UNESCO's Plan to Rebuild From ISIS Doesn't Go Over Well

Critics of Mosul landmark getting rebuilt after ISIS destruction say plan ignores Iraq's heritage
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 28, 2021 8:49 AM CDT
UNESCO's Plan to Rebuild From ISIS Doesn't Go Over Well
In this July 4, 2017, file photo, fleeing Iraqi civilians walk past the heavily damaged Al-Nouri Mosque as Iraqi forces continue their advance against Islamic State militants in Mosul.   (AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File)

A UNESCO competition to rebuild devastated landmarks in one of the world's oldest cities isn't going over well. The UN agency launched its "Revive the Spirit of Mosul" project after the Islamic State occupied the Iraqi city from 2014 to 2017, wreaking havoc on its heritage sites, religious venues, and other cultural gems. Key to the UNESCO initiative: a $50 million restoration of the 12th-century Al-Nouri Mosque, its Al-Hadba minaret, and two nearby churches, a contract that ended up being awarded to an Egyptian architectural group, which also received a $50,000 award for its winning design entry. The New York Times notes "rebuilding the mosque complex is seen as essential to the idea that despite its losses, the battered city has moved beyond ISIS." Pope Francis visited Mosul in March and also stressed that need to rebuild, per the National. But not everyone loves the winning design, selected from 123 entries and funded by the United Arab Emirates.

Although the mosque itself and the minaret will retain their basic architectural origins, Iraqi engineers, architects, and urban planners say the rest of the new complex—which will include a cultural center, public park, and high school—more closely resembles the UAE's architecture than Iraq's. The Iraqi Society of Engineers and Iraqi Architectural Heritage Preservation Society are among the groups pushing back. "The materials, colors, elements, proportion, rhythm, relationship between the elements—it is another strange language," a University of Mosul architecture instructor tells the Times. Other critics note the design flouts Islamic protocol and lacks sufficient parking. UNESCO's Iraq chief says no plans have been finalized and that the agency plans on consulting with local experts before breaking ground, but that isn't appeasing detractors. "It's a fiasco, honestly," renowned Iraqi architect Ihsan Fethi says. "The whole thing has been a terrible tragedy for us." (More Mosul stories.)

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