ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Raqqa was once the de facto capital of the so-called ISIS ‘caliphate’. Today, after the ferocious battle for its liberation, 80 percent of the city lies in ruins and two-thirds of its people remain displaced.
In this film, Rudaw explores the devastated streets of this once thriving city to meet the survivors of the savage street-to-street fighting and coalition airstrikes, the cleanup teams salvaging what remains, and the grieving families hoping to identify their loved ones.
An estimated 3,000 bodies remain trapped under tons of rubble. With municipal teams woefully understaffed, local residents have joined the search for corpses. Rudaw met one nine-year-old boy making $2 per day aiding this grisly search.
Nine mass graves have been discovered in the city containing up to 1,500 bodies. The painstaking process of identifying those buried here is made harder by the lack of specialist equipment and shortages of staff.
The task of clearing the city is also complicated by the estimated 7,000 explosives left behind my ISIS when its fighters fled. These booby-traps and remnants of war have claimed more lives since the liberation of the city in October 2017 than those killed in the fight itself. Until they are cleared, and proper services are resumed, families cannot safely return.
Although millions of dollars have been pledged by the international community for reconstruction, the city will not be cleared for several years to come.