Iraq’s third largest city, Mosul lies on the west bank of the River Tigris in the northwest of the country, close to the ruined Assyrian city of Nineveh. It is about 400 km from Baghdad.
During the Abbasid dynasty from the eighth century, Mosul gained commercial importance as a staging post on the caravan trade route between India, Persia and the Mediterranean. Its chief export was cotton, the modern term ‘muslin’ having been derived originally from the name of the city. In the thirteenth century the city was sacked in the Mongol invasions, but revived under Ottoman rule after 1534 as the Turks made it an administrative and commercial centre for the surrounding region. Ottoman rule lasted until the First World War, the British taking control in 1918 until Iraq’s independence in 1932.
Mosul was abandoned by the Iraqi army during the US-led invasion in 2003, allowing Kurdish troops to enter the city on 11 April. US troops quickly took control but failed to prevent the breakdown of order and widespread looting. An interim administration was elected in May to represent the Kurdish, Turkoman and Assyrian Christian minorities as well as the Arab majority.
The city was abandoned by the Iraqi army for a second time in June 2014 following attacks by the Sunni Islamist group known as Islamic State (IS). Approximately half a million citizens subsequently fled the city and the entire Christian population was expelled by the new militant administration.
Prior to the IS occupation the economy of the city was based on agricultural produce and livestock, oil production and refining (with large oilfields to the east and north of the city), cement factories, textiles and tanneries. The airport, and most road and rail links to Baghdad, were destroyed in fighting between the army and IS. Built in 1967, the University of Mosul had been an IS stronghold between the summer of 2014 and early 2017. The Iraqi army seized it in Jan. 2017 and revealed that buildings and artefacts including rare manuscripts had been burnt.
Places of Interest
The city has been an important centre for historical and archaeological study but war has taken its toll. Mosul Museum contained many archaeological finds from the ancient sites of Nineveh and Nimrud but was looted during the 2003 US-led invasion and the 2014 occupation by IS. The Mosque of Nebi Yunis was reputed to be the site of the burial place of the Biblical Jonah before the building was demolished by IS. Mosul was also home to the twelfth century Great Mosque of Al-Nuri and to several ancient churches, reflecting the historical Christian presence in the city. However, all of these—including the Clock and Latin Church, the Chaldean Catholic Church of Al-Tahira (the oldest part of which was built in AD 300) and the Syrian Orthodox Church—were destroyed by IS. The ruins of Bash Tapia Castle, the only remaining part of Mosul’s city wall, were also severely damaged by the jihadist group.