Iraqi anger rises as militants attack Mosul's cultural history

Baghdad - When the Sunni extremists ruling Mosul destroyed the shrine of a prophet whose story features in the traditions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism - the most important of nearly two dozen marked for destruction by the Islamic State group in the first seven weeks of its reign - small groups of residents gathered to mourn.

"We were crying when they detonated it," said Abdulmalik Mustafa, a 32-year-old unemployed man who lives near the site, believed to be the tomb of the biblical prophet Jonah, which was razed last week. "We couldn't believe that the history of Mosul has disappeared. I wanted to die."

Then rumors swirled that the next target of the Islamic State militants would be the city's ancient leaning minaret, which is older than the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy and pictured on Iraq's 10,000-dinar bank note. Residents gathered at the minaret and, according to witnesses, angrily confronted the group's fighters.

For now, the tower is still standing.

The angry public reaction to the attacks on Mosul's cultural history - including the eviction of Christians by militants, which outraged many Muslim residents who celebrate Mosul's reputation for tolerance - appears to be the first spark of rebellion against harsh Islamic rule. Mosul is considered the country's second-largest city, with a population of about 1.5 million.

When militants swept into the city June 10 and Iraqi soldiers shed their uniforms and fled, many residents seemed to cheer their arrival. Much of Mosul's Sunni Arab population had become increasingly resentful of abuses suffered at the hands of Iraq's Shiite-dominated central government. For a time, people welcomed the new authority.

It is too early to declare that a wide-scale rebellion is underway, or that the Islamic State group, whose brand of ascetic Islamic law deems shrines heretical, is losing its grip of control on the city. But it suggests that the militants are wearing out their welcome to some degree.

Informal armed gangs of residents have already clashed with Islamic State militants over the destruction of the tombs and shrines, residents say.

Some militants have been killed in the clashes, they say, which have also resulted in the arrests of residents and could result in their executions.

"This is a huge disaster for Mosul and Iraq," said Khalis Jumah, 32, a Mosul resident interviewed by phone. "It's a crime against the city and its history. We have been crying since the first day they started destroying our religious and historical landmarks."


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