Shock, anger as IS bombs historic mosque
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.