The War in Five Sieges

Patrick Cockburn

The road to Raqqa, once the de facto Syrian capital of Islamic State, looks surprisingly pastoral. As we approached the city across the plain north of the Euphrates we had to stop the car several times: the road was barred by flocks of sheep. It seemed an encouraging sign of returning normality. But local people explained that shepherds were bringing their flocks to graze here for less happy reasons. Before 2011 this was well-irrigated crop-growing land, but now, after six years of war, the irrigation channels are dry or contain only stagnant water: nobody is maintaining them and there is no electricity to pump water from the Euphrates. Giant grain silos stand just off the road but they have been abandoned or damaged by bombs or shells.

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