TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) -The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab forces backed by the United States, have announced the capture of Raqqa after a four-month operation to drive out ISIL.
SDF spokesmen announced the takeover of the strategic Syrian city on Tuesday after a final battle at a sports stadium where Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) fighters made their last stand.
Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Antakya, Turkey, said clean-up operations were now under way after the bloody battle.
"Hundreds of SDF fighters, waving yellow flags, are now entering the city of Raqqa. They have killed dozens of fighters. They are deploying more troops in the city to try to clear mines, explosives," Ahelbarra said.
The SDF launched its offensive on Raqqa on June 6. Intense aerial bombardment and land operations by the US-led international coalition had cut the city off from the rest of the territories held by ISIL.
More than 3,000 bombs have landed on Raqqa since January, devastating schools, hospitals and residential buildings. In mid-October, the humanitarian REACH initiative estimated that less than one percent of Raqqa's 300,000 prewar population remained in the city. The city has no electricity or potable water, and its last functioning bakery was destroyed recently.
According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, since the start of the operation, more than 900 civilians have been killed in the violence, including at least 570 in coalition air raids.
Destroyed and depopulated, Raqqa also faces an uncertain political future. The US and SDF have pledged to hand over the city to civilian rule, but the shape and political make-up of this civilian entity remain unclear. Various ethnic, tribal and geopolitical factors will complicate the handover.
Two councils are asserting the right to take over the city: the Raqqa Civilian Council (RCC), founded in April and backed by the SDF; and the Raqqa Provincial Council (RPC), backed by the main Syrian opposition body based in Turkey, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC).
The RPC claims to be a successor to the civilian council that began administering Raqqa in 2013 after the Free Syrian Army and Islamist armed groups took the city from the Syrian regime. It rejects the RCC's legitimacy over its links to the People's Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish armed group at the core of the SDF. Along with its political arm, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), it dominates most of northeastern Syria and is a close US ally.
As the YPG and Arab allies pushed into Raqqa province, the Syrian opposition accused it of carrying out ethnic cleansing against Arabs - an accusation YPG officials have denied.
Like other SDF-sponsored councils, the RCC has joint Arab-Kurdish leadership. The Arab co-chair is tribal leader Mahmoud al-Borsan, and the Kurdish co-chair is Layla Mohammed, the former co-mayor of her hometown of Tal Abyad on the Syria-Turkeyborder.
Al-Borsan heads the Walda tribe, which was forced to move to Hassakah province from the area near the city of Tabqa in Raqqa province after their lands were flooded during the construction of the Euphrates dam.
According to Abdel Aziz al-Hinnedi, a Syrian activist from Raqqa who fled to Germanyafter ISIL took the city in 2014, the RCC is not representative of the people of Raqqa, but its main strength is that it functions on the ground and provides services, as opposed to the rival RPC, which is in exile in Turkey.