IS blows up historic mosque in Mosul
BAGHDAD—As the bloody battle to retake Mosul from the Islamic State (IS) group ground on for months, with losses in lives and infrastructure piling up, Iraqi soldiers and civilians kept in their minds an image of what victory would look like—capturing the historic, and symbolic, Grand al-Nuri Mosque and its iconic leaning minaret.
It was there, in the summer of 2014, that the IS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ascended a pulpit and declared a caliphate after his fighters took control of Mosul and swept through other parts of northern Iraq and Syria. It was the last time al-Baghdadi was seen in public.
On Wednesday night, however, with the terrorist group on the cusp of losing control of Mosul and with it its claim to a caliphate straddling the border of Iraq and Syria, IS fighters packed the building with explosives and took it down.
The destruction of the mosque and minaret—which has dominated Mosul’s skyline for centuries and is pictured on Iraq’s 10,000 dinar bank note as well as Iraqi scrapbooks—came during celebrations of Laylat al-Qadr, the holiest night of the year for Muslims, which commemorates the revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad.
It was another blow to the city’s rich cultural heritage and its plethora of ancient sites that have been damaged or destroyed during three years of IS rule.
Before IS took control of Mosul, Unesco had begun an effort to protect and rehabilitate the minaret, known as al-Hadba, or the hunchback. The minaret that leaned like Italy’s Tower of Pisa had stood for more than 840 years.
‘Worst of what God created’
Ali al-Nashmi, a prominent Iraqi historian, said of the terrorists: “These dogs, they are the worst of what God has created. I swear to God I cannot imagine Mosul without al-Hadba.”
The long campaign for control of Mosul was closing in on the part of the Old City where al-Hadba beckoned, thrusting toward the sky.
Capturing the mosque, built by Nur al-Din Mahmoud Zangi, a ruler who in the 12th century unified Arab forces against crusaders from Europe, would have provided an important symbolic moment for Iraqi security forces, who have taken heavy casualties in daily street battles with IS.
“Imagine the Iraqi flag on this mosque, and everyone taking selfies,” said Rasha al-Aqeedi, who grew up in Mosul and is now a research fellow in Dubai.
Earlier Wednesday evening, Iraqi officers indicated that they planned to begin an assault on the mosque on Thursday.
Shortly after the Iraqi military issued a statement announcing that IS had destroyed the mosque, the terrorist group used its news agency to claim that the mosque had actually been destroyed in a US airstrike.
‘Crime against all of Iraq’
For its part, the US Central Command accused the IS group, also known as Isis or Isil, of destroying the mosque.
“This is a crime against the people of Mosul and all of Iraq, and is an example of why this brutal organization must be annihilated,” Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin, the US commander for the operation, said in the statement.
In denying the Iraqi forces a moment of victory, IS sought to claim a propaganda victory for itself, by blaming the destruction on the US-led coalition.
Almost from the beginning of its rule, IS systematically destroyed or damaged one important monument or shrine after another—the tomb of the biblical prophet Jonah, the Mosul Museum, the ancient city of Nimrud.
In Mosul’s library, militants burned thousands of old books and manuscripts. Their harsh brand of Islamic law deems such things heretical.
But in destroying an important mosque, especially the one in which al-Baghdadi made his famous declaration, IS seems intent on erasing what would soon become a symbol of the failed caliphate.
Announcement of defeat
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq called the leveling of the mosque a final act of depravity for IS.
It was the “official announcement of their defeat,” al-Abadi said.
Throughout the territory it controls, IS has routinely used mosques for battlefield purposes.
New York Times reporters have visited mosques whose minarets were used as sniper nests, whose prayer halls were turned into bomb-making factories and whose courtyards were used to store weapons. —NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE
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