The Destruction of the Grand al-Nuri Mosque with the al-Hadba Minaret

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) is dismayed by the increasing violence caused by the intensification of the battle for the “liberation” of Mosul. As the Iraqi security forces are regaining control over most parts of the city, ISIS fighters are responding with increased rampage and destruction. The brutality of the fighting is disproportionately affecting the civilian population trapped in Western Mosul and is having a dramatic impact on the city’s historical and cultural heritage – one of the richest in the world.

In fact, on 21 June 2017, as the Iraqi military continued their advance in the Old City area controlled by ISIS fighters, the Grand al-Nuri Mosque and its famous leaning minaret were entirely destroyed. The demolition of one of Iraq’s historical and religious symbols and the abysmal attacks against Mosul shows the undeniable evidence of the war against civilization – war fought between the U.S-backed Iraqi security forces and the dreadful terrorist group – which is annihilating Iraq’s – and the world’s – historical and cultural past.

The mosque was named after a noble – Nur ad-Din Zangi – and was built in 1172-73. The leaning minaret gave the landmark its popular name - al-Hadba, or the hunchback – and was one of Iraq’s most famous buildings. In this very mosque, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, declared the creation of the so-called Islamic State in 2014, after ISIS fighters had swept through parts of Syria and Iraq. Since then, the black flag of the Islamic State had been flying over the leaning minaret.

Minaret of the Grand al-Nuri Mosque before and after the attack - The

In the aftermath of the attack, Iraqi security forces and U.S. officials declared that the Grand al-Nuri Mosque and its minaret were destroyed by ISIS fighters as the Iraqi military had advanced within 50 meters of the mosque during a push to take over the spot and re-capture the mosque in time for Eid al-Fitr, the traditional celebration that concludes the month of Ramadan. Major General Joseph Martin, who leads the US-led coalition's combined joint forces land component defined the wreckage of the mosque "a crime against the people of Mosul and all of Iraq and is an example of why this brutal organization must be annihilated".

However, following the destruction of the historical site, ISIS issued a statement via its Amaq propaganda agency blaming a United States’ airstrike for the demolition of the mosque. While the United States and the Iraqi officials have strongly opposed such allegations, civilians living in the area have circulated photos and videos showing the minaret and the mosque being hit from above – rather than being blown up as declared by the Iraqi military – and have accused Iraqi jetfighters for the destruction of the Grand Mosque. 

While the perpetrator of this attack is still uncertain, the Grand al-Nuri mosque is only the latest significant historical site in the region to be destroyed during the incessant fight between Iraqi security forces and the so-called Islamic State. In fact, in 2015, ISIS fighters ravaged the oasis city of Palmyra in Syria and, in January 2017, they blew up the Tetrapylon monument and substantially damaged the Roman theatre in the same city. Furthermore, in July 2014, ISIS destroyed the Nabi Yunus shrine and mosque – a popular pilgrimage site in Mosul – as well as several other historical and religious landmarks not considered in line with their Islamic traditions. According to ISIS beliefs, the worshipping of shrines and the veneration of tombs is against the teaching of Islam. As such, Mosul – one of the richest cities in terms of historical and cultural landmarks – has been the target of several deliberate attacks aimed at destroying the roots of civilization.

Yet, ISIS fighters are not the only responsible for the devastation of civilian inhabited areas and historical sites. In fact, as GICJ repeatedly denounced, the United States and the Iraqi security forces are employing excessive force in their fight against the Islamic State, and are indiscriminately bombing civilian households, public buildings and infrastructures – thus causing the destruction of entire parts of the city. 

The remains of the Tomb of the Prophet Yunus, destroyed by Islamic State militants, in Mosul – The remains of the Tomb of the Prophet Yunus, destroyed by Islamic State militants, in Mosul –

Furthermore, in addition to the demolition of historic sites and venerated shrines, ISIS and Iraqi forces have committed heinous crimes and appalling abuses against the civilian population. In their dreadful advance, ISIS fighters looted, burned and destroyed houses, buildings and infrastructure; they slaughtered, tortured, kidnapped and abducted civilians, raped women and girls, killed innocent children and prevented humanitarian convoys from accessing the besieged areas. Civilians and families living in Western Mosul – the only area remaining under ISIS control – are trapped in a deadly grip, with little or no food, water, electricity and medicine.

Civilians in Mosul hit by an airstrike

Unfortunately, the fate of those who manage to flee the besieged areas is just as desperate. As GICJ repeatedly noted in its numerous appeals, the Iraqi security forces – backed by the U.S-led coalition and the pro-governmental militias – are conducting reckless and brutal anti-terrorist campaigns, which are further exacerbating the suffering of the civilian population.

Civilian households hit by US airstrikes

The Iraqi military and its affiliated militias are responsible for the arbitrary detention, torture, summary execution and enforced disappearance of hundreds of civilians while the U.S-led coalition continues to conduct deadly airstrike that are provoking the death of countless innocents and are destroying historical sites, infrastructures and civilian houses and buildings.

The Geneva International Centre for Justice strongly condemns the barbarous acts of the ISIS fighters and deplores the loss of important historical sites – including the Grand al-Nuri Mosque and its minaret and all other shrines destroyed by the terrorist group. The war against civilization implies the loss of historical memory, and such crimes cannot go unpunished. However, once again, GICJ urges the Iraqi government and its allies to take adequate precautions to prevent civilian casualties as well as the destruction of historic and civilian buildings while fighting terrorism. While opposing ISIS is and remains a priority, the Iraqi government and the international community must ensure the protection of defenseless civilians, and must abide by the international legal standards that regulate counter-terrorism operations.

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Links to relevant GICJ press releases and appeals:

GICJ Calls to Investigate Adbuction of Journalists GICJ Calls to Investigate Children in Armed Conflict GICJ Calls for Investigations on Crimes Committed in Fallujah Press Release: Footages Show Crimes and Abuses by Iraqi ERD GICJ Calls to Convene Special Session on Iraq GICJ Calls to Investigate Violations in Mosul

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