Al-Raqi Construction Company has begun implementing a residential project west of the city of Idlib to shelter displaced families currently living in camps on the city’s outskirts. The project is supported by three entities: the Turkey Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), which operates under the supervision of the Turkish Ministry of Interior; and two NGOs: the Deniz Feneri Association and the Way of Life Association, which operates in Turkey.
The project consists of 1,000 individual housing units, each measuring 85 square metres, and is expected to be completed by the end of 2023. It is located in a 65-hectare plot of public land belonging to the village of Kafr Jales, a source in the village told The Syria Report’s local correspondent. The Directorate of Camp Affairs within the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG), which in turn is affiliated with the hardline Islamist Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) group that controls Idlib, is the body that chose the project site.
The area has rugged mountainous terrain without trees, which means land preparation and road construction make up a significant part of the housing project’s budget. A few dozen displaced people, most of whom were livestock breeders, had previously set up an informal camp in this area. The Directorate of Camp Affairs forced them to move to organised camps in the Atma area bordering Turkey.
AFAD paid for land levelling operations at the project site, while Deniz Feneri and Way of Life financed implementation of the remaining construction work. According to sources in the Directorate of Camp Affairs, the future recipients of housing in the project are displaced people currently residing in informal camps in the Kafr Jales area. However, as is usually the case, those close to HTS, including the families of its recruits and SSG employees, may be prioritised to receive housing within the project.
The Syria Report reached out to Deniz Feneri and Way of Life for comment on the land ownership and nature of the housing project, as well as whom it would benefit, but received no response.
The contract for implementing the project was awarded to Al-Raqi Construction Company, without competition. Sources confirmed to The Syria Report that there was a tender for the project, but no announcement, making it not a genuine tender process. Since the company was founded in 2020, nearly all housing projects and camps for IDPs in HTS-controlled areas have been implemented by Al-Raqi.
Al-Raqi specialises in implementing various contracting projects in HTS areas, from residential units and camps to road construction and other projects. The company is currently run by HTS commander AbdulRahman Salama, also known as Abu Ibrahim Salama. Salama, who is from the city of Andan north of Aleppo, held the position of Emir of Aleppo in Jabhat Al-Nusra during the opposition’s control of eastern Aleppo between 2012 and 2016.
There are rumours that Al-Raqi manages HTS’ investments and that some of the group’s leaders invest their money in the company. Al-Raqi carries out some for-profit projects, such as a residential compound called New Sarmada City, inhabited by the wealthy of Idlib, those close to HTS, and its leaders, and other projects such as shopping malls. It is not known who the members of the company’s board of directors are, but there are reports that they include prominent figures in HTS, some of whom own shares in it.
Al-Raqi constructed the Aleppo-Bab Al-Hawa road connecting the cities of Sarmada and Al-Dana, north of Idlib, on behalf of the SSG. Abu Ibrahim Salama appeared alongside the group leader, Abu Mohammed Al-Jolani, during the inauguration and opening ceremony of the road. The company is also undertaking the construction of the Bab Al-Hawa-Idlib road, and has completed about a third of it over the past two years.
The company is also building housing projects for displaced residents living in camps; such as a camp for the displaced in the Mishhad Rohin area, and the village of Kamouna for the forcibly displaced north of the town of Batbu, in addition to constructing Al-Bar village for the displaced in Jabal Klil. The company is currently drilling wells in the new Babesqa city project, including some residential blocks, an elevated water tank, a mosque and a school, paving the streets and extending the city’s electrical and internet lines.
An informed source told The Syria Report that other contracting companies could not get similar projects even if they submitted lower price bids in formal tenders. In most cases, the entities funding such projects, usually NGOs, concede to Al-Raqi to implement those projects, under pressure from HTS. In return, these organisations continue to finance their projects in Idlib without facing harassment.
Apart from its work in contracting, between 2021 and 2022, Al-Raqi implemented industrial projects, the most important of which is a factory for the production of iron for reinforced concrete works near the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing. The factory is meant to receive scrap and recycle it. There are also several nearby stoneworks factories and workshops for making tiles and concrete blocks, which use heavy machinery Al-Raqi bought from Turkey. Al-Raqi also took over public property in the mountainous areas around the Bab Al-Hawa region and the Barisha, Al-Wastani, and Al-Ala northwest Idlib highlands, which have a limestone rock formation, in order to produce white stone. The company is working on opening workshops and sawmills for the white limestone, part of which it exports through Turkey to the Gulf states and Egypt.