DAVID GREENE, HOST:
In Iraq, the Islamic State has blown up the famed leaning minaret of Mosul and the mosque where its caliphate was announced three years before. NPR's Alison Meuse reports Iraqis are mourning the loss of an important religious and heritage site, even as U.S.-backed forces close in on the last ISIS enclave in Mosul.
ALISON MEUSE, BYLINE: Footage released by Iraqi forces shows Mosul's beloved hunchbacked minaret up above the city. Suddenly, explosives ripped through its sides. The hunchback is gone in seconds. ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi announced his caliphate there in July 2014. Now, his men are on the verge of defeat in Mosul, shielded by the Old City's winding streets and thousands of families still trapped. Iraq's prime minister says the vengeful destruction by ISIS is a, quote, "formal declaration of defeat." But analyst Rasha al-Aqeedi says ISIS has also robbed Iraqi forces of a symbolic liberation.
RASHA AL-AQEEDI: ISIS managed to sort of associate themselves with this mosque forcefully. So if this mosque is liberated and you're going to see an Iraqi flag on top, the symbolic loss and defeat in that I think would have been too significant for them.
MEUSE: Al-Aqeedi was raised in Mosul and is devastated. She says others are still living the horror or too shell shocked for the loss of heritage to sink in. Her 9-year-old cousin sees things differently. He compared the hunchback minaret to his favorite "Guardians Of The Galaxy" character, Groot the tree.
AL-AQEEDI: He was very sad in the first movie when Groot dies. And then he's shown as a baby, so he's thinking maybe the big mosque is just like Groot, you know. He's going to grow up again. We just have to be patient and just have to wait. And it's kind of metaphoric when you think about it, that maybe we do have to be patient and it also will eventually be rebuilt.
MEUSE: She says it's just going to take a long time to heal. Alison Meuse, NPR News, Beirut.
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