'Crime against humanity': Iraqis outraged by destruction of 300-year-old minaret in Basra

Built in 1727, Al Saraji mosque was demolished on Friday

Al Saraji mosque minaret being demolished in Basra on Friday. Photo: Mustafa Al Hussaini, director of Basra's antiquities department
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Outrage grew in Iraq on Friday after a 300-year-old minaret seen as a heritage site by the Ministry of Culture was demolished in the southern city of Basra.

The minaret of Al Saraji mosque in Basra stood 11 metres high and was destroyed at dawn on Friday despite calls by local officials to restore and preserve the site.

"We consider this a crime against humanity and Iraqis," said Mustafa Al Hussaini, director of Basra's antiquities department, told The National.

He said they were not informed that the structure would be demolished.

"I am in shock and am getting condolence messages," Mr Al Hussaini added.

"Some officials are even embarrassed to approach me.

"A year ago, we were asked about this move, and we gave a technical evaluation that the minaret must be dismantled, evaluated, and moved to the mosque's campus.

The proposals were sent to the Sunni endowment but "we are horrified at what has happened," Mr Al Hussaini said.

"Al Saraji mosque is the second oldest in Iraq, it represents Islamic culture and art. This is a disaster," he added.

The mosque and its minaret, dating back to 1727, were demolished in order to widen a road.

Local authorities had originally agreed to move the minaret to a safer place, Mr Al Hussaini said.

"These actions are not considered characteristics of civilised nations that are vibrant with life, renewal and development."

Local media outlets published footage of the centuries-old mosque being demolished by bulldozers early on Friday, with Basra Governor Assad Al Eidani in attendance.

The Sunni endowment said it did not authorise the move, neither was it aware that it was going to take place.

Culture Minister Ahmed Fadak Al Badrani threatened legal action against Basra authorities.

"We will take legal action against any administrative or personal overreach that works to cause harm, especially the demolition of the Al Saraji mosque [and its] minaret."

"We demand the Sunni and Shiite parties to intervene and stand firmly and punish their members in case they are allowed to overtake or falsify historical facts," the Minister added.

Mr Eidani said a new mosque would be built at the site and the demolition was carried out following "complaints" of traffic around the mosque.

The UN and the international community have poured funds into rebuilding historic sites in Iraq destroyed during ISIS rule, particularly in the northern city of Mosul.

Much of the country's rich historical heritage was reduced to rubble by the terror group, including Al Nuri mosque and its famous minaret.

Unesco has led restoration efforts in the city, rebuilding mosques, churches, and homes in the Old City.

The UAE is a partner in the project, having donated $50 million to restore Al Nuri Mosque complex — which dates back to the 12th century — and the nearby Al Saa’a Clock Church and Al Tahera Church.

Updated: July 19, 2023, 6:06 AM