Mosul (AsiaNews) – A campaign to restore the holdings of the library of the University of Mosul has received an enthusiastic response since it began three months ago.
Professors, students and private donors inside and outside Iraq are contributing books and other materials even before government military action to reclaim the city from Da’esh (Islamic State) has ended.
The initiative began to take shape soon after the Iraqi military launched an offensive – with the support of Kurdish and Shia forces – to free the city.
So far, the eastern part of Mosul and most of the Nineveh Plain have been cleared of Jihadi presence, but strong pockets of resistance remain in western Mosul and the Old Town.
This month marks the third anniversary of the capture by Islamic State (IS) fighters in 2014 of Iraq’s second largest city. When it captured Mosul, IS seized the library and made a show of destroying its books and manuscripts, many of them ancient and priceless.
The largescale devastation inflicted by Jihadis on Iraq’s (and Syria’s) historical and cultural heritage pushed UNESCO, the UN education, science and culture agency, to issue a warning in 2015.
Speaking about the library, ““The destruction is complete,” said Obay al-Dewachi, president of the University of Mosul. ““Almost 100 per cent of the university’s library and holdings were destroyed.”
Al-Dewachi has been running a University of Mosul campus in exile in Dohuk in Iraqi Kurdistan since 2015.
Many of the library’s older manuscripts had been digitised and backed up on servers, so they have not been entirely lost to posterity, said Mohammed Jassim, the library’s director, who has been working in Kirkuk for the past three years.
Some manuscripts are intact because employees spirited them away when Islamic State captured Mosul.
The library contained 3,500 rare books dating as far back as the early 18th century. The library also had 5,000 government publications dating back to the establishment of the modern Iraqi state in 1921.
Making matters worse, most of the library’s holdings of about one million books were destroyed when US-led coalition fighter planes launched an air strike on the library in March of 2016 because coalition forces believed it was being used as an Islamic State command centre.
In January of this year, as Iraqi forces reclaimed the university campus, IS set fire to the building, apparently to destroy evidence about its operations.
“You can smell the soot from 500 metres away,” said Ali al-Baroodi, a lecturer in the translation department at the University of Mosul. “The books were piled in a corner and set on fire.”
The campaign to rebuild the university library began in February of this year, soon after the liberation of the eastern part of the city, where the university’s campus is located. It was led by the Iraqi blogger Mosul Eye who anonymously documented the massacres and destructions carried out by the Islamic State.
So far, the university has collected more than 6,000 books and has a pledge of 20 tonnes of books in response to the appeal made by Mosul Eye.
The community at Baghdad College, a prestigious high school established by American Jesuits in 1932, has also been collecting books for the library. Anas Jaroo, 23, a software engineer and Baghdad College alumnus, donated 40 books on medicine and civil and computer engineering.
“My father, who is a retired physician, graduated from Mosul Medical College in 1982,” said Jaroo, who lives in Baghdad. “He used to tell me about the university in the old times. For him, it was a little Harvard.”