In June 2014, at the height of his power, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi stood in the pulpit of the iconic 12th-century al-Nuri mosque in Mosul, Iraq, and delivered a now-infamous sermon declaring the creation of a new ISIS “caliphate.” It was a hugely symbolic setting, meant to bolster Baghdadi’s claim to be the leader of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims and to broadcast to the world that ISIS was now a major force to be reckoned with.
On Wednesday, ISIS blew up that same mosque as Iraqi forces closed in on the ancient complex as part of their final push to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-biggest city. It was a symbolic move of a very different sort, one that signals just how far ISIS’s fortunes in Iraq have fallen in a few short years.
ISIS has destroyed countless mosques and ancient buildings before, but its demolition of the al-Nuri mosque — and its famous tilting al-Hadba minaret — was a particularly painful blow for many Iraqis. The mosque complex was one of the most recognizable buildings in Iraq, one featured on the 10,000 dinar bill. Its minaret has graced the Mosul skyline for more than 800 years. And now, in the blink of an eye, it’s gone.