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UNESCO-led Mosul project set for 2020

UNESCO said its US$100 million plan to reconstruct northern Iraqi city of Mosul's heritage, including its famed mosque destroyed by IS, will begin next year.

PARIS (AN) — The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization announced on Wednesday that its US$100 million plan to reconstruct northern Iraqi city of Mosul's heritage, including famed al-Nuri mosque destroyed by the Islamic State group, will get underway next year.

UNESCO said the restoration timetable for the 12th-century mosque, whose leaning minaret was one of Mosul's most famous landmarks, was decided at a meeting between the United Nations agency's director-general, Audrey Azoulay, and Iraq's culture minister, Abdulamir al-Dafar Hamdani, and Mosul’s regional governor, Mansour al-Mareed.

Azoulay met with Iraqi officials at UNESCO's headquarters on Monday in Paris, the agency said in a statement.

Islamic State militants blew up the mosque, one of the region's greatest and oldest, in June 2017 as Iraqi forces approached. ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared from the mosque in the summer of 2014 that he had established an Islamic "caliphate" in Iraq and Syria.

Now, the UNESCO-led effort to “Revive the Spirit of Mosul," a campaign it launched last year, is taking shape as Iraq's largest restoration plan. The war-battered city, where most inhabitants still live in camps, lacks reliable water, electricity and other basic services.

"We are committed to working together. We agreed on a solid timetable and action plan," Azoulay said, indicating that consolidation work on the remaining structures and de-mining of the mosque and minaret site are expected to be completed in the coming weeks, and reconstruction could begin in the first half of 2020.

A symbol of tolerance

The restoration plan's biggest financial backers are the United Arab Emirates, which is contributing US$50.4 million, and the European Union, which is giving US$24 million.

For UNESCO, the initiative means rebuilding the heritage of a battered city and revitalizing its educational and cultural institutions, particularly by involving young people.

"We are aware of the difficulties, but the people of Mosul deserve our efforts," she said. "Mosul was the symbol of diversity and tolerance before the conflict. The spirit of Mosul is an example and an objective for the rest of Iraq."

As a crossroads of culture, Mosul is a living symbol of Iraqi’s pluralistic identity in a region that has long been a melting pot of people and ideas, according to UNESCO. But the occupation of Mosul by ISIS left the city and many of its landmarks in ruins. Thousands of homes were reduced to rubble.

In February 2018, an international conference in Kuwait prompted UNESCO to lead the reconstruction project with the support of Iraq's government and U.N. secretary-general. UNESCO has maintained a presence in Iraq since early 2003, around the time of the U.S.-led coalition's invasion of the country.

The invasion and toppling of late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein unleashed nationwide violence, and the battle against ISIS from 2014 to 2017 killed or wounded thousands of Iraqis. Hundreds of thousands fled homes.

Al-Dafar Hamdani, the culture minister, said Mosul's needs are considerable, but with the help of UNESCO and the international community "we can meet the challenge. We will work as a united team.”