Demolition of Iconic Centuries-Old Minaret Triggers Outrage in Iraq

City officials claimed it was a traffic hazard, partially encroaching on the street. But the city of Basra’s al-Siraji Mosque’s distinctive minaret, made of weathered bricks and blue ceramic tiles, has stood in the same position for three centuries with no complaints until now.

Al Siraj Mosque (public domain)
Al Siraj Mosque (public domain)

Jaafar Jotheri, an assistant professor of geoarchaeology at Iraq’s Al-Qadisiyah University, perhaps expressed the opinion of many when he said, “The actions of official authorities have put an end to our heritage,” adding, “The minaret predates the street and it is one of the oldest sites in Basra. It was not encroaching on the street; rather, they encroached upon it.”

Ali Hilal, an Iraqi photographer of historical sites, agrees. “In other countries, they protect even a tree during street expansions. Why did we destroy a three-century-old site to widen the street?”

In defense of the demolition, Basra’s governor said in a statement that permission was received from the Sunni Endowment Office, which has the final say over Sunni religious sites—and with permission thus granted, the minaret was demolished July 14.

But Mishaan al-Khazraji, head of the Sunni Endowment, said, “We requested the Basra governorate to relocate the minaret, not destroy it.”

The razing of the 33-foot-high minaret sparked a tsunami of backlash on social media.

Basra’s governor again justified the destruction, saying it was done “to expand the street for the public interest.” Acknowledging that “Some may say it’s historical, but it was in the middle of the street,” the governor promised to replace the minaret with one that didn’t stop or delay traffic.

Writer Lawrence Richard, covering the story, reflected that many Iraqi heritage sites “have been hard hit by looting and damage spanning decades, especially with the rise of the militant Islamic State group, which targeted and demolished numerous ancient sites in northern Iraq.”

The Basra governor, meanwhile, after falsely declaring he had the Sunni Endowment Office’s blessing to destroy the landmark, said the minaret might be rebuilt from the rubble by a Turkish company specializing in heritage preservation.

Assistant Professor Jotheri has his doubts. “Every visitor to Basra over the past 300 years has seen and formed memories with [the historic minaret.] But now, neither my son nor your son will have the chance to witness it.”


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Iraq Islamic State Sunni Muslims in Iraq destruction of religious landmarks