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Islamic State destroys historic, 850-year-old mosque in Mosul

LiveMint logoLiveMint 22-06-2017 Kawa Omar

Mosul/Baghdad: “When I looked out of the window and saw the minaret was no longer there, I felt a part of me had died.”

Ahmed Saied, a 54-year-old Iraqi schoolteacher, and many others in Mosul can never be the same after Islamic State (IS) militants blew up the leaning minaret that had graced the city for nearly 850 years.

Militants destroyed the Grand al-Nuri Mosque on Wednesday evening along with its famous minaret, affectionately called al-Hadba, or “the hunchback”, by Iraqis. In the dawn light, all that remained was the base projecting from shattered masonry.

The destruction came as Iraqi forces closed on the mosque, which also carried enormous symbolic importance for IS, whose leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi used it in 2014 to declare a “caliphate” spanning swathes of Syria and Iraq.

The black flag of IS had been flying on the 150-foot minaret since June 2014, after IS fighters surged across Iraq, seizing vast tracts of territory.

The insurgents chose to blow it up rather than see the flag taken down by US-backed Iraqi forces battling through the maze of narrow alleys and streets of the Old City, the last district still under control of the IS in Mosul. “In the early morning, I climbed up to my house roof and was stunned to see the Hadba minaret had gone,” Nashwan, a day labourer living in Khazraj neighborhood near the mosque, said by phone. “I broke into tears. I felt I had lost a son of mine.”

The minaret was built with seven bands of decorative brickwork in complex geometric patterns also found in Iran and central Asia. Its tilt and the lack of maintenance made it particularly vulnerable to blasts.

The media office for Iraq’s military distributed a picture taken from the air that showed the mosque and minaret largely reduced to rubble among the small houses and narrow alleys of the Old City. A video on social media showed the minaret collapsing vertically, throwing up a pall of sand and dust.

“The Iraqi security forces are continuing to push into remaining ISIS-held territory,” said US army colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the US-led international coalition assisting in the Iraqi effort to defeat the IS.

“There are two square kilometres left in west Mosul before the entire city is liberated,” he said.

For many, the destruction of the minaret marked the final collapse of IS rule in Mosul and augured its demise across Iraq. “Blowing up the al-Hadba minaret and the al-Nuri mosque amounts to an official acknowledgement of defeat,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Thursday.

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The mosque was destroyed as Iraq’s elite counter-terrorism service (CTS) fought their way to within 50 metres of it, according to an Iraqi military statement.

Baghdadi in hiding

Baghdadi proclaimed himself “caliph”, or ruler of all Muslims, from the mosque’s pulpit on 4 July 2014. His speech marked the first time he had revealed himself to the world. The footage broadcast then is to this day the only video recording of him as “caliph”.

The fall of Mosul would in effect mark the end of the Iraqi half of the “caliphate”, though the IS would still hold territory west and south of the city. US-backed militias are closing on the IS’ Syrian stronghold of Raqqa.

Baghdadi has left the fighting in Mosul to local commanders and is believed to be hiding in the border area between Iraq and Syria, according to US and Iraqi military sources.

The mosque was named after Nuruddin al-Zanki, a noble who fought the early crusaders from a fiefdom that covered territory in modern-day Turkey, Syria and Iraq. It was built in 1172-73, shortly before his death, and housed an Islamic school.

The mosque’s military and religious history embodies the spirit of Mosul, a conservative city which has supplied the armed forces with officers since modern Iraq was created, about 100 years ago, and until the fall of Saddam Hussein, after the 2003 US-led invasion gave way to Shia appeasement.

The Sunni city balked at its loss of influence and some joined the insurgency against the new rulers of the country. When IS swept into Mosul in June 2014, they were welcomed by those who saw the takeover as promising an end to harsh treatment by Shia-led security forces.

The Mosque’s destruction occurred during the holiest period of the Islamic holy month of Ramzan, its final 10 days. The night of Laylat al-Qadr falls during this period, marking when Muslims believe the Quran was revealed to the prophet Mohammed. IS fighters have destroyed many Muslim religious sites, churches and shrines, as well as ancient Assyrian and Roman-era sites in Iraq and in Syria.

“Many different enemies controlled Mosul over the past 900 years but none of them dared to destroy the Hadba.” said Ziad, an arts students. “By bombing the minaret, they proved the are the worst of all barbarian groups in history.” Reuters

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