The fall of the Syrian city of Raqqa—the capital of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS)’s caliphate—will be a critical defeat for IS. Yet the success of the counter-campaign will ultimately be determined not by the battlefield win, but instead by what follows. This report identifies the critical governance challenges that Raqqa will face and need to address if it is to prevent a resurgence of violence and extremism.

Summary

  • Raqqa, the capital of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS)’s caliphate, has occupied a central place in the group’s narrative, and its fall marks a critical strategic and symbolic defeat for IS.
  • This military victory will not ensure the end of IS, however. Developing post-IS governance that is inclusive, accountable, and responsive to the local population will be essential to precluding the emergence of IS 2.0.
  • The emergence of effective governance in Raqqa faces four categories of significant challenges: strategic, ethnic, tribal, and technical.
  • Strategic issues arise from the multiple competing forces on the ground in eastern Syria and reflect the inherent complexity of governing Raqqa in the absence of an overall political settlement to the greater Syrian conflict.
  • Ethnic tensions between Kurdish and Arab populations are a critical fault line that could complicate Raqqa’s governance.
  • Raqqa’s strong tribal character adds another layer of complexity, raising the possibility of revenge killings and land or property disputes, among other issues.
  • Technical considerations—such as water supply in an area that depends on irrigated agriculture—underscore the difficulty of restoring essential services.
  • Education is also a key challenge after three years of schools being either closed or taken over by IS and modeled on its extremist ideology.
  • Key recommendations include ensuring continued US engagement, leveraging influence with Kurdish-led forces, promoting Arab-Kurdish dialogue, developing new tribal reconciliation models, restoring social cohesion, building capacity, and ensuring essential services delivery.

About the Report

This report identifies critical governance challenges the Syrian city of Raqqa will face after it has been liberated from the Islamic State. Based on interviews and a survey in the field as well as a review of the literature, the report is supported by the Middle East and Africa Center at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and is integral to ongoing USIP efforts to develop and implement effective peacebuilding programs.

About the Author

Mona Yacoubian is a senior policy scholar at USIP. She formerly served as deputy assistant administrator in the Middle East Bureau at the US Agency for International Development, where she had responsibility for Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon.

Related Publications

How Can U.S. Better Help Tunisia to Curb ISIS Recruitment?

How Can U.S. Better Help Tunisia to Curb ISIS Recruitment?

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

By: USIP Staff

As Tunisia last month celebrated the 2011 overthrow of its dictatorship, thousands of young Tunisians protested in streets nationwide, often clashing with police. Young Tunisians widely voice an angry despair at being unemployed, untrained for jobs, and unable to build futures for themselves. The single democracy to have arisen from the Arab Spring uprisings is undermined by the feelings of hopelessness among many youth, and by their exploitation by extremist groups linked to ISIS and al-Qaida. To help Tunisian, U.S. and other efforts to build hope for Tunisia’s youth, a small, USIP-funded project is measuring which kinds of programs are actually effective.

Violent Extremism; Youth

South Sudan’s Pitfalls of Power Sharing

South Sudan’s Pitfalls of Power Sharing

Friday, February 16, 2018

By: USIP Staff; Susan Stigant; Aly Verjee

This week, a new proposal for a power sharing government was tabled at the ongoing Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) High Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF) peace talks for South Sudan. An earlier, 2015 peace deal also contained a formula for power sharing; that arrangement failed and the civil war re-ignited a year later. Power sharing arrangements are appropriate if certain conditions are met, but not enough has been done to ensure the latest proposal will overcome the obstacles present in South Sudan, according to Susan Stigant, USIP’s director for Africa programs and Aly Verjee, a visiting expert at USIP and a former senior advisor to the IGAD mediation, who comment on the proposal and suggest how it could be improved.

Democracy & Governance; Fragility and Resilience; Global Policy

To Stabilize Iraq After ISIS, Help Iraqis Reconcile

To Stabilize Iraq After ISIS, Help Iraqis Reconcile

Sunday, February 11, 2018

By: USIP Staff; Nancy Lindborg; Sarhang Hamasaeed

An international conference opens in Kuwait Monday to plan ways to rebuild Iraq and secure it against renewed extremist violence following the three-year war against ISIS. A USIP team just spent nine days in Iraq for talks with government and civil society leaders, part of the Institute’s years-long effort to help the country stabilize. The Kuwait conference will gather government, business and civil society leaders to consider a reconstruction that Iraq has said could cost $100 billion. USIP’s president, Nancy Lindborg, and Middle East program director, Sarhang Hamasaeed, say any realistic rebuilding plan must focus also on the divisions and grievances in Iraq that led to ISIS’ violence and that still exist.

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Violent Extremism

Scott Worden on the effects of the Taliban and ISIS attacks in Afghanistan

Scott Worden on the effects of the Taliban and ISIS attacks in Afghanistan

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

By: Scott Worden

Scott Worden spoke to SiriusXM POTUS Ch. 124 upon his return from Kabul, Afghanistan to share his analysis about the string of recent Taliban and ISIS attacks. Worden explained that while the attacks are not coordinated, the horrendous attacks serve a central purpose of destabilizing the Ghani government. Worden also explained the possibly inflated expectations of the Afghanistan people, how elections in 2019 could be affected by Taliban and ISIS pressures, and the outlook for peace.

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Violent Extremism

View All Publications