The demolition of a 300-year-old minaret in Basra, Iraq’s southern city, to pave the way for road expansion has sparked a wave of anger among local residents, religious and cultural authorities. Critics argue that this action further undermines Iraq’s rich cultural heritage.
The Siraji minaret, an 11-meter tall structure along with its mosque, was originally built in 1727. The edifice was razed by a bulldozer at dawn on Friday, causing its brown mud-brick spire adorned with turquoise ornaments to vanish amidst a dust cloud.
The plans devised by Basra’s governor to eliminate the minaret to ease city’s traffic congestion were previously known to religious and cultural authorities, which included the Sunni Muslim endowment and antiquities officials. Nevertheless, they had anticipated the minaret to be preserved and relocated instead of being destroyed.
Expressing his discontent, Basra resident Majed al Husseini remarked, “All people preserve their heritage and history, and here they destroy our history and heritage?” while standing near the mosque’s remains.
Iraq’s extensive cultural heritage, which traces its roots back to the world’s earliest empires in ancient Mesopotamia and the more recent Islamic history, has suffered degradation due to neglect and the impact of prolonged conflicts such as the one with the Islamic State.
Presently, conservationists fear that a construction boom in Baghdad, coupled with nationwide plans for infrastructure expansion, could obliterate what remains of the country’s heritage.
Culture Minister Ahmed al-Badrani confirmed that he had not authorized the destruction of the Siraji Mosque’s minaret. He added that local antiquities authorities had initially agreed with the governor on relocating the minaret.
In response to the incident, the ministry plans to recover and preserve the minaret’s remnants and reconstruct a model similar to the ongoing project for Mosul’s Al-Nuri mosque, destroyed by the Islamic State in 2017.
Defending his decision, Basra Governor Asaad Al Eidani, who personally supervised the demolition, argued that the Sunni endowment and antiquities authorities failed to dismantle and relocate the minaret despite being provided over a year for the task. He further stated that a new mosque would be constructed in place of the demolished structure.
Mohammed Munla, the former head of Basra’s Sunni endowment, contradicted Eidani’s assertions, stating that the organization hadn’t agreed to, nor had its officials been informed of, plans to demolish the mosque’s minaret. Instead, it had arranged with the governor to find a company that could relocate it.
Shortly after speaking to Reuters, but before this interview was published, Munla was dismissed from his duties. The Sunni endowment has not responded to a request for comment from Reuters as of the time of writing.
This news is based on an article published by the Malay Mail.