Shock, anger as IS bombs his­toric mosque

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

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.”

For Ahmed Saied, a 54-yearold Iraqi school­teacher, and many oth­ers, Mo­sul can never be the same af­ter Is­lamic State mil­i­tants blew up the lean­ing minaret that had graced his 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 in on the mosque, which also car­ried enor­mous sym­bolic im­por­tance for Is­lamic State whose leader Abu Bakr al-Bagh­dadi used it in 2014 to de­clare a “caliphate” span­ning swathes of of Syria and Iraq.

His black flag had been fly­ing on the 45m minaret since June 2014, af­ter Is­lamic State fight­ers surged across Iraq, seiz­ing 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 un­der Is­lamic State’s con­trol in Mo­sul.

“I climbed up to my house roof and was stunned to see the Hadba minaret had gone,” said Nash­wan, a day-labourer liv­ing in Khazraj neigh­bour­hood near the mosque. “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 Per­sia and Cen­tral Asia. Its tilt and the lack of main­te­nance made it vul­ner­a­ble to blasts.

“The Iraqi se­cu­rity forces are con­tin­u­ing to push into re­main­ing IS-held ter­ri­tory,” said US Army Colonel Ryan Dil­lon, the spokesper­son for the US-led in­ter­na­tional coali­tion as­sist­ing in the Iraqi ef­fort to de­feat Is­lamic State.

“There are 2km² left in West Mo­sul be­fore the en­tire city is lib­er­ated,” he said.

For many, the de­struc­tion of the minaret marked the fi­nal col­lapse of Is­lamic State 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 yes­ter­day.

The mosque was de­stroyed as Iraq’s elite Counter Ter­ror­ism Ser­vice fought their way to within 50m of it, ac­cord­ing Iraqi mil­i­tary.

Bagh­dadi pro­claimed him­self “caliph”, or ruler of all Mus­lims, from the mosque’s pul­pit on July 4, 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 Is­lamic State would hold ter­ri­tory west and south of the city.

US-backed mili­tias are also clos­ing in on Is­lamic State’s Syr­ian strong­hold of Raqqa. Bagh­dadi has left the fight­ing in Mo­sul to lo­cal com­man­ders and is thought to be hid­ing in the bor­der area between Iraq and Syria, US and Iraqi mil­i­tary sources said.


Res­i­dents walk past the crooked minaret next to the al-Nuri Mosque in a busy mar­ket area in Mo­sul in June 2009. Iraq’s min­istry of de­fence says Is­lamic State mil­i­tants blew up the mosque and the ad­ja­cent iconic lean­ing minaret.

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