ISIS’s destruction of the Great Mosque of Mosul continues the trail of destruction with which ISIS has become associated since its formation. It is a cultural tragedy of appalling proportions, destroying one of the great monuments of Islamic Arab architecture and art.
Photographic imagery obtained by drones of the Great Mosque since its destruction makes it quite clear that ISIS’s claim that it was destroyed in an air strike is untrue. The degree of destruction is so extensive that it bears all the hallmarks of a planned destruction carried out with explosives planted inside the mosque itself.
Though ISIS has destroyed numerous monuments, the destruction of the Great Mosque of Mosul nonetheless represents a departure for the group, striking at an Islamic Sunni monument which can by no stretch be considered the work of infidels or idolators.
Why has ISIS done it?
The short answer is that the Great Mosul of Mosul is where in 2014 ISIS’s leader Ibrahim Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi proclaimed the Caliphate and declared himself the Caliph of Islam under the title “the Caliph Ibrahim”.
With the Iraqi army now only a few hundred metres from the Great Mosque, its destruction was therefore ordered to prevent it falling back into the hands of people Al-Baghdadi considers apostates who deny his authority as Islam’s Caliph.
Almost certainly it was Al-Baghdadi himself who ordered the Great Mosque’s destruction, just as it was almost certainly he who back in October ordered that Mosul be defended rather than handed over to the Iraqi army.
That points to Al-Baghdadi probably being being still alive despite suggestions from the Russians a few days ago that he may have been killed in a Russian air strike. I say probably because Al-Baghdadi almost certainly gave the order that the Great Mosque be destroyed rather than be allowed to fall into ‘apostate’ hands some time ago, as shown by the carefully planned way its destruction has been carried out.
However even though the order to destroy the Great Mosque was undoubtedly given some time ago, there has to be a question whether the ISIS fighters in Mosul would have acted on the order if Al-Baghdadi was dead. Though the communications of the remaining ISIS fighters trapped in Mosul with ISIS’s leadership are doubtless sporadic and being monitored, I still think that before taking such a step they would have sought final authorisation from ISIS’s leadership – probably through a coded message – and that this would have required the agreement of Al-Baghdadi himself.
This episode shows the continued fanaticism of the remaining ISIS fighters in Mosul. Though their number can by now be no more than a few hundred, and though their prospects of surviving for many more days must be very small, not only are they still resisting, but they still accept Al-Baghdadi’s authority to the extent of obeying his order to destroy one of Islam’s greatest mosques.
Whilst there has been no confirmation from ISIS that Al-Baghdadi is either alive or dead, all the indications point to him being still alive. Not only does the destruction of Mosul’s Great Mosque point clearly that way, but so does ISIS’s continued fierce resistance in Mosul, Raqqa and Deir Ezzor, as does the continued activity of ISIS’s propaganda machine – including its news agency Amaq – which like the propaganda machine of the Third Reich looks like it will go on functioning right to the end.
If the destruction of the Great Mosque of Mosul points to the likelihood of Al-Baghdadi’s survival, and to the fanaticism and continued loyalty of his followers, it however also points to the approaching end.
The fact that Al-Baghdadi has been obliged to order the destruction of the mosque where he declared himself Caliph points clearly to his loss of faith in his eventual victory, even if – like Hitler – this is something he can never admit to his followers.