Joint UAE-Unesco project will help to restore Mosul’s cultural heritage

UAE has invested $50m in programme to rebuild three historic sites in Iraqi city

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The UAE and Unesco project to restore three religious heritage sites in Mosul must have strong involvement from the local community to succeed, the Iraq director of the UN organisation said.

The UAE will support rebuilding Al Nuri Mosque and its Al Hadba minaret, the 800-year-old Al Tahera church and the restoration of Al Saa’a church in the northern Iraqi city.

The two churches were blown up by ISIS during the battle for the city that ended in December 2017.

Al Nuri Mosque is the site where Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi announced in 2014 that he had ­established a caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

The mosque has been restored twice – in the 1960s and the early 20th century.

Mosul’s people will decide on what version of the mosque they wish to recreate.

“It’s very important for the UAE and Unesco that we are sure what we are doing corresponds to the will of the government but also corresponds to the desires of the people, especially in Mosul," said Paolo Fontani, Iraq director and representative at Unesco.

“The project is totally community-orientated because we want to bring back not just a building, but cultural identity.”

Mr Fontani said it was also an act of sharing, with the UAE having “invested the money to rebuild Islamic monuments and Christian churches”.

Last month, the UAE renewed its partnership with Unesco, taking its investment in the project to $50 million (Dh183.6m).

It will become the first country in the world to restore Christian churches in Iraq that were destroyed by ISIS.

“The project started a process of people wanting to be engaged in what we are doing,” Mr Fontani said.

“We’ve had a number of meetings before in Mosul where we called on people to come and share with us what’s happening at the mosque and the old city in general.”

He said the meetings were well attended by people including students and scholars working in fields such as architecture, engineering and history.

“Everyone wants to understand what’s going on,” Mr Fontani said. “This is their city and their heritage.”

The mosque is at the last stage of demining and is going through other structural health and safety checks.

The churches have further to go, but Mr Fontani expects the safety checks and preservation around those sites to be easier and take less time.

A technical committee for the project, which includes representatives from the Iraqi and UAE governments, Unesco and the Mosul community, is due to meet this month to determine the basic design of the reconstruction.

Unesco hopes to prepare a more detailed plan for the reconstruction of the places of worship and submit it to the Iraqi government in late January or early February.

After it is approved, bids will be submitted and the plan scrutinised for specification checks.

“We hope by the beginning of summer next year we would have already chosen the company that’s going to rebuild the complex,” Mr Fontani said.

The mosque complex will probably be divided into two, Mr Fontani said, with one section for the minaret and the other for the mosque.

The idea of setting up a museum next to the mosque to create jobs and help to educate people about the site’s history is also being explored.

Mr Fontani expects the project to create thousands of jobs and encourage people in Mosul to develop skills that they can transfer to future roles.