February 4, 2015

Mosul library destroyed by ISIS


Bookseller market in Baghdad

A bookseller market in Baghdad. Photo by Larisa Epatko, from the PBS News Hour Flickr.

Among their other unspeakable crimes, it’s being reported that ISIS is looting libraries and destroying books.

Located in Northern Iraq, Mosul is home to one of Iraq’s largest universities; it was the scene of fierce fighting during the US invasion, including the firefight that killed Saddam Hussein‘s sons, Uday and Qusay. Mosul has an educated and diverse population, and during the 2003 invasion, many residents hid centuries-old manuscripts in their home, attempting to protect them from looters and preserve their city’s history.  Last year, the city fell under the control of ISIS. According to Sinan Salaheddin and Sameer N. Yacoub at the Associated Press, Islamic State militants ransacked the Central Library of Mosul this month.

Residents say the extremists smashed the locks that had protected the biggest repository of learning in the northern Iraq town, and loaded around 2,000 books — including children’s stories, poetry, philosophy and tomes on sports, health, culture and science — into six pickup trucks. They left only Islamic texts.

The rest?

“These books promote infidelity and call for disobeying Allah. So they will be burned,” a bearded militant in traditional Afghani two-piece clothing told residents, according to one man living nearby who spoke to The Associated Press. The man, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation, said the Islamic State group official made his impromptu address as others stuffed books into empty flour bags.

The Central Library housed “a collection of Iraqi newspapers dating to the early 20th century, maps and books from the Ottoman Empire and book collections contributed by around 100 of Mosul’s establishment families.” Presumably, these were all destroyed.

According to the AP story, days after the looting of the Central Library, ISIS militants broke into the University of Mosul’s library, where they “made a bonfire out of hundreds of books on science and culture, destroying them in front of students.”

Apparently, these were just the latest in a series of library invasions carried out by the militant group.

A University of Mosul history professor, who spoke on condition he not be named because of his fear of the Islamic State group, said the extremists started wrecking the collections of other public libraries last month. He reported particularly heavy damage to the archives of a Sunni Muslim library, the library of the 265-year-old Latin Church and Monastery of the Dominican Fathers and the Mosul Museum Library with works dating back to 5000 BC.


Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.