The Current

Raqqa free from ISIS but civilians still suffering, says terrorism expert

"Electricity, water, basic necessities, hospitals — these are all things that are going to be rebuilt, and so far no one really wants to take that responsibility."
A civilian prays after she was rescued by fighters of Syrian Democratic Forces from the stadium after Raqqa was liberated from the Islamic State militants in Raqqa, Syria, Oct. 17, 2017. (Erik De Castro/Reuters)

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The northern Syrian cityRaqqa had been the Islamic State's last stronghold. On Tuesday, ISIS lost control of its defacto capital, a major blow for an organization that brutalized the population in a grisly display of power.

But despite the initial relief, Raqqa now represents an uncomfortable reality — a city devastated by bombing, a population traumatized beyond measure and a political situation with no clear way forward.

"Clearly the defeat of ISIS in Raqqa is important for the military effort but also we're very concerned about the fate of the civilians in Iraq city today," says Nadim Houry, director of the terrorism and counterterrorism program at Human Rights Watch.   

A view of Raqqa's National Hospital, the last stronghold of the Islamic State militants in Raqqa, Syria, Sept. 30, 2017. (Erik De Castro/Reuters)

In a visit to Raqqa province in July, Houry noted that post-war efforts were not "well thought out" as a result of focusing resources into the military effort.

"Which means that the civilians are suffering even after ISIS is defeated," Houry tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"Electricity, water, basic necessities, hospitals — these are all things that are going to be rebuilt, and so far no one really wants to take that responsibility."

Fighters of Syrian Democratic Forces jubilate aboard an armoured fighting vehicle after Raqqa was liberated from the Islamic State militants, in Raqqa, Syria., October 17, 2017. (Erik De Castro/Reuters)

Houry says in that visit earlier this year, communities were exhausted, many people had been displaced multiple times, some lost their homes. 

Civilians were relieved ISIS was pushed out, but Houry says they felt very insecure about the future.

"They were not sure who was going to, you know, control and govern them in the medium to long-term."

With uncertainty all around them — long queues for bread, no idea if schools would reopen in September, no communication in any of the towns — it's challenging to look ahead.

"One of the most heartbreaking stories was a father whose daughter was killed actually by a coalition air strike, and her body was still under the rubble two months later because there was simply no equipment to dig her out," Houry tells Tremonti.

Even after the father asked for help from local authorities and coalition forces, he was left to his own devices.

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      Houry argues it should be part of the planning effort — "the military effort to seriously consider the day after."

      "There hasn't been any serious consideration about who is going to be responsible and what judicial system is going to be able to process the hundreds and probably thousands of suspects that are now in detention," he says.

      "These courts are not set up to try such a large number and there are real issues around due process."

      Listen to the full segment above: including Dr. Samantha Nutt and Hassan Hassan, co-author of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror.

      This segment was produced by The Current's Pacinthe Mattar, Willow Smith and Ines Colabrese.