Saddam Hussein said sanctions killed 500,000 children. That was ‘a spectacular lie.’

The Washington Post reports: During the rush to wage war in Iraq in the early 2000s, one figure widely cited both to justify and oppose the U.S.-led invasion was that more than 500,000 children had died as a result of U.N.-imposed sanctions in the previous decade.

Nearly two decades later, researchers at the London School of Economics have concluded that the figure simply wasn’t true.

Instead, child mortality figures provided to the United Nations were deliberately doctored by Saddam Hussein’s government to discredit the international community, the researchers said in a new report published by the British Medical Journal of Global Health.

“The government of Iraq cleverly manipulated survey data to fool the international community,” the report said, describing the figure of 500,000 deaths as “a massive fraud.”

“Following its creation and dissemination the deception received considerable attention and was widely believed to be true. Moreover, it continues to be influential,” said Tim Dyson and Valerie Cetorelli, who wrote the report and are with the London School of Economics. [Continue reading…]

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Inside Iran’s mission to dominate the Middle East

Borzou Daragahi reports: Iran has built up a multinational network of tens of thousands of young men from across the Middle East, turning them into a well-drilled fighting machine that is outgunning the US on the battlefield, as Tehran outsmarts the White House in the corridors of power.

These men can be found leading the defense of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, recapturing land from ISIS in Iraq, and fighting for control of the Yemeni capital of Sanaa. The transnational militia of Shiite men — which has no official title — is now the dominant force in the region, enabling Iran to take full advantage in the absence of a coherent strategy from the Trump White House.

Over six months, BuzzFeed News spoke to researchers, officials, and militia fighters who described what they knew about the Iranian program, overseen by the secretive Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and its infamous commander Qassem Suleimani — who often shows up on front lines in Iraq and Syria. Accounts by the fighters reveal the scale and structure of the program, and although many of the details could not be independently verified, BuzzFeed News was able to confirm all the fighters’ memberships in various armed groups. Their stories, collected independently, match one another — as well as accounts gathered by US military and intelligence officials.

Mustafa al-Freidawi is one of those men.

Freidawi, a compact man with a neatly trimmed black beard, fondly recalls his early days as a member of Iran’s militia. “It was a new adventure,” he said. “We were happy.” Speaking in a noisy restaurant in northern Baghdad earlier this year, Freidawi outlined how he was recruited, trained, and deployed to be part of a fighting force that aims to cement Iran’s influence in the Middle East, and beyond. [Continue reading…]

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In Mosul, 350,000 children return to school

Rudaw reports: Approximately 350,000 students have returned to school in both east and west Mosul, which is bisected by the Tigris river, despite the heavy destruction and fear of unexploded bombs, especially in western Mosul where the damage is 30 times higher than the east.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared west Mosul liberated on July 10 therefore announcing the full liberation of the city from ISIS militants following months of military operations.

A UK-based education charity announced earlier this week that as many as 83 schools have reopened in west Mosul, accommodating 58,800 students.

Their World stated that damaged buildings, unexploded bombs, and overcrowding are the main problems facing the return of education to the war-torn city.

In eastern Mosul, which was liberated in late January by the Iraqi Security Forces with lesser damage to the infrastructure, the charity says that at least 336 schools are back in service providing education to 288,500 students. [Continue reading…]

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Children of ISIS fighters face threat of Mosul revenge attacks

The Guardian reports: For the past seven months, Abu Hassan, an army medic, has treated the damaged and desperate people of the Iraqi city of Mosul as they arrived from the cauldron of war.

Soldiers, women and children often trembled in fear in front of him, hours after escaping the bloody clashes, as Iraqi forces battled to wrest control of the city from Islamic State fighters. But not nine-year-old Mohammed.

“He wasn’t a normal boy – he didn’t seem scared,” Hassan said shortly after treating Mohammed, one of the last to flee west Mosul earlier this month. “I chatted with him. I asked him normal questions, like: ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ He said: ‘I want to be a sniper.’”

“I was shocked,” said Hassan. “It’s not a normal thing for a child to say. I asked him: ‘What did your dad do?’ He said he was a sniper emir – the emir of snipers.

“[Later] I received a lot of information from people from Mosul saying his father was important. The special forces found the boy in a basement with several [dead] Isis fighters. The soldiers brought the boy to me.”

