The Islamic State, which has already lost much of the territory it occupied in Syria and Iraq, is about to lose Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq after the capital Baghdad. They hold no more than 2 sq km area of the city, and they do not have more than 200 fighters left. Perhaps the destruction of the 800-year-old mosque, the Nur al-Din mosque with a tall, leaning tower that was Mosul’s icon, foretold the destruction of Islamic State forces in the city. The mosque was built by the Seljuk ruler Nur al-Din al-Zangi Atabeg and completed in 1172. Its most notable feature was the ‘Al Hadba’ minaret, which leaned 253 centimeters from its axis. The minaret was given its nickname ‘Al Hadba’ by the famous traveller Ibn Batuta who visited Mosul in the 14th century. The mosque was dismantled and reassembled in 1942, but the minaret remained one of the few original elements. It was recognized by the UN as a world monument.
It was during Friday prayers at the same mosque on July 4, 2014, that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the founding of a new caliphate and called on fellow Sunnis to carry out a holy war. This was the first and last time the “caliph” al-Baghdadi spoke publicly to his followers. The mosque’s imam had been executed about a month earlier for refusing to join Islamic State. There is dispute over whose shelling destroyed the mosque: that of Islamic State or of the US-led forces. The US and Iraq governments have blamed Islamic State; the Islamic State has blamed the US-led forces.
It does sound a little mysterious at first that the Islamic State would destroy a mosque which had so profound “historic” and “religious” significance for them. This was the birthplace of their caliphate. Why would they destroy such a hallowed place? The Islamic State’s black and white flag had fluttered from the leaning minaret of the mosque for the past three years as a symbol of the power of the caliphate. There is a possibility that the Islamic State forces, in their utter confusion with big losses in Mosul, were firing their shells on all sides and did not take care about not letting any mortar hit the mosque. If that was true, that shows that among the Islamic State forces in Mosul there was no more any central, uniform and coordinated control over deployment of forces and assignment of attack positions and targets. Every unit or squad was firing everywhere.
But even if the mosque was destroyed by the Islamic State forces unintentionally, the blame for destroying it would go to them. Their hardcore followers might ask Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi if they were ever able to meet him: “How could your forces even think of directing their shells toward the mosque or the streets around the mosque? If the Islamic State forces were not able to defend their most hallowed place how can they be expected to defend the territories and people under the caliphate?” Whether the Islamic State destroyed the mosque intentionally or unintentionally it shows their disarray and desperation and points to their final moments of defeat.
If the US-led forces destroyed the mosque, even then it shows that the Islamic State forces are in disarray and close to defeat. Had they been strong and entrenched they would have defended the mosque at all costs. Of course, if expert and knowledgeable researchers confirm after the end of the war between the Islamic State and the US-led forces is over that it was the latter whose shelling destroyed the mosque, there should be prosecution against those in the US-led forces responsible for the destruction of the mosque. The UN has said, “Such intentional destruction is an attack on the religious and cultural heritage of the Iraqi people – and the whole world. International humanitarian law clearly prohibits such acts, and perpetrators who target these objects while being aware of their religious and historical character may be held accountable for war crimes.” The UN must order a probe with weapons experts on the panel who can identify from the ruins of the mosque whose arms caused the destruction. It would not be difficult to arrive at a clear view as they would know what kind of weapons the Islamic State and US-led forces were using. However, inquiry and fixing of responsibility for the war crime lie in the future. As of now, the reality is that even if the US-led forces deliberately targeted the mosque because it was a symbol of Islamic State caliphate, control and power, it is a great setback to the Islamic State, as it failed to defend it. That points to the end of it.