Churches destroyed by ISIS in Iraq to be rebuilt

An Iraqi boy passes destroyed buildings in western Mosul, Iraq August 5, 2017.REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

Two Iraq churches that were destroyed by the so-called Islamic State are to be rebuilt with the help of the Muslim-majority United Arab Emirates. 

The country will work in partnership with a United Nations initiative called Revive the Spirit of Mosul to rebuild the churches in Iraq's second largest city following its liberation by coalition forces in July 2017. 

UNESCO and UAE leaders have already partnered since last year on the reconstruction of Mosul's historic Grand Al-Nouri Mosque, which the country has put $50.4m towards. 

The two churches being reconstructed with the UAE's help are the Al-Tahira Syriac-Catholic Church and Al-Saa'a Church.

According to Mesopotamia Heritage, the oldest parts of al-Tahira are believed to date back to the 7th century, making it one of the oldest churches in the region, but it was badly damaged by bombing in 2017. 

Al-Saa'a Church, built by Dominican fathers in the 1870s, also suffered extensive damage when it was bombed in 2016. 

The agreement reached between the UAE and UNESCO will not only restore the churches but build a museum and memorial site as part of wider efforts to boost the city's tourist economy. 

Four Iraqi companies are involved in the project, with 27 Iraqis employed so far, but it is hoped that it will create up to 1,000 jobs. 

"We are honored to sign this partnership with UNESCO and Iraq," said UAE Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development Noura Al Kaabi.

"Our work with UNESCO is a testament to UAE's commitment to furthering the organization's mandate. Today's signing is a pioneering partnership that sends a message of light, in seemingly darker times.

"As we break ground in the reconstruction, UAE becomes the first country in the world to rebuild Christian churches in Iraq."

UNESCO General Director Audrey Azoulay said they wanted to "reclaim the true spirit" of Mosul as a "peaceful coexistence between different religious and ethnic groups", Gulf News reports.

"I am thankful to the United Arab Emirates and Minister Al Kaabi who have generously supported our initiative since the beginning, and who believe, as we do, that there is no true reconstruction and revival without Culture and Education," she said.