A year after IS lost Raqa, a hospital awaits recovery

RAQA, Syria: Shattered ultrasound machines and prosthetic limbs litter the hallways of Raqa’s main hospital, still gutted a year after the IS group made its infamous last stand in its Syrian heartland.
The bullet-riddled complex looms large among the sea of destroyed buildings in the northern city, once the de facto Syrian capital of IS’s ill-fated “caliphate”.
On October 17 last year, US-backed forces overran the city’s final two holdouts — the National Hospital and nearby stadium — sealing the end of IS’s bloody three-year reign over Raqa. But a year later, as other parts of the city are being slowly rebuilt, the massive hospital remains in ruins, almost haunted.
The road leading up to the entrance has been cleared of the burned corpses lying there last October, but twisted car wrecks still make for an uncomfortable welcome. Torn-up gurneys, filthy sky-blue hospital sheets and rusted gas canisters have been dumped in the courtyard.
Bullet-riddled doors are graffitied with the phrase “CLEAR, November 9, 2017”, apparently marking the day those rooms were checked for mines or lingering militants.
Inside, hospital rooms are charred black from fires after air strikes.
Paint is peeling off the ceiling and the walls are lined with sand bags piled by IS fighters defending their final bastion.
Making his way slowly through the abandoned medical ward was Mohammad Hussein, 37, in navy trousers and a striped shirt.
Hussein is now a member of the health commission of Raqa Civil Council (RCC), the body governing the city since IS’s ouster, but he was once a nurse in the hospital.
“You don’t feel like you’re walking into a hospital. You feel like you’re walking into a mound of rubble,” he muttered. The Raqa native began working in the hospital in 2003 at the age of 22, and stayed on when IS captured the city 11 years later.
Hussein recalls IS members shoring up the hospital’s defences last year, digging tunnels and setting up blast walls as the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) closed in.
After days of besieging the hospital and stadium, the SDF made a successful, lightning-fast push for both. Since then, tens of thousands of people have returned to Raqa, but life is still dangerous in the city.
IS planted a sea of mines across the city that have maimed and killed returning residents, and guerrilla-style attacks against SDF positions indicate militant sleeper cells
remain a threat. — AFP