Iraq post-IS

Mosulʹs cultural comeback

Music is back in Mosul, as are books and paintings. With Islamic State gone, locals are enjoying their newfound freedom and embracing culture. Will it last? Judit Neurink reports from Mosul

In the park in Mosul where the "Islamic State" (IS) once trained child soldiers, thousands have now gathered for a book festival with plays, music and tables full of books donated to the people of the city. Culture is back with a bang in Iraq's second city and the "I am Iraqi – I read" festival is just one of many cultural events. The slogan refers to the traditional Arab saying: "Egypt writes, Lebanon publishes and Iraq reads."

"You donʹt know what youʹve got till itʹs gone," says Ali al-Baroodi, an English teacher at Mosul University who has become the city's unofficial chronicler, cycling around his liberated hometown taking pictures of the damage and the rebuilding process. "Last year's liberation of eastern Mosul from Daesh was like a second birthday for me."

Arts and culture suffered badly under IS, otherwise known as Daesh. Statues of poets and writers were torn down, works of arts and musical instruments were also destroyed and the university library burned along with many valuable books. Books were banned, non-religious art was taboo, musicians and artists were killed.

And not just by IS. The repression began soon after the U.S. invasion in 2003, when radical Muslims began to gain more and more ground in the city. "IS is like a ghost – you don't see it, but it's there, secretly collecting data on us for when they return," said al-Baroodi. "They ruled in the shadows from 2005 and openly after 2014. It is not easy to end their existence. Under Daesh, I died 1,000 times a day. So the first thing Mosul needs to do is lose its fear."

And while his father keeps warning him to be more careful, the young photographer feels it's his mission to record developments in his city.

He compares the situation to the first years after 2003, when the Iraqis celebrated the change and the freedom they had longed for — until Muslim radicals appeared on the scene to fight the Americans, putting a rude end to the positive changes. But this time, many in Mosul feel that the change process must be allowed to continue.

"Better than before IS"

Marwan Tariq, who teaches at Mosul University's Arts Institute, agrees that progress has been made: "After Daesh, the situation is already better than before they arrived." Tariq was one of the first to enter the badly-bombed university campus after IS was chased out early last year. The damage to the Arts Institute was terrible. "Everything that had a connection to art was broken. Pianos, ouds, guitars, but also paintings and sculptures," he recalled.

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