Tens of thousands of people who left the city before the final battle have now returned. But life is far from easy: most of the buildings are in ruins, there is no electricity and IS sleeper cells still pose a threat. Crucially, a lack of international recognition of the city’s civilian administration is hampering reconstruction.
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Conducting archaeological research requires direct contact with ancient sites and materials. But the escalating armed violence in Syria continues to prevent archaeologists from resuming their work on the land. Most of the international institutions shifted their focus from Syria and moved their teams and projects to neighboring countries.
Today, Mandaeism is an endangered religion. Since the American-led intervention in Iraq in 2003, Sabian-Mandaeans have been subject to religious and ethnic persecution, including torture, murder, rape, forced conversion and marriage. Although the Islamic State never reached the Mandaeans’ historical homeland in southern Iraq, the community has endured severe human rights violations linked to the rise of Islamic extremism and lack of security.
In short though, it is evident that Russia exerts more influence on the whole in our region than Iran, whose role as a broker of reconciliations would have been rejected by most of the people in the south, who are suspicious of what they see as Iranian attempts to spread the Shi’i religion and its political ideology.
Today, life is still difficult in many respects. Water is supplied from a place called Ain Dhikr to the north, but we still have no electricity and must continue to use solar panels to generate power for the time being. The JKBW’s presence also meant that some houses and other buildings were booby-trapped with explosives. Like other areas in Syria, we have been impacted by the fuel crisis caused by American sanctions.
Of these different trends, the ‘mainstream’ reaction to the group’s defeat is the easiest to explain. It is also the least interesting since it follows the same line as much conventional analysis: that is, stressing that IS will ‘remain’ (Arabic: baqiya), and that the loss of territory does not mean the true end of the caliphate. This is a line that IS’ propaganda has promoted for some time.