Grand Mosque of al-Nuri’s worn-out, leaning minaret had stood over Mosul for over 850 years until it was brought down Wednesday night. For Iraqis, the mosque symbolised Mosul and its history, making it a target for the IS.
“You can find it on money notes, you can find it in scrapbooks,” Rasha Al Aqeedi, a research scholar who grew up in Mosul, told the New York Times. “It is everywhere. I do not know how to put it into words. It is just something people always identified with because it was always there.”
The IS, which has lost large swathes of land over the past year, perhaps did not want to lose the structure, where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had declared his so-called “caliphate” in 2014. Seeing the Iraqi flag over the minaret would have been a major moral blow for the group’s supporters.
The Iraqi army had been circling the mosque for weeks, and taking back the shrine was one of the highly anticipated moments in the war on IS. Top Iraqi officials hoped to retake it before Eid ul-Fitr. But instead, IS destroyed the mosque on Laylat al-Qadr, the holiest night in Islam.
The IS had tried to demolish the mosque — one of the most prominent in the world — as it carried out a slew of attacks on the city’s heritage after overrunning Mosul in June 2014. Residents had then formed a human chain around it and stopped the IS demolition team from damaging it. For them, it had been the city’s centrepiece since Turkic ruler Nur al-Din Zangi ordered its construction in 1172-73.
The leaning 45-metre minaret known as “al-Hadba”, or the hunchback, has been the most famous facet of the mosque. It had been leaning from as early as the 14th century when traveller Ibn Battuta crossed Mosul. The cause of the tilt has remained a debated topic. Some experts blame the hot north-westerly winds, while others believe that the sun heated one side of the minaret and expanded its gypsum bricks.