Iraq's Al Nuri Mosque: hope arises from its ruins

Destroyed three years ago, the reconstruction of this historic monument speaks of the spirit of collaboration and the triumph over terror

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On the night of June 21, 2017, in a final savage act of destruction on the Iraqi city of Mosul and before getting ejected by Iraqi security forces, ISIS rigged the 800-year-old Al Nuri Mosque with explosives and reduced this historic treasure to rubble.

Now, three years after the monument was destroyed, crucial first steps have already been completed in rebuilding the mosque, including its famous Al Hadba minaret, known as the hunchback because of its 45-metre leaning aspect.

Al Nuri Mosque, built between 1172-73, has been restored twice earlier – in the 1960s and the early 20th century. This third time, work is underway. Eight million tonnes of rubble around Al Nuri Mosque have been cleared, a new structure and base has been constructed and the area is now rid of landmines planted by ISIS, Noura Al Kaabi, the UAE's Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, told The National.

This progress, that too in such little time for an archaeological project of this magnitude, and in a country not short on political upheavals, is a remarkable milestone. The will to get the work done shows how serious the stakeholders are in combating ISIS's ideology of terror.

In April 2018, the UAE pledged $50 million (Dh183.6m) to rebuild the mosque, working in partnership with Unesco and the Iraqi government. This pledge was renewed in October 2019 when UAE earned the distinction of becoming the first country in the world to restore churches in Iraq that were destroyed by ISIS.

One can dare to hope that it bodes well for Iraq's cultural revival that Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi promised soon after taking office. This month Mr Al Kadhimi visited the site of Al Nuri Mosque and pledged during the visit to never again let the city suffer from the terrorism that left it in ruins.

It is common knowledge that the UAE is deeply committed to restoring the historic sites of Mosul. Non-state players cannot have the last word in its legacy. It was from the pulpit of Al Nuri Mosque in 2014, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi declared ISIS’s false caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

The progress in restoration signifies what can begin to be accomplished when countries, institutions and local bodies work together to rebuild a monument of such immeasurable value.

In doing so, piece by piece, collaboration such as this begins to restore to a city not just its monuments, but it attempts to honour a people's pride in their city's long and rich history.

The intent to rebuild Al Nuri Mosque was a victory of what is right and noble over destructive forces and terrorists with misplaced notions of being caliphs. The work that has been completed and the next phase underway has only confirmed a triumph of will.

During this five-year process of restoration, with the co-operation of local skilled workers and four Iraqi companies, the estimate was that the project would produce 1,000 jobs in Iraq.

Positive ripple effects such as creating livelihoods only further emphasise the value of UAE and Unesco's commitment to not let terrorists like Al Baghdadi hijack the legacy and symbols of Iraq's heritage.