Mosul is an Endangered Historic City!

tags: Iraq, Mosul, ISIS, ancient Iraq artifacts

Ihsan Fethi studied Architecture and Urban Planning in the United Kingdom in 1960 obtaining a PhD in Architecture in 1977 after years of study and research. He later became a Professor of Architecture, Urban Planner, and Heritage Conservation Expert and accordingly held many distinguished academic positions including Chairman of School of Architecture in Baghdad from 1986-1991. He is the Director, Iraqi Architects Society.

Mosul is about 400 kilometers north of Baghdad and is one of the great historic cities of Iraq and the region.  Situated on the western bank of the Tigris and opposite the renowned historic city of Nineveh, its origins go back to early Islam and even to Assyrian times.  The present urban form of its historic core, however, is largely Medieval Islamic. Insensitive modernization projects inside the old city, such as wide vehicular roads, commercial developments, and long neglect have caused a significant loss of its unique stone architectural heritage. 

 Today, only a handful number of significant historic mosques, shrines, khans and other types of buildings remain.  Most of its impressive traditional houses which go back to several centuries and make up the bulk of its traditional fabric, have long gone or altered. Nevertheless, many old houses of outstanding architectural and historic significance still remain though in grave danger of being demolished and rebuilt.

  Recently, the occupation of the City (and elsewhere) by ISIS have resulted in the systematic and selective destructions of all mosques that included shrines, singular tombs, no matter how old or how important.  It must be stressed here that they did not only destroy the shrines but the blew-up or bulldozed the whole mosque. Their fanatic and perverted interpretation of “Pure” Islam is totally rejected by the overwhelming majority of Muslims worldwide. Their actions have also been strongly condemned by the highest Muslim authorities of all sects.

If the “Liberation” of Mosul from ISIS is achieved by indiscriminate bombardment and heavy artillery, then all Mosul, old and new, would be reduced to rubble. This is exactly what happened in many historic towns in Syria and also in Iraqi Tikrit and Dor Towns few days ago.  If this happens, Mosul as we know it and its highly distinctive architectural style would cease to exist. This would tantamount to a cultural genocide on an unprecedented scale. What is needed is an innovative and less-destructive approach to deal with such a large historic city.  A total blockade of the city could perhaps be an effective way to induce surrender or force ISIS fighters to flee depending, of course, on whether the civilian population would be allowed to flee and not be used as human shields.  

The future of the second largest and most historic City in Iraq is very grim indeed.  I am not optimistic at all about the plans being prepared for Mosul.  Mosul is not just another city. Extreme care must be given to ensure a minimal amount of damage to the its old core

There are many lessons to be learnt by the world from this new type of conflict where it involves the high jacking of a historic city by terrorists with fierce disregard for history and a premeditated plan of cultural cleansing.  What would one do if, for example, a historic city like Florence is occupied by terrorists?  Would the Italian authorities bombard it and shell it with artillery?  Or would they do their utmost to ensure its salvation?

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