Since the recapture of Iraq’s second city earlier this month, the toll the terror group’s occupation took on the city’s residents – and especially its young – has begun to emerge.

Hundreds, potentially thousands, of children have been left orphaned by war. And some bear a second burden – an ideology that has stripped them of innocence. To many in their own society, they are the devil’s spawn; stateless outcasts, unworthy of basic care. Aid agencies and state welfare systems do not want to acknowledge them. [Continue reading…]

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Blaming religion for Middle East violence ignores nuance and absolves governments of their responsibility

Tristan Dunning writes: As the Islamic State group’s territorial project slowly but inexorably comes to an end in Iraq and Syria, the White House is once again trotting out the twin rationales of foreign fighters and the impending apocalypse to absolve itself of any responsibility for the rise and spread of extremist militant Islam.

Last week, US Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk revealed that the US-led coalition was compiling a database of foreign jihadists fighting for IS, thereby signalling that the White House may be preparing to shift the focus of its operations from the ongoing recruitment bazaars of Iraq and Syria, to the putative eschatological battle against extremist militant Islam on a global level.

In similar vein, White House Deputy Assistant to the President Sebastian Gorka asserted earlier this year that IS propagated the idea that Judgement Day was nigh and that now was the last chance to engage in jihad and thereby ascend to Paradise.

Invocations of such rationales as official explanations for the rise and persistence of extremist militant Islam are not only misleading, but also potentially counterproductive and dangerous. There are a variety of other more mundane reasons at play aside from supposed religious dogma. [Continue reading…]

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How ISIS nearly stumbled on the ingredients for a ‘dirty bomb’

The Washington Post reports: On the day the Islamic State overran the Iraqi city of Mosul in 2014, it laid claim to one of the greatest weapons bonanzas ever to fall to a terrorist group: a large metropolis dotted with military bases and garrisons stocked with guns, bombs, rockets and even battle tanks.

But the most fearsome weapon in Mosul on that day was never used by the terrorists. Only now is it becoming clear what happened to it.

Locked away in a storage room on a Mosul college campus were two caches of cobalt-60, a metallic substance with lethally high levels of radiation. When contained within the heavy shielding of a radiotherapy machine, cobalt-60 is used to kill cancer cells. In terrorists’ hands, it is the core ingredient of a “dirty bomb,” a weapon that could be used to spread radiation and panic.

Western intelligence agencies were aware of the cobalt and watched anxiously for three years for signs that the militants might try to use it. Those concerns intensified in late 2014 when Islamic State officials boasted of obtaining radioactive material, and again early last year when the terrorists took over laboratories at the same Mosul college campus with the apparent aim of building new kinds of weapons.

In Washington, independent nuclear experts drafted papers and ran calculations about the potency of the cobalt and the extent of the damage it could do. The details were kept under wraps on the chance that Mosul’s occupiers might not be fully aware of what they had.

Iraqi military commanders were apprised of the potential threat as they battled Islamic State fighters block by block through the sprawling complex where the cobalt was last seen. Finally, earlier this year, government officials entered the bullet-pocked campus building and peered into the storage room where the cobalt machines were kept.

They were still there, exactly as they were when the Islamic State seized the campus in 2014. The cobalt apparently had never been touched.

“They are not that smart,” a relieved health ministry official said of the city’s former occupiers.

Why the Islamic State failed to take advantage of its windfall is not clear. U.S. officials and nuclear experts speculate that the terrorists may have been stymied by a practical concern: how to dismantle the machines’ thick cladding without exposing themselves to a burst of deadly radiation.

More certain is the fact that the danger has not entirely passed. With dozens of Islamic State stragglers still loose in the city, U.S. officials requested that details about the cobalt’s current whereabouts not be revealed.

They also acknowledged that their worries extend far beyond Mosul. Similar equipment exists in hundreds of cities around the world, some of them in conflict zones. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS was a symptom. State collapse is the disease

Thanassis Cambanis writes: The collapse this month of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has been greeted with joy and relief in many quarters, especially among the millions of civilians who directly suffered the extremist group’s rule. Much of the predictable analysis has focused on long-term trends that will continue to trouble the world: the resonance of extremist jihadi messaging, the persistence of sectarian conflict, the difficulty of holding together disparate coalitions like the clumsy behemoth that ousted ISIS from its strongholds in Raqqa and Mosul.

