Mosque’s destruction is ‘death knell for ISIS’

Keeling over: Could the destruction of the leaning minaret end ISIS for good? © Getty

An ancient mosque in Mosul where ISIS first promulgated its “caliphate” has been destroyed. Iraq’s prime minister says this is “an official declaration of defeat”. Is he correct?

Almost exactly three years ago, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi stood in the pulpit of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, Iraq.

There, he declared the “caliphate”. For Islamist radicals all over the world, the region developed a “sudden, magnetic attraction”.

But now the tide has turned. The al-Nuri mosque has been destroyed as Iraqi forces are attacking the Old City of Mosul in an attempt to drive ISIS out of their last stronghold in the city. There are even rumours that al-Baghdadi himself has been killed by Russian airstrikes.

ISIS says US aircraft had destroyed the complex, a claim denied by the Americans. The Iraqi forces, meanwhile, say that the Islamists themselves blew it up in their retreat.

The destruction of the mosque is rich in symbolism. The Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi says it is an “official declaration of defeat” for ISIS. Now many believe the nightmare will soon be over.

In October last year ISIS lost the town of Dabiq, a site of vital significance in Islamic prophesies about the apocalypse. Then, as now, many believed it was a fatal blow to the group. Since then, its territory and its supply of foreign recruits have gradually shrunk.

Can ISIS survive its latest disaster?

End game

ISIS has shown it they can lose men without losing its fervour, but the loss of one of the most important sites in its territory is a stake through its heart. The power of al-Baghdadi’s original sermon is lost now that the mosque is destroyed. The beast is wounded. Soon it will be dead.

But ISIS’s vision of the apocalypse includes the assumption that it will suffer defeats along the way. In other words, it has long since factored this into its thinking. The group may be in trouble in Iraq, but their power is growing elsewhere. Do not declare victory too early.

You Decide

  1. Can ISIS survive this latest blow?


  1. As a class, construct a timeline of ISIS’s rise and fall.

Some People Say...

“You cannot kill an idea.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
We know that Iraqi troops are entering the final stage of their efforts to drive ISIS out of the city of Mosul, in northern Iraq, which has been occupied since 2014. The Great Mosque of al-Nuri, where the ‘caliphate’ was declared, has been destroyed.
What do we not know?
Who actually blew the mosque up. ISIS claims it was the Americans. The Iraqi armed forces are sure it was ISIS.

Word Watch

Located 250 miles north of Baghdad, on the banks of the Tigris river. It is the largest city held by ISIS in Iraq.
Haider al-Abadi
He has been Iraq’s PM since 2014 having served as a minister in the country’s first government after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
ISIS’s propaganda magazine is called Dabiq.
Islamic prophesies about the apocalypse
ISIS leaders teach that it is in Dabiq that the armies of the West will meet the armies of Islam, resulting in defeat for the West. This will then lead to the apocalypse.

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