Iraqi government troops have captured the mosque in Mosul from where ISIL proclaimed its self-styled caliphate exactly three years ago, the Iraqi military said.
Seizing the 850-year-old Grand al-Nuri Mosque hands a symbolic victory to the Iraqi forces who have been battling for more than eight months to recapture Mosul, the northern city that served as ISIL’s de facto capital in Iraq.
“Their fictitous state has fallen,” Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, an Iraqi military spokesman, told state TV.
Iraqi authorities expect the battle to end in the coming days as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group has been bottled up in a handful of neighbourhoods of the Old City.
A large part of the mosque was blown up by the group last week.
The mosque and its famed Al-Hadba (hunchback) leaning minaret were Mosul landmarks and also held major significance in the history of ISIL rule in Iraq.
Baghdadi appeared during Friday prayers at the mosque in 2014, soon after ISIL seized Iraq’s second-largest city, calling on Muslims to obey him, in what remains his only known public appearance.
Three years later, Baghdadi’s fate and whereabouts remain unknown, and ISIL has lost much of the territory it overran in 2014.
The fighters blew up the mosque and minaret on June 21 as they put up increasingly desperate resistance to the advance of Iraqi forces.
‘Declaration of defeat’
Officials from Iraq and the US-led anti-ISIL coalition said the destruction of the site was a sign of the group’s imminent loss of Mosul, with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi calling it an “official declaration of defeat”.
The loss of the iconic 12th century minaret – one of the country’s most recognisable monuments – left the country in shock.
But the destruction had been widely anticipated, with commanders saying ISIL would not have allowed Iraqi forces to score a hugely symbolic victory by recapturing the site.
|An ISIL flag was seen on top of the minaret of the al-Nuri mosque in the Old City in western Mosul before it was destroyed [Erik De Castro/Reuters]|
ISIL claimed on its Amaq news agency that the site was hit in a US air strike, but the US-led coalition said it was the fighters who had “destroyed one of Mosul and Iraq’s great treasures”.
Russia has said it is seeking to verify whether the ISIL leader, whose whereabouts have been unknown for months, was killed when its warplanes hit the group’s leaders in a night air raid in Syria last month.
Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith, reporting from Erbil, said the recapture of the mosque compound was a significant blow to ISIL.
“What it helps us understand is how slow and how difficult a fight it has been to regain the Old City,” Smith said.
“Not long after ISIL forces blew up the al Nuri mosque and its minaret, Iraqi forces said they were about 50 metres away. It’s then taken more than a week to advance those 50 metres and to take control of the mosque compound.
“And even though Iraqi forces say they’ve got control of the area around the mosque, they’ve not gone into what’s left of the compound because they believe like everywhere else they’ve captured in the Old City, it’s been booby-trapped.”
The mosque in Mosul’s Old City was the latest in a long list of priceless heritage and historical monuments destroyed by ISIL during its three-year rule over swathes of Iraq and Syria.
The minaret, which was completed in 1172 and had been listing for centuries, is featured on Iraq’s 10,000-dinar banknote and was the main symbol of Iraq’s second city – giving its name to countless restaurants, companies and even sports clubs in Mosul.
After seizing Iraq’s Sunni Arab heartland in June 2014, ISIL reportedly rigged the Hadba with explosives but was prevented from blowing it up by the local population. The fighters consider the reverence of objects, including of such sites, as heresy.
The mosque’s destruction came three days after government forces launched an assault on the Old City, the last district of Mosul still under ISIL control.
About 100,000 residents are believed to still be trapped in the district by ISIL, which has been using civilians as human shields to defend its last redoubt in Mosul.
The area still controlled by the fighters is small but its narrow streets and the presence of so many civilians has made the operation perilous.
ISIL has been offering fierce resistance in the Old City, with barrages of mortar fire and a huge number of booby traps slowing the Iraqi advance.
While Iraqi forces have made good progress to reach the Nuri mosque, Iraqi commanders have warned that the battle for the Old City is far from over.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies
Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine.
It’s makeover time for America’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programme – one of the many examples of US projects that were already bad enough before coming under the fearlessly sociopathic direction of Donald Trump.
Launched during the presidency of Barack Obama, CVE is ostensibly meant to prevent terrorist activity by encouraging the early detection of potential “radicalisation” of individuals.
In practice, it has often resulted in a socially destructive situation in which parents, teachers and other community members are expected to report young people to law enforcement for any activity that might be construed as suspicious.