But jihadis and sectarians are not, contrary to popular belief, the most important engines of ISIS, Al Qaeda, and similar groups. Nor are foreign spy services the primary author of these apocalyptic movements — as many around the world wrongly believe.

No, the most critical factor feeding jihadi movements is the collapse of effective central governments — a trend in which the West, especially the United States, has been complicit.

An overdue alliance of convenience mobilized against the Islamic State three years ago, but only after leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had taken over enough territory to declare statehood. The ISIS caliphate was as much as a state — for as long as it lasted — as many other places in the Middle East. Most of the coalition members detested ISIS, but only the local members from Iraq and Syria whose families were dying or suffering under Islamic State rule were fully invested. For the rest of the anti-ISIS coalition, fighting the caliphate was one of many other priorities.

The glacial, slow-moving, coalition united against ISIS but bound by little else. It is sure to dissolve quickly now that the emergency is over. [Continue reading…]

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This is what it’s like inside liberated Mosul

BuzzFeed reports: ISIS has cost Ziad Salem deeply — his job as a guard at the ministry of oil; his marriage to a wife who turned out to be an ISIS sympathizer; and his home once her family tarnished him as an opponent of the caliphate, sending him into hiding. Then, when the war to liberate Mosul began in earnest, he lost his city.

“ISIS promised it would create a caliphate that would stretch from Baghdad to the Philippines,” the 48-year-old said during a walk to see what remained of his shattered hometown. “Instead I lost everything. But above all I lost my city and country.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over ISIS in Mosul this week, emphasizing that the challenge of reconstruction must now get underway. In west Mosul’s topography of pain, loss and destruction, Salem might have gotten off easy. A once proud, relatively prosperous city of an estimated 1.3 million in 2014 has now been reduced to rubble, and all but depopulated. Much of the city’s ancient old quarter, lay in tangled heaps of cement, twisted girders, and electrical wire. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS, despite heavy losses, still inspires global attacks

The New York Times reports: Three years ago, a black-clad cleric named Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ascended a mosque pulpit in the Iraqi city of Mosul and addressed the world as leader of a new terrorist state.

The announcement of the so-called caliphate was a high point for the extremist fighters of the Islamic State. Their exhibitionist violence and apocalyptic ideology helped them seize vast stretches of territory in Syria and Iraq, attract legions of foreign fighters and create an administration with bureaucrats, courts and oil wells.

Now, their state is crumbling.

In Syria, American-backed militias have surrounded Raqqa, the group’s capital, and breached its historic walls. Across the border, Iraqi forces have seized the remains of the Mosul mosque where Mr. Baghdadi appeared and besieged the remaining jihadists in a shrinking number of city blocks.

But the loss of its two largest cities will not spell a final defeat for the Islamic State — also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh — according to analysts and American and Middle Eastern officials. The group has already shifted back to its roots as an insurgent force, but one that now has an international reach and an ideology that continues to motivate attackers around the world.

“These are obviously major blows to ISIS because its state-building project is over, there is no more caliphate, and that will diminish support and recruits,” said Hassan Hassan, a senior fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy in Washington and a co-author of a book on the group. “But ISIS today is an international organization. Its leadership and its ability to grow back are still there.”

The Islamic State has overshadowed its jihadist precursors like Al Qaeda by not just holding territory, but by running cities and their hinterlands for an extended period, winning the group credibility in the militant world and allowing it to build a complex organization.

So even while its physical hold slips, its surviving cadres — middle managers, weapons technicians, propagandists and other operatives — will invest that experience in the group’s future operations.

And even though its hold on crucial urban centers is being shaken, the Islamic State is in no way homeless yet.

In Iraq, the group still controls Tal Afar, Hawija, other towns and much of Anbar Province. In Syria, most of its top operatives have fled Raqqa in the past six months for other towns still under ISIS control in the Euphrates River valley, according to American and Western military and counterterrorism officials who have received intelligence briefings. [Continue reading…]

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Mosul liberation will not be end of ISIS

Ali Hashem writes: Beneath the destroyed minaret of Mosul, known as the “hunchback,” rests the rubble of what used to be the great mosque of the city. The historical Grand al-Nuri Mosque was built eight centuries ago by Noureddine Zanki, a medieval Muslim leader who paved the way for Saladin, the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, to confront the crusaders and take over Jerusalem after the decisive battle of Hattin in 1187 — by making Sunni Muslim orthodoxy prevail over Shiism.

