Tonight, ISIS blew up the Grand al-Nuri Mosque, one of the most iconic sites in all of Iraq—and the place where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his caliphate of hate nearly three years ago.
It’s difficult to convey the gravity of this loss for the people of Mosul. The al-Nuri mosque stood in Mosul’s Old City neighborhood for nearly 800 years. It’s featured on Iraq’s currency—on the 10,000 dinar note. And its destruction will leave a scar on this city and its people for years to come, long after ISIS is finally defeated.
Here are four things you should know about this heartbreaking development, its significance to the battle against ISIS, and what it means for thousands of civilians still trapped in Mosul’s Old City…
1. It’s confirmation the battle for Mosul is reaching its most critical stage yet—and militants are running out of options.
The Old City is ISIS’s last stronghold in Mosul. Earlier today, Iraqi forces told us they are “tens of meters” from the al-Nuri mosque and that they gave ISIS an ultimatum: surrender by tonight or be destroyed. A few hours later, ISIS responded by blowing up the mosque.
After almost nine months of fighting, thousands of civilians and soldiers killed, and hundreds of thousands of people driven from their homes, the battle for Mosul has come down to this. There is no escape. Not for the 300 or so remaining ISIS fighters. And not for the 100,000+ civilians they still hold captive in Old City.
The Mosul crisis has reached its most desperate point. ISIS’s defeat here is only a matter of time—but as they demonstrated today, they can inflict massive damage before defeat finally comes. They’re completely surrounded, with no hope of escape—so there’s nothing to deter them from causing as much devastation as possible before they’re all killed.
2. Blowing up the mosque was a desperate but calculated move on ISIS’s part.
Almost immediately after the news broke, ISIS accused the US-led coalition of destroying the al-Nuri mosque with an airstrike. Overhead imagery of the blast area, as well as video footage of the explosion, provide strong evidence that it was destroyed from the ground, not the air.
Destroying the mosque and blaming it on the coalition may be a last-ditch effort by ISIS to rally their fighters as they go into the final battle for Mosul. But it’s also meant to deny Iraq a key symbolic victory. Ever since the caliphate was declared here, countless Iraqis have looked forward to the day when its defeat would be proclaimed from the very same spot. Doing so would help undermine ISIS’s claim to legitimacy. In all likelihood, today’s actions were meant to deny the Iraqi people that symbolic and important victory.
3. We're very worried about the human toll of this act.
No one knows how many civilians may have been killed in the blast. But one thing we do know: ISIS is notorious for using innocent children, women, and men as human shields.
On one of our recent aid deliveries inside Mosul, one of our team members received a call from someone who said they were trapped inside the al-Nuri mosque. He added that there were hundreds of civilians trapped inside with him, being held as human shields. We couldn’t confirm his story ourselves, but it’s consistent with ISIS’s behavior throughout this conflict.
And there are thousands more civilians trapped in the Old City. ISIS has already killed more than 200 people trying to escape. The devastation in this part of Mosul is already immense. It’s one of the most densely populated areas of the city. The streets are narrower. The houses are older and more fragile. The impact of this battle on families is catastrophic.
4. We have aid in place for families trapped in Mosul’s Old City—and we’re going in. But the need is so much bigger.
We’ve spent weeks preparing for the liberation of Mosul’s Old City. It’s only because of our faithful monthly donors, who allow us to plan far ahead of the crisis, that we’ve been able to do this.
We’ve heard heartbreaking reports of starving families ripping pages out of coloring books to eat because there is no food. One of our colleagues said that “people are eating any kind of meat, if you know what I mean.”
So we’re already staging emergency food for up to 50,000 people, as close to the frontlines as possible. But there are more than 100,000 people trapped in Mosul’s Old City. We desperately need your help to reach as many of them as possible.
Depending on how the battle goes from here, we plan to enter Mosul’s Old City within the next few days. We’ll deliver thousands of pounds of food near the site of the mosque that was destroyed by ISIS today.
But it’s not enough to show up with emergency food for a short time and then leave. The wounds of war are not mended in a moment or with a single aid delivery.
So we’re going to keep showing up. We’re going to stay in Mosul like we’ve stayed in Fallujah and Aleppo, for as long as it takes—to help people put the broken pieces of their lives back together.
But we can only do this if you stay with the people of Mosul, too.
In the days and weeks ahead, they need food, water, and urgent medical care. Beyond that, they need help starting new businesses so they can earn income again, provide for their families again, rebuild, and make Mosul great again.
The people of Mosul have endured so much at the hands of ISIS. The destruction of their beloved al-Nuri mosque is only the latest chapter. But it won’t change how we respond. We’re going in, and we’re going to stay. But the only way we can do so is if you go—and stay—with us.
Your one-time donations help provide food when it’s needed most—and that is an amazing thing. But it’s your regular, monthly giving that helps us plan before the crisis and stay long after the cameras have all moved on. Because that’s when your love is needed most. That’s when the real battle—the battle for Mosul’s future—is decided.
As we enter the very worst stage of this crisis—as the need in Mosul reaches its most critical point yet—we’re asking you to say yes. We’re asking you to stand with the people of Mosul and give them what they need to survive and rebuild—for today and many, many tomorrows.
Become a monthly sponsor—and help Mosul families rebuild.