Iraqis set eyes on rebuilding Nabi Yunus mosque
Last month's recapture by Iraqi forces of Mosul's Nabi Yunus shrine from the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) has revealed the extent of the damage to the site.
The shrine -- which was built on the reputed burial site of a prophet known in the Qur'an as Yunus and in the Bible as Jonah -- was a popular pilgrimage site.
For centuries, the Nabi Yunus shrine stood as a milestone on a hill in the centre of Mosul known as al-Tawba (Repentance) Hill, before the group leveled it to the ground in July 2014, sparking popular outrage and international condemnation.
In an attempt to contain the wrath of the local population, ISIL threatened to eliminate anybody who tried to come near the mosque and inspect the destruction it had suffered.
On January 16th, forces from Iraq's Counter-terrorism Service (CTS) retook control of the Nabi Yunus area and raised the Iraqi flag above the tomb.
Sheikh Mohammed al-Shammaa, who is in charge of the mosque, told Diyaruna of what has befallen this "archaeological edifice, which the terrorists have brought to rubble".
ISIL "destroyed everything", said al-Shammaa, who was an Imam and preacher at Nabi Yunus mosque for over 22 years.
A few weeks after occupying the city, "the first thing ISIL did was to blow up the mosque in a blatant violation of all religious and human values and cultural heritage", he said.
The liberation of this landmark is a "slap in the face of ISIL and its fake slogans, including that its made-up state is surviving and expanding", he said.
Determined to rebuild
Rebuilding the mosque will require a major national and international effort, al-Shammaa said.
"Rehabilitation work needs to be led by architects and engineers specialising in the reconstruction of ancient buildings with an archaeological and cultural character," he added.
"We will turn to UNESCO and all relevant international organisations to help us rebuild," he said, estimating that the site's restoration will take up to five years.
The Nabi Yunus shrine has a very special place in the hearts of Mosul residents in particular, and Muslims in general, said Ninawa provincial council member Abdul Rahman al-Wakka.
"The mosque was not only a place of worship but also an ancient archaeological landmark that drew visitors from the four corners of the world for generations for its historical symbolism and sanctity," he said.
Al-Wakka was one of the few engineers who participated in the last extensive restoration of the mosque, from 1990 to 1992, he told Diyaruna.
The restoration works included injecting materials into all of the mosque's limestone structures to increase their stability, without affecting the ancient writings and inscriptions carved on the walls, he noted.
"Now everything has been brought to rubble," he said. "[The mosque's] towering minaret, its domes and its outer walls, all have been destroyed, and only the basement remains."
"The damage is extensive, but the main thing is that the mosque is no longer under the terrorists’ control, and we are going to rebuild it and bring it back to the way it was, no matter how much time it takes," al-Wakka added.
The first step is to prepare a complete study that takes into account the historical impact of the landmark and its constructional value, he said.
"The responsibility for the restoration should rest on the shoulders of experienced and highly skilled individuals, and active partnerships must be created with relevant international organisations," he said.
Securing the area
The mosque and the residential area around it are currently being heavily guarded by CTS forces.
The recapture of the Nabi Yunus mosque and area was achieved in just one day, according to CTS spokesman, Brig. Gen. Sabah al-Numan.
ISIL was weakened from the battles in other parts of Mosul and could not resist for long, he told Diyaruna.
"The group's elements fled their positions as soon as we clashed with them, and now the mosque and the residential area around it are well secured," he said.
Since the start of the Mosul offensive on October 17th, Iraqi forces have managed to liberate all of the city's eastern side, on the left bank of the Tigris River, inflicting heavy losses on ISIL with over 3,000 dead among its ranks, al-Numan said.