Back then, the Muslims’ lands were annihilated by the crusaders, while their leadership was weak and divided between the Abbasid dynasty in Baghdad and the Fatimid rule in Cairo, alongside other small Islamic princedoms scattered from Persia to Mosul to Aleppo. The Shiite-Sunni rift during that period reached its peak, and Zanki played an important role in restoring Sunni power by defeating the Shiite Hamdanid dynasty that ruled from Mosul to Aleppo in today’s Iraq and Syria.

Mosul itself is a place with geopolitical importance throughout history: The Mongols, the Timurids, the Ottomans and the Persians all either occupied or tried to occupy the city over the past centuries. “Mosul” means “connector” in Arabic, which may be the reason why famous 12th-century Arab geographer and biographer Yaqut al-Hamawi described Mosul as “the gate to Iraq, the key to Khorasan and the road to Azerbaijan.” [Continue reading…]

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Iraq: The battle to come

Joost Hiltermann writes: As an eight-month battle to retake Mosul from ISIS is coming to an end in the labyrinthine alleyways of the Old City, a parallel battle to defeat its fighters in the Syrian town of Raqqa is gathering force. But further battles await: downstream along the Euphrates in Deir al-Zour, in the vast desert that spans the Iraq–Syria border, and in a large chunk of territory west of the Iraqi city of Kirkuk. To members of the US-led coalition and to Western audiences, this has been a necessary military campaign, directed at a jihadist group whose brutal methods and ambition to carry out attacks in western capitals pose an intolerable threat.

To local people, the picture is decidedly different. ISIS’s military defeat, which Western officials believe will come sometime later this year or early next, will hardly put an end to the conflicts that gave rise to the group. For much of the battle against ISIS has taken place in a region that has been fought over ever since oil was found in Kirkuk in the 1930s. The deeper conflicts here—between Arabs and Kurds, between Shia and Sunni, between neighboring powers such as Iran and Turkey, and among the Kurds themselves—will only escalate as the victors, fortified by weapons supplies and military training provided by foreign governments, engage in a mad scramble for the spoils.

When ISIS conquered Iraq’s predominantly Sunni Arab areas three years ago, it faced off with Kurdish forces along a frontline that ran through the middle of what one might call the borderlands between Arab Iraq, with Baghdad as its capital, and Kurdish Iraq, which is governed from Erbil in the north. Kurdish leaders claim that significant parts of these so-called disputed territories are “Kurdistani,” by which they mean that even if the local population is not majority-Kurdish, it nevertheless should be incorporated into the Kurdish region—and thus into a desired future Kurdish state. Many local Arabs, on the other hand, insist that these areas are inalienably Iraqi and must remain under Baghdad’s authority. [Continue reading…]

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America has abandoned its role as a global leader, says a top U.S. ally

The Washington Post reports: One of America’s top allies in the Middle East offered an excoriating assessment of the U.S. role in the region, saying that the United States is “absent.”

“There is a vacuum in the overall leadership in the world,” Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview airing Friday. “The Americans need to … get back to their role as an international power, an important international power.” He also accused the United States of lacking an “international strategy,” saying there is “no strategy for the alliances that are fighting and have helped us in this part of the fight.”

Allawi also attacked America’s broader fight against Islamist extremism and said the country lacks clear-cut policies. [Continue reading…]

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Mosul mosque where Baghdadi declared caliphate ‘has been recaptured’ as ISIS reverts to its insurgent roots

The Guardian reports: Iraqi forces claim to have recaptured the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul – where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed himself leader of Islamic State three years ago.

The seizure marks a highly symbolic moment in the war, placing government troops in the heart of the Old City – the last redoubt of Isis in Mosul – and probably within a fortnight of recapturing all of Mosul.

Baghdadi declared a caliphate from the mosque three years ago to the day – 29 June 2014 – at the height of the group’s power. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: The Islamic State has carried out nearly 1,500 attacks in 16 cities across Iraq and Syria after they were declared freed from the militants’ control in recent months, providing new evidence that the group is reverting to its insurgent roots and foreshadowing long-term security threats.

The information was compiled by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point in a study made public on Thursday that warns that any military gains will fall short without increased efforts to restore the security, governance and economies in territory once held by the Islamic State.

