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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Cultural Heritage Lost as Iraq Demolishes 300-Year-Old Minaret

The demolition of a 300-year-old minaret of a mosque in Iraq’s southern city of Basra to make way for road expansion has enraged locals and religious and cultural authorities who condemned it as a further erosion of the country’s cultural heritage. Built in 1727, the 11-meter (36 ft) Siraji minaret and its mosque were toppled by a bulldozer at dawn on Friday morning, its brown mud-brick spire with turquoise ornaments disappearing in a cloud of dust.

The move has drawn the attention of international organizations and heritage conservation groups, with many urging stricter laws to protect Iraq’s historic sites. It also raises questions about how the government handles such a sensitive issue involving its citizens, as it has come under fire for handling the fight to oust Islamic State from Mosul, where thousands of civilians were displaced and need immediate assistance.

UNESCO, which has a mandate to promote the protection of cultural heritage, has called for an investigation into what happened in Basra. It said removing the Siraji minaret was “unacceptable,” adding that the destruction violated a decision from the World Heritage Committee in 2013 that entrusted Iraq with the responsibility to carry out suitable maintenance works.

A UNESCO rep, Antonio Antonelli, told the Guardian that the organization was concerned about how the demolition was carried out. He added that he was also worried about the impact of constructing a nearby museum on the minaret. He stressed that the minaret is considered a national treasure, and the organization worked with local authorities to protect it.

In a statement, the Iraqi Ministry of Culture denounced the demolition, saying it was barbaric against all principles and values. It also stressed that the destruction of the Siraji minaret in the Abi Al-Khasib district violated an agreement reached between the governorate and the Sunni Endowment Office, according to which the former agreed to dismantle the minaret and transport it safely.

The official statement further pointed out that the Iraqi government “rejects and prevents prejudice to any building with a historical or archaeological character, regardless of whether it belongs to an Awqaf Office, a ministry, a province, an authority or any other institution.”

But the head of the Sunni Endowment office in Basra denied the claims, saying the organization had not agreed to the minaret’s destruction. He stated that the governor had asked them to find a company to relocate it.

The incident has further deepened the wounds of a society already struggling with an immense humanitarian crisis, with around three million internally displaced and millions more needing urgent assistance. The destruction of the Siraji minaret was a step that further deepened this tragedy, and the government must take all necessary measures to restore it and protect it in its full glory. It must also ensure that all future projects respect international standards to preserve Iraq’s rich cultural and religious heritage.

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