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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Leaders come together to help salvage Mosul's cultural heritage   

Unesco meeting aims to rehabilitate Mosul's rich past as the war-torn city emerges from ISIS occupation

The destroyed Al Hadba minaret at the Grand Al Nuri Mosque in the Old City of Mosul. Reuters 
The destroyed Al Hadba minaret at the Grand Al Nuri Mosque in the Old City of Mosul. Reuters 

The United Nations will hold a conference on Monday on reviving Mosul's cultural heritage and education sector, as the war-torn city emerges from a three-year battle against ISIS.

The long road to liberation came at a huge cost for Iraq, with towns and cities reduced to rubble and countless people displaced. A combination of intensive air raids by the United States-led coalition and networks of ISIS booby traps added to what is now a desolate aftermath.

The Unesco meeting, called Revive the Spirit of Mosul, is set to focus on restoring the city’s rich heritage, rehabilitate its education system and revitalise its cultural life, a spokesman for the UN agency told The National.

Unesco Director General Audrey Azoulay will open the conference in Paris alongside Iraqi Secretary-General of the Council of Ministers, Mahdi Al Alaq.

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Read more:

WATCH: The liberation of Mosul one year on

UAE rebuilding of Mosul mosque 'defeats extremism'

How eliminating the ‘kill box’ turned Mosul into a meat-grinder

Mosul’s health care in ruins a year after the battle

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The event will be attended by politicians, including UAE Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, Noura Al Kaabi, and her Iraqi counterpart, Fryad Rawandouzi.

Ms Azoulay said that the conference will focus on the human dimension of the city’s reconstruction through the promotion of culture and education.

“Only by restoring the shared cultural heritage and revitalising cultural and educational life will the people of Mosul be, once again, actors in the renewal of their country. That is the ambition of this unprecedented initiative,” Ms Azoulay said.

The UAE announced in April it will finance a US$50 million (Dh183.7m) project to rebuild Mosul’s Grand Al Nuri mosque. The building, famous for its eighth-century leaning minaret, was blown up by ISIS last year.

UAE Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development Noura Al Kaabi signs an agreement with Iraq's minister of culture and Unesco on the reconstruction of Mosul's Al Nuri mosque. AFP
UAE Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development Noura Al Kaabi signs an agreement with Iraq's minister of culture and Unesco on the reconstruction of Mosul's Al Nuri mosque. AFP

It was from Al Nuri that ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi declared a self-styled “caliphate” in 2014, which for years spanned the length of much of northern Syria and Iraq.

The Iraqi government estimates that Mosul needs at least $2 billion in reconstruction aid to rehabilitate roads and rebuild the homes, schools and hospitals destroyed in the fighting.

About 700,000 of Mosul’s population – estimated at two million before the insurgents seized the city in 2014 – remains displaced.

"Iraq has lost a lot during the war," Mosul resident and photographer Ali Al Baroodi told The National.

Mr Al Baroodi, whose photographs will be on display during the conference, said: “We’ve lost our heritage, identity and archaeology in the war [against ISIS], and I have always tried to support Mosul by documenting events through photographs”.

Mosul was once an ethnically and religiously diverse city, Mr Al Baroodi said, and he is hopeful that the conference will produce tangible initiatives in which the city can return to what it was.

In February, international donors and investors gathered in Kuwait to plan the reconstruction of Iraq. Baghdad received pledges of $30bn, mostly in credit facilities and investment, but fell short of the $88bn it said it needed to recover from three years of war.

The US claims the failure to help Iraq's rehabilitation could undermine the country's victory over ISIS, as the ongoing economic and social problems are likely to create space for extremist groups to persevere.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi declared "victory" in December.

But sleeper cells still operate in the country from sparsely populated areas, including desert regions near the border with Syria.