The halls, classrooms and grounds of Mosul University is abuzz with students. Their return marks the revival of a centuries-old educational institution that, like the rest of Mosul, was devastated under the rule of ISIS between 2014 and 2017.
When they first took over the city, the militants sought to utilise the university as part of their statehood project. They retained degrees in physical sciences such as medicine, chemistry and engineering while completely tearing down the university’s rich heritage in fields such as literature, history and religion. Despite their efforts, students and academics fled the university, leaving the grounds to be looted. It is believed that the militants have taken advantage of the university’s well-stocked labs to make chemical weapons.
Those days are past now. In early 2017, Iraqi Security Forces have liberated the university grounds after an intense battle. The university, already damaged from three years of ISIS mis-rule and the subsequent battle, suffered further destruction when when the retreating militants set fire to many of the buildings.
Since the grounds were secured, government officials and volunteers, many of which are students and faculty members, have been working to clear the rubble and repair the buildings to working condition. Other volunteers are helping the university replenish the vast stock of books in its renowned library. The library was among the buildings torched by the retreating militants. The volunteers hope that they can catalogue what was lost and find copies elsewhere.
With the repairs underway, students have already returned to their studies, not bothered by the fact that many of the classrooms still carry marks of the battle that liberated the university. They say that the events of the past years have reinvigorated their desire to finish their studies. For some, it is the sense that they have missed out on years of studies and they need to catch up. For others, the war and the loss of the university has given them an understanding of what is at stake for the future.
Mosul University is not the only cultural heart of Mosul that will need reconstruction. Many of the city’s heritage sites as well as its famous Museum have also been destroyed by the militants. Yet, the enthusiasm of the students here in the university paints an optimistic picture for the future.