As we know from recent US history, even the most mundane of activities – such as using a pressure cooker to prepare food – can be suspicious when performed by a Muslim and can even merit a visit from the FBI.
Granted, under Obama some efforts were made to advance the idea that CVE is not Islam-specific.
For instance, the FBI website still offers a ludicrous online activity called “Don’t Be a Puppet” – designed for use in schools – in which anyone with nothing else to do can earn a certificate for successfully completing “the FBI’s Countering Violent Extremism training”.
I gave up after a few minutes, but in those few minutes I did find out that environmental activists can be violent extremists, too.
An extremist surplus
Now that Trump has taken hold of the American reins, of course, ludicrousness has been sprung from the realm of negative vocabulary and effectively flaunted as a sign of national greatness.
After first considering renaming CVE “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism”, the Trump administration has for the moment opted to simply defund some of the CVE grants awarded by Obama – such as those to groups dedicated to combating neo-Nazism and the Ku Klux Klan.
|But with Trump as with Obama, prevailing double standards and a wilful obliteration of the context surrounding global manifestations of violence mean that a pathologisation of the ‘other’ will forever trump the possibility of actual progress.|
An article on the Mother Jones website notes that the new list of grantees announced on June 23 by the Department of Homeland Security “includes groups that combat al-Qaeda and ISIS and leaves out organisations primarily focused on countering white supremacists and other far-right hate groups”.
This despite pertinent statistics compiled in a new report by the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute and The Center for Investigative Reporting, which indicate that – from 2008 to the end of 2016 – “right-wing extremists were behind nearly twice as many incidents” of US domestic terrorism as Islamist extremists.
Out of pure coincidence, surely, Obama and Trump have managed to agree on CVE funding for entities such as the police department of the city of Dearborn, Michigan, which, as a recent Middle East Eye article explains, “has the largest concentration of Arabs in the United States [and] has also been the subject of US counterterrorism efforts”.
In Dearborn and elsewhere, such efforts have included the use of FBI informants to manipulate and entrap psychologically vulnerable Muslim individuals and others in manufactured plots, thereby ensuring the lucrative sustainability of the whole terrorism industry and continued accumulation of counterterror funds by relevant agencies.
The police and other problems
Of course, Muslims aren’t the only demographic on the receiving end of US government excess and brutality. The US police habit of murdering black people – including children – shows no sign of letting up.
In recently released tragic footage of the aftermath of the fatal police shooting of Philando Castile in Minnesota in 2016, Castile’s four-year-old daughter – who witnessed the senseless killing along with her mother, Castile’s girlfriend – pleads with her mom to please not scream because “I don’t want you to get shooted.”
The child continues: “I wish this town was safer.”
How, then, to go about countering violent extremism when US law enforcement officials themselves regularly engage in extreme violence?
Answers to this question will presumably become ever more elusive as Trump’s rule progresses, presiding, as he does, over a panorama of unabashed xenophobic nationalism and arrogance – fertile terrain, no doubt, for the further cultivation of white supremacist traditions.
Already, an ongoing surge in hate crimes against Muslims and other communities suggests that many far-right extremists view Trump’s ascent as a green light.
And that’s not the end of the complications in this whole CVE business.
According to the definition provided on the FBI’s “Don’t Be a Puppet” website, violent extremism is “encouraging, condoning, justifying, or supporting the commission of a violent act to achieve political, ideological, religious, social, or economic goals” – in other words, pretty much what the US does abroad on a daily basis.
From Hiroshima to El Salvador to Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and beyond, “violent acts” have been the name of the game for quite some time. And what do you know: some of these acts have even contributed to the rise of al-Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), and other groups that apparently now require not only military, but also CVE responses.
Meanwhile, the DHS website notes that one of the major goals of CVE is “the use of counter-narratives to confront violent extremist messaging online”. A first step might be to take away Trump’s Twitter account.
Of course, Twitter, Google and Facebook have all jumped on the CVE bandwagon – as have the United Nations, as well as a vast multitude of individual nations and other outfits interested in making a buck off the fad.
But with Trump as with Obama, prevailing double standards and a willful obliteration of the context surrounding global manifestations of violence mean that a pathologisation of the “other” will forever trump the possibility of actual progress.
For those benefiting from the simultaneous fuelling and countering of “violent extremism”, though, it’s already a win-win situation.
Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin magazine.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.