Mosul reconstruction project nearing completion, says Unesco official

Al Nuri Mosque, which was destroyed by ISIS in 2017, set to reopen by end of 2024

Al Nuri Mosque was blown up by ISIS in 2017 as the terrorist group was expelled from Mosul. Ismael Adnan for The National
Powered by automated translation

Mosul's famous Al Nuri Mosque, which was destroyed by ISIS in 2017, is to reopen by the end of the year as part of a major UN project to restore some of Iraq’s most historic religious sites, The National has been told.

The mosque, famous for its leaning minaret, is one of Mosul's oldest landmarks and is where the terrorist group's leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi proclaimed a "caliphate" in 2014. The group blew it up in 2017 as government forces retook the city.

“Our aim is to complete the entire Al Nuri Mosque including the minaret by late autumn this year,” Maria Rita Acetoso, Unesco's senior project manager in Iraq, told The National.

Ms Acestoso said the project, which was launched in 2018, has now "completed basically the structural part of the mosque and minaret. We have completed the consolidation of the dome. Now, what we are doing is working in parallel on the prayer hall and on the prayer area."

The structural reconstruction of the mosque's compound is finished, she said. However, the leaning minaret and the finishing touches have not yet been completed.

The battle to clear Mosul of ISIS fighters lasted almost nine months, left large areas of the city in ruins, killed thousands of civilians and displaced more than 900,000.

To ensure that the dimensions, thickness and patterns of the bricks are the same as those that made up the minaret before ISIS took over, Unesco used "suitable brick producers who could source the bricks we wanted based on the mechanical characteristics of the original ones we sent to the lab of the University of Mosul for testing", Ms Acetoso said.

Unesco's project, called Revive the Spirit of Mosul, has been largely funded by the UAE, which donated $50 million to restore Al Nuri complex, as well as two nearby churches, Al Saa’a and Al Tahera.

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

The project is part of its support for post-ISIS reconstruction in the city. It has provided 3,000 jobs for locals in Mosul since it started. It later expanded to include the restoration of Al Saa’a and Al Tahera Churches.

Mosul and the surrounding plains of Nineveh were once home to one of the region's oldest Christian communities.

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

The reconstruction of Al Saa'a has finished, and the church held its first mass in January 2024.

Built towards the end of the 19th century by Catholic priests of the Dominican order, the church holds significance for the city’s architectural history and heritage and is a symbol of coexistence in the country.

"The official handover is not yet known, we are just waiting for the provincial order to confirm when the focal point, which is currently not deployed in Iraq, can actually travel so that we can get the keys back to the Dominican Order," she said.

The reconstruction of the 800-year-old Al Tahera church is also done, Ms Acetoso said, with some final touches due to be completed by June this year.

Updated: March 19, 2024, 7:37 AM