“Pushing the Islamic State out as the formal governing party in a territory is not a sufficient development when it comes to ending the group’s ability to enact violence against individuals in Iraq and Syria,” the 20-page report said.

American diplomatic and military leaders say an even greater challenge than ousting the Islamic State, or ISIS, from its self-declared religious state, or caliphate, in eastern Syria and northern and western Iraq may well be the daunting political and economic reconstruction in the years ahead.

Counterterrorism specialists said the new study illuminates a trend that has been emerging for several months, as American-backed ground forces in Iraq and Syria have steadily rolled back territorial gains the Islamic State achieved in 2014 and used as the basis for its global appeal to Muslims to come join the caliphate. Now, its strongholds of Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria, its self-declared capital, are besieged, and senior leaders have fled as opposing forces close in.

“ISIS has anticipated the loss of its government for over a year,” said William McCants, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of “The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State.” “They are prepared to wage a war from the shadows to reclaim it.” [Continue reading…]

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These are the civilian victims of the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS

Mike Giglio reports from Mosul: Residents of this quiet street in eastern Mosul sometimes see their former neighbor return to his rubbled home. He cuts a lonely figure as he climbs through the crushed concrete and twisted iron, stooping to dig for mementos — a photo, a scrap of clothes. Then he sits and cries.

Hassan Ali Hassan, 45, is a Jordanian who has lived for three decades in Mosul, where he married a local woman and raised a family. In June 2014, after ISIS captured the city, he tried to escape with his wife and three daughters to Amman, but the militants seized their passports and ordered them to stay.

Hassan and his family were still trapped in the city on Dec. 14, 2016, as Iraqi forces pressed their US-backed offensive to retake Mosul from ISIS. The fighting had not yet reached their neighborhood, and the family shared a late breakfast before Hassan stepped out to get gas for their generator. Barely a minute had passed when a massive explosion erupted behind him. He ran back to find his home demolished and engulfed in flames, pulverized by an airstrike carried out by the US-led coalition fighting ISIS. Body parts of his wife and daughters littered the street.

“We found some on the other houses here,” recalled a neighbor, Yasir Mohamed, on a recent afternoon, as some semblance of life returned to their neighborhood, called Hay al-Sukar, which was freed from ISIS in January. Reached later by phone, Hassan still seemed to be in shock. “Just everything was in pieces,” he said. “Everyone was dead.”

“Everything happened before my eyes,” he kept repeating.

Homes like Hassan’s riddle Mosul’s streets as Iraqi forces push into the last ISIS-held districts of the city. The US-led air campaign has taken a devastating toll on civilians — and there has yet to be an accounting of its extent. In any neighborhood, residents can quickly point the way to the wrecked houses nearby, detailing which ones held ISIS militants and which ones held only civilians. In late May, a reporter and photographer from BuzzFeed News visited seven sites where witnesses alleged that civilians were killed by airstrikes from the coalition. US warplanes lead the air campaign, but allies such as Britain, Australia, Canada, and France also participate.

The battle has seen some of the deadliest urban combat since World War II — and it has been defined by airstrikes. As of June 3, the coalition had launched some 24,464 munitions into Mosul since the offensive began in October 2016, according to US Department of Defense statistics, and the intensity of the strikes has increased under the Trump administration. In the two years prior to the offensive the US-led coalition launched roughly 13,000 strikes in Iraq. But it’s not just airstrikes that have been raining down on Mosul, endangering civilian lives. The US army has deployed advanced HIMARS rocket launchers, capable of firing six guided missiles from a range of more than 40 miles away. Both sides have used mortar bombs and other artillery. Iraqi jets have carried out airstrikes too. [Continue reading…]

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Rival groups vie for supremacy as fight against ISIS reaches tipping point

The Guardian reports: Iraqi forces have advanced to the base of the toppled minaret of Mosul’s Great Mosque of al-Nuri, hours after it was destroyed by Islamic State militants, as the bitter eight-month battle to recapture the city reached a tipping point.

The destruction of the mosque marked a pivotal moment in the war against Isis, which declared its now withered caliphate from there three years ago. The terror group’s wanton act of sabotage was widely seen as a harbinger of its imminent defeat.

