Mosul residents say rebuilding of Al Nuri Mosque gives hope

The UAE funded project is seen by locals as central to returning life to the city

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The battle to drive out ISIS left behind an estimated 8 million tons of rubble in Mosul. The scale of devastation endured has set the city back decades.

But local residents who either remained or those in the nearly 1 million who fled fighting but have returned to rebuild say that recent work to restore the historic sites gives them hope that Mosul can be rebuild.

Mislawis, people from the city, say they view the ongoing reconstruction of the famed Al Nuri mosque and its leaning Al Hadba minaret with a sense of pride in their city’s history and cultural heritage.

In 2014, the city became the centre of ISIS’s brutal rule in Iraq. While the terror group occupied large areas of the country, many locals say that no other city in the country knows the full extent of the extremist’s control like inhabitants of Mosul.

In the final days of the military campaign to free the city in 2017, ISIS blew up the mosque from where the group’s leader had declared the formation of his so-called caliphate just three years before.

The 12th-Century mosque, so interlinked with the social and historical fabric of the city that Al Habda can be used as a shorthand for Mosul, lay in ruins and surrounded by tones of unexploded ordinance and explosive booby-traps.

"The mosque is a symbol of our history and identity. The rebuilding of it means a lot to us and brings back hope," Asmaa Khalid Alrawi, 23, a university student and civil activist, told The National.

Last week, UAE Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development Noura Al Kaabi announced that the first phase of reconstruction was completed. The landmines and rubble are now clear, teams of builders have erected large wooden beams to shore up the remaining structures and phase two can begin.

Seeing the grand mosque being reconstructed is a dream, Ms Alrawi said, adding that the local community cannot wait for it to become a reality. “It’s a great move for the people and the city, the UAE has been really effective and helpful and their funds and donations are highly appreciated."

In 2018, the United Nation’s cultural agency, Unesco and the UAE teamed up to rebuild the Al Nuri Mosque as well as the nearby 800-year-old Al Tahera church. Later they extended the project to include the restoration of Al Saa’a Church in the northern Iraqi city.

With $50.4 million (Dh185 million) donated to fund the project, the rebuilding will create employment and training opportunities for local Iraqis.

The role the UAE has taken is vital for the future of Mosul, Ammar Muhanad, a lecturer in modern history at the college of literature at Mosul University said. "Especially as the government has done nothing to restore the city's lost historical sites," Mr Muhanad told The National.

“So the UAE is seen as the only entity that can offer us the alternative to restoring life back to our city,” he said. “To that, we are grateful because the government has not even attempted to restore any sites,” Mr Muhanad said.

“It will revive the spirit of Mosul and gives hope especially for the old city,” he said.

Unesco says it will begin tours of the site so that Mislawis can see the progress although there’s no confirmation when these will begin.

The city was left devastated by the battle. But fighting in western Mosul was particularly fierce.

It took the US-backed Iraqi fighters and anti-ISIS coalition nine months of street-to-street battles supported by tens of thousands of airstrikes to kill or capture the last ISIS fighters making a final stand in the neighbourhood.

Mislawis have started to rebuild their shattered homes and city is taking on life once more but it is a long way from the bustling metropolis that existed before the ISIS invasion.

But Ms Alrawi says the people are determined to restore Mosul. “The city is our homeland and we want all the good for it."

Additional reporting from Ali Al Baroodi in Mosul