ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Thursday announced it is going to contribute 100 million dollars for stabilization projects in areas liberated by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeastern Syria, with a special focus on Raqqa.
In October, the Saudi Gulf Affairs Minister, Thamer al-Sabhan, visited northern Syria with Brett McGurk, the US special envoy to the coalition against the Islamic State (IS), to discuss stabilization in Raqqa and other areas.
However, Raqqa officials previously told Kurdistan 24 that after his visit they hadn’t yet seen any Saudi contribution. It seems, however, that Saudi Arabia is now willing to contribute to the recovery of the country’s northeast.
“This is the largest coalition contribution to date for these liberated areas and follows the pledge made by Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, during the July 12, 2018, Global Coalition Ministerial Conference in Brussels, hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo,” the Saudi embassy in Washington said in a press statement.
“This substantial contribution will play a critical role in the Coalition’s efforts to revitalize communities, such as Raqqa, that have been devastated by ISIS terrorists,” the embassy said.
The Saudi statement comes after a high-level US delegation to Raqqa led by anti-IS envoy McGurk last Thursday.
“Founding @coalition partner #SaudiArabia contributes $100M for stabilization projects in #Raqqa, and areas of NE #Syria liberated from #ISIS. This vital contribution will save lives and help Syrians restore their communities from the bottom up,” McGurk wrote on Twitter.
The funds will focus on projects to restore livelihoods and essential services in the areas of health, agriculture, electricity, water, education, key roads and bridges, and rubble removal.
The commitment by Saudi Arabia to invest in areas liberated by the SDF will likely be welcomed by the Trump administration, which was looking for other international donors to share the burden of northeastern Syria's recovery after the city of Raqqa was heavily damaged during liberation efforts last year.
In the battle of Raqqa, the city was nearly 80 percent destroyed by intense fighting. The former de facto capital of the jihadist group is now slowly recovering with the help of the Raqqa Civil Council, but officials say they need much more support.
Civilians, on the other hand, say that the US has an obligation to help Raqqa after it was destroyed.
“They destroyed the city, so they have to rebuild it,” Abdulrahman al-Isa (40) from Raqqa told Kurdistan 24 in a café in Raqqa. “President Trump should visit Raqqa and to see the people and the democracy here,” he added.
“For example, after the war was over in Iraq, President Bush visited Baghdad. So why doesn’t Trump visit Raqqa?”
According to a report by Refugee International published in June, many donors and aid organizations are reluctant to engage in northeastern Syria without explicit permission from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
“As a result, the United States has found itself largely alone as it has tried to help stabilize Raqqa and assist the local population to recover,” the report said.
However, it seems other countries are slowly looking to contribute. In July, the United Arab Emirates pledged US$50 million to help stabilize Raqqa and other areas liberated from IS.
Editing by Nadia Riva