Across northern Iraq, only a portion of Mosul’s old city and a small adjoining neighbourhood remain under Isis control. The nearby towns of Tel Afar and Hweija, both of which are surrounded, make up the remainder of the group’s territory, a mere sliver of the lands over which it had lorded at the height of its power in mid-2014.

As its fortunes have turned, the group’s remaining members have fled Iraq for the deserts of Syria. So rapid has been their capitulation that plans are now being drafted for a decisive battle later this year, somewhere between the Syrian and Jordanian borders, areas far from those that Isis had coveted.

Lined up in pursuit are a range of players who had have staked claims throughout the fight with Isis, as well as parallel regional conflicts, and have waited for the time to consolidate. As the organisation crumbles, all sides have now started competing for an edge, who gets to define what emerges from the collapse of Isis is a prize bigger than winning the war itself. [Continue reading…]

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Destroying Great Mosque of al-Nuri ‘is ISIS declaring defeat’

The Guardian reports: The destruction came as Iraqi troops edged to within 50 metres of the mosque, in a densely packed neighbourhood of central western Mosul, more than eight months into the battle to free the city.

“As our Iraqi security force [ISF] partners closed in on the al-Nuri mosque, Isis destroyed one of Mosul and Iraq’s great treasures,” said Maj Gen Joseph Martin, commanding general of the US-led coalition fighting Isis.

“This is a crime against the people of Mosul and all of Iraq, and is an example of why this brutal organisation must be annihilated. The responsibility of this devastation is laid firmly at the doorstep of Isis, and we continue to support our Iraqi partners as they bring these terrorists to justice.

“However, the battle for the liberation of Mosul is not yet complete, and we remain focused on supporting the ISF with that objective in mind.”

Isis had vowed to defend the city it seized in July 2014 and had been fiercely resisting advancing forces this summer.

“They blew it up because they did not want the place they announced the caliphate from to be the place where the Iraqi military announces its victory over them,” said Hisham al-Hashimi, an author on extremist groups and a former government adviser.

The loss of the site is another devastating blow to Iraq’s heritage, which has been ravaged by 14 years of war since the US-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein. The militants’ control over northern Iraq has taken a particularly heavy toll, with globally significant archaeological sites being vandalised and pillaged.

“When I looked out of the window and saw the minaret was no longer there, I felt a part of me had died,” Ahmed Saied, a 54-year-old schoolteacher in Mosul, told Reuters.

“In the early morning, I climbed up to my house roof and was stunned to see the Hadba minaret had gone,” Nashwan, a labourer living in the Khazraj neighbourhood near the mosque, said by phone. “I broke into tears. I felt I had lost a son of mine.”

The mosque was destroyed on the Night of Power, one of the holiest dates in the Islamic calendar, when the Qur’an was revealed to the prophet Muhammad. It was built in the 12th century by Noureddine al-Zanki, a famed commander and a contemporary of Saladin, whose family ruled the provinces of Aleppo and Mosul on behalf of the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad.

The mosque was one of the great monuments in Islam after the grand mosques of Mecca and Medina, al-Aqsa in Jerusalem and the Umayyad mosque in Damascus, rivalling others such as the Amr ibn al-’As mosque in Egypt and other more modern structures built in recent centuries. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS blows up Mosul mosque where it declared ‘caliphate’

The New York Times reports: The Islamic State on Wednesday night destroyed Mosul’s centuries-old Al Nuri Grand Mosque and its distinctive leaning minaret, one of Iraq’s most famous landmarks, according to the Iraqi and American militaries.

Shortly after the military’s report, the terrorist group used its news agency to claim that the mosque had actually been destroyed by an American airstrike.

Col. Ryan Dillon, an American military spokesman in Baghdad, said that the coalition had confirmed, through drone surveillance footage, that the mosque had been destroyed. “We don’t know how,” said Colonel Dillon, who added that the coalition was investigating.

But shortly afterward, the United States Central Command issued a statement bluntly accusing the Islamic State of destroying the mosque.

“As our Iraqi Security Force partners closed in on the al-Nuri mosque, ISIS destroyed one of Mosul and Iraq’s great treasures,” Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin, the American commander for the operation, said in the statement. “This is a crime against the people of Mosul and all of Iraq, and is an example of why this brutal organization must be annihilated.”

The mosque is where the Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ascended a pulpit in 2014 and declared a caliphate after his fighters took control of Mosul and swept through other areas of northern Iraq and Syria. [Continue reading…]

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