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Raqqa, the Fifth City of Syria

Raqqa, the fifth largest city in Syria, long neglected by the al-Assad regime, was liberated by the Free Syrian Army in March 2013, however, Islamic State took control of Raqqa autumn 2014, having proclaimed the Caliphate in June 2014, with 30,000 captive inhabitants. Raqqa was the capital of the 18th century Abbasid Empire under King Faysal between 1920 and 1921.

Raqqa is situated at the junction of Bilad Al Cham and the plains of Djezire, on the margins of the fertile crescent and where the Ottoman empire built a fort in 1864 thereby securing the route to Baghdad. The region experienced an economic boom based on cotton during the American Civil War, 1861-65. The Acharin and Akrad families with some Kurdish connections dominated the commerce. A tax was paid to the chief Bedoui, Fedaan Anaza.

The French mandate encouraged nomads to settle and the foundation of the first bank. Irrigation on the plateau was encouraged and during the union with Egypt 1958-62, agricultural reform was adopted. When the Ba'ath party came to power in March 1963, co-operatives flourished. The Soviet Union financed dams on the Euphrates river, the population of Raqqa diversified and increased.

The first cotton factory was established in 2004, thee were complaints of corruption. in 2001 the al-Assad regime launched a liberal economy which meant dismantling farms and giving three hectares to workers and officials. A private university was opened with an agricultural faculty but this was insufficient for the population.

The 2007-9 drought ensured Raqqa sent worker to the Gulf States or to Saudi Arabia, becoming closer to Iraq and was known as the city of the Arab Spring, The 2003 illegal invasion of Iraq ensured Salafist Iraqis infiltrated Raqqa. The al-Assad regime paid €300,000 to the Tribal chiefs, however the older generation remained loyal whilst the younger generation joined the Free Syrian Army. Raqqa was declared capital of the liberation from the al-Assad regime, March 2013. By summer Al-Nosra and IS dominated Raqqa. The crimes of IS multiplied as noted by the group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently.

Why was Raqqa designated as the capital of IS? Raqqa was the capital of the Abbassid Caliphate of Haroun al-Rachid (765-809AD), he replaced Mahommed as Caliph, according to Al-Tabari the historian. Raqqa was described as one of the four best places to live along with Damascus, Samarkand and Ray (near Teheran). IS wanted to interdict the infiltration of Iranian pilgrims into Syria where a Shi'ite mausoleum dedicated to Mahommed's soldiers who died at the battle of Siffin in 657AD was consecrated near Raqqa in 2005. IS destroyed this site in 2013.

Raqqa in October 2017, liberated by Kurdish forces is a pile of rubble.

Source: Geopolitique, Raqqa occupe une place considerable dans l'histoire arabe, 17, le Monde 9 Octobre 2017

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