Restoration and repair work is under way at Ninawa province's numerous archaeological sites, despite some delays caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Iraqi officials said.
Rehabilitation work started after the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) was ousted from Ninawa almost three years ago, said Musab Mohammed of the Ninawa Antiquities and Heritage Department.
Work is being carried out under the guidance and supervision of the Ministry of Culture and the General Authority for Antiquities and Heritage, he told Diyaruna.
"At the beginning, we formed inspectorate committees that were charged with documenting and estimating the level of damage to Mosul's historical structure and Ninawa province as a whole," he said.
"Detailed technical reports were prepared to assess the level of destruction," he said, noting that most historical or archaeological sites had suffered some degree of damage.
In some cases, like the city of Nimrud and Mosul's Old City, the damage was extensive, he said, estimating the scale of destruction at 90%.
Iraqi agencies have co-ordinated with international partners and donors which are helping to rehabilitate the sites, he said, and with UNESCO launched the "Reviving the Spirit of Mosul" initiative in February 2018.
The $50 million initiative, funded by the UAE, includes the reconstruction of three main archaeological sites in western Mosul: al-Nuri Mosque and its al-Hadba (hunchback) minaret and al-Saa and al-Tahira churches.
Work continues despite delays
Specialised teams have been working since October to rehabilitate historical landmarks, Mohammed said.
"The sites were cleared of explosives and rubble first, and then the foundations of the destroyed buildings were repaired," he said.
"The work is strenuous, particularly at al-Nuri Mosque, but continues in spite of the pandemic, and we aspire to achieve even more progress," he added.
Concurrent efforts are under way with international partners to rebuild and repair national heritage homes and historic markets in Mosul's Old City, as well as Aghawat and al-Pasha mosques, and other houses of worship.
Iraqi archaeological teams also are conducting excavations in the ancient city of Ninawa and at Tell Nabi Yunus [Prophet Jonah] with participation from German and Italian archaeological missions, he said.
Officials hope that projects delayed due to the pandemic will resume soon.
For some projects, including the reconstruction of the Mosul Museum, "we had collaborated with French partners and the Aliph Foundation", said Ninawa Archaeological Inspectorate director Ali Hazim Thanoun.
"The project was stalled, however, as a result of coronavirus," he told Diyaruna.
In addition to the museum, he said, Iraq was preparing to rehabilitate the city of Hatra -- a significant archaeological site that has suffered from weather damage and lack of maintenance.
An Italian delegation visited the sites in February and conducted a two-week evaluation, he said. Minor repairs were scheduled to go ahead, but the implementation phase of the project did not kick off as a result of the pandemic.
"For our part, we are ready to start work as soon as things return to normal and we hope that will be soon," Thanoun said.
Preserving Iraq's cultural heritage
Ninawa is home to more than 1,600 archaeological sites, Thanoun said.
The most significant are the ancient cities of Hatra, Nimrud, Khorsabad and Ninawa, with its five ancient city gates (Addad, Mashki, Nirkal, Shamash and Helsi) and 12-kilometre wall.
There is also the Bashtabiya Castle and Tell Quwainjaq, among many other landmarks, which today require reconstruction and restoration, Thanoun said.
"ISIS had sought to erase a history and civilisation with roots going back thousands of years," said Ahmed Qassim al-Jumaa, who teaches archaeology at Mosul University.
"They tried to turn many historical cities, castles and ancient buildings in Ninawa into piles of rubble," he told Diyaruna.
He accused ISIS of espousing "an extremist terrorist ideology that does not believe in the historical value of these sites and the long-standing human heritage they represent".
"National and international efforts are currently focused on this heritage and how to preserve it, in spite of hurdles along the way," al-Jumaa said.
He said he is hopeful that the restoration of archaeological and heritage sites will markedly improve the chances of bringing back Mosul's cultural lustre.