Reconstruction of the ancient Al-Nuri Mosque, where Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadhi declared his so-called caliphate in 2014, started in Mosul yesterday.
The head of the Sunni Muslim Endowment, Abdul Latif Al-Humayim, was joined by UN and EU dignitaries for the ceremony, as he laid the first cornerstone of the landmark mosque in the centre of the city.
The historic mosque, along with its distinctive leaning minaret, was reportedly blown up by Daesh militants as government forces took the city last year. It was originally built in 1172, by Muslim commander Nur Al-Din Al-Zengi, but as of 2017 the minaret was the last remaining relic from that era.
UNESCO representative, Louise Haxthausen, said that the mosque's destruction "was a moment of horror and despair."
"Today, as we lay the foundation stone of the Al-Nuri mosque, we are starting a journey of physical reconstruction."
The project will take some five years to complete and is being funded by the UAE, at a cost of $50.4 million. The first year will be focused on documenting and clearing the site. The next four years will see the rebuilding of the minaret, the prayer hall, and adjacent buildings.
Abu Bakr Kenaan, the head of Sunni Muslim endowments in Nineveh province told reporters that remnants of the original minaret would be preserved, while other parts of the mosque would be built afresh, as well as a museum about its history.
Iraq declared victory over Daesh militants last year, but the country has struggled to emerge from the conflict country amid continued attacks from small pockets of fighters. In August, Daesh leader Al-Baghdadi, in his first purported speech for over a year, called on followers to fight on despite recent defeats, with the group returning to guerrilla tactics in an attempt to make a comeback.
Al-Baghdadi, who declared himself ruler of all Muslims in 2014 after capturing Iraq's main northern city Mosul, is now believed to be hiding in the Iraqi-Syrian border region after losing all the cities and towns of his self-proclaimed caliphate.