa gained a rep­u­ta­tion as a key IS launch­pad for over­seas at­tacks.

“Those who took part in its de­struc­tion should be part­ners in its devel­op­ment,” Arian said.

But RCC mem­bers say they can­not yet set a price tag for re­build­ing Raqa be­cause the on­go­ing of­fen­sive means they have yet to en­ter the city it­self.

Arian and his six chil­dren, who were smug­gled out of the IS-held city around 15 months ago, are wait­ing to see what is left of their home.

“Raqa won’t be the same city that of pain,” says en­gi­neer Laila Mustafa, the RCC’s co-chair.

She also urged the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to shoul­der the re­spon­si­bil­ity for re­build­ing her home­town, but ruled out a role for the gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad.

“On a per­sonal level or work­ing with com­pa­nies (in gov­ern­men­theld ar­eas), we don’t have any prob­lems,” she said. “But we won’t deal with the regime, nei­ther po­lit­i­cally nor eco­nom­i­cally.”

Chart shows dam­age pay­ments in Ja­pan for work re­lated stress, and fa­tal­i­ties. AIN ISSA, Syria:

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