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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

UN vows to restore Mosul heritage as UAE reaffirms assistance

Emirati minister says two committees set up to reconstruct Grand Al Nuri Mosque

The base of the destroyed Al Hadba leaning minaret in the Old City of Mosul, with the dome of the destroyed Al Nuri Mosque seen behind. AFP

The United Nations cultural agency on Monday called on the international community to support Iraq’s efforts to restore Mosul’s heritage after the brutal battle to liberate the northern city from ISIS.

Unesco will position itself as the coordinator of the reconstruction efforts in partnership with the Iraqi government to rebuild the landmarks destroyed by the militant group during its three-year occupation of the city, Audrey Azoulay, director general of the agency, told a conference on Mosul in Paris.

The agency chief confirmed that the cultural agency will head the restoration of city’s central library at its university, two churches, the city’s market and a Yazidi temple.

“What happened in Iraq important to all of us all, it’s our duty as human beings that we must start mobilising now if we want to support sustainable peace, this conference is an important initiative towards that step,” Ms Azoulay said. “It is through education and culture that Iraqis, men and women alike, will regain control of their destiny.”

The call came on the same day that the UAE announced the creation of two committees to rebuild the city’s Grand Al Nuri Mosque and its leaning Al Hadba minaret, both built in the 12th century but destroyed by ISIS in July 2017.

UAE Minister of Culture Noura Al Kaabi told The National that Abu Dhabi will head the committees alongside Iraq’s Culture Ministry and the Iraqi Sunni Endowment to help support the reconstruction after the government announced in April that it would finance a $50.4 million project to rebuild the historic mosque best known for its leaning minaret.

“They are a technical committee and a higher committee that includes the Sunni endowment and ministry officials,” Ms Al Kaabi told The National.

The first meeting will be in Abu Dhabi on Thursday where high-level discussions about the reconstruction efforts will take place.

The Emirati minister emphasised the importance that Iraqi youths will have as part of the five-year reconstruction project, ensuring they become a key fixture in the rebuilding of their city.

“We want to focus on how we can offer 1,000 job opportunities to men and women,” she said. “We have a lot of graduates from Mosul and Baghdad university.”

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Ms Al Kaabi could not confirm where the rebuilt minaret will be located. She said the focus is on bringing all parties involved in the reconstruction efforts together. The first 12 months of the project will involve clearing districts around the mosque of debris left over from the nine-month offensive.

“The most important thing is that in 2023 we are going to enjoy a beautiful tour of the Grand Nouri mosque,” she said.

Urban warfare destroyed much of the city’s historic landmarks. ISIS demolished the mosque in the final weeks of the Iraqi campaign, backed by the US-led coalition, to wrestle the city from the insurgents. Mosul needs at least $2 billion in reconstruction aid after the ISIS occupation, according to Iraqi government estimates.

It served as the site for Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi’s only public speech, given in July 2014, in which he announced the creation of ISIS’s caliphate that straddled the Iraqi-Syrian border.

An Iraqi diplomatic source told The National that the initiative is not only about reconstructing Mosul’s precious heritage sites but about empowering the population as agents of change in the process to rebuild their city.

“Mosul is expected to recover as a vibrant, inclusive and dynamic city,”, the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

Sheikh Abdel Latif Al Heymem, head of the Iraqi Sunni Endowment, praised the UAE’s efforts to restore the city’s heritage.

“Minister Noura Al Kaabi has opened up a new gateway of the project,” he said.

“She has been so efficient in organising everything that can be done to restore the cultural heritage of Nineveh, especially when it comes to the rehabilitation of Mosul.”

The minister issued a call to the wider international community to help rebuilt what was lost in the disfigured city, inviting potential sponsors to contribute to Unesco’s initiative.

“Iraq’s rich culture played a central role in our history, we see it as our duty to defeat extremism,” she said.

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