Iraqis celebrate restoration of Mosul churches destroyed by ISIS

Religious sites destroyed by extremists are being rebuilt with international support

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Cymbals, prayers and Chaldean Catholic liturgy resounded in Mosul's Saint George Monastery on Friday as Iraqi faithful marked the restoration of two churches destroyed by ISIS during their occupation of the city.

Dozens gathered in one of the monastery's churches that have been rebuilt in stone six years after the extremists pulverised them.

It is the latest sign of a slow return to normality in Iraq's second city and the home of one of the world's oldest Christian communities.

Mosul was left in ruins after three years of ISIS occupation that ended in 2017 when Iraqi forces, backed by US-led coalition air strikes, pushed them out.

"We have old memories in this monastery," said Maan Bassem Ajjaj, 53, a civil servant who moved to Erbil, capital of the neighbouring semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan, to escape the exremists.

"My son and daughter were baptised here," he said. "Each Friday, Mosul's Christian families would come here."

The US State Department funded the project, which also had support from a Christian non-governmental group, L'Oeuvre d'Orient, according to Samer Yohanna, a superior of the Antonian order of Chaldean monks.

He said ISIS militants destroyed 70 per cent of the monastery the year after they occupied Mosul in 2014 and declared the establishment an Islamic "caliphate".

The ISIS onslaught forced hundreds of thousands of Christians in Nineveh province surrounding Mosul to flee.

Iraq's Christian population has shrunk to fewer than 400,000 from around 1.5 million before the US-led invasion of 2003 that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

On a visit to Iraq in March, Pope Francis prayed outside another ruined church, one of at least 14 which ISIS destroyed in Nineveh.

Although the churches have been repaired, other parts of the centuries-old monastery still need restoration.

"You can see walls that are still standing but are weak and which need to be reinforced," Mr Yohanna said.

Chaldean Bishop Thabet Habib, from the Al Qosh diocese, said further work was needed so the entire monastery "can regain its splendour".

Last month, Mosul's Muslim community celebrated the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed at the historic Al Nuri mosque, which is being restored by Unesco with the UAE's support after being severely damaged by ISIS.

Updated: November 20, 2021, 8:12 AM