After a three year hiatus, students are returning to the University of Mosul to resume their studies and take their exams. The resumption of the studies and exams comes in the aftermath of ISIS being expelled from the campus by the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) on January 2017, following battles around the campus that lasted nearly a month.
The University has suffered extensive damage during the three-year occupation by ISIS and the subsequent battle to secure it. During their occupation of the campus, the militants looted many of the facilities or used the equipment available to make weapons. What they could not use or what they considered against their beliefs, they destroyed. Among the most tragic losses was the University’s library, which was torched by the retreating militants as part of their scorched-earth tactics. Significant damage was also incurred due to heavy fighting between the militants and the ISF.
Since the security forces expelled the militants, University staff have been working hard to remove the debris, clean up the campus and restore the facilities to working condition. They were joined by volunteers from not just university students but also from students from across Mosul. Over the course of the clean-up operations that have gone on for four months, staff and volunteers have removed thousands of tons of debris and wreckage and restored many of the buildings to a habitable state.
The returning students here are undaunted by the damage to the campus or the ongoing battles in West Mosul where ISIS still control the Old City, their final stronghold. There is heavy security presence in the campus grounds to prevent a terrorist attack by ISIS militants who have increasingly resorted to insurgency tactics in Anbar and Diyala as a result of losing their territories.
For many of the students here, returning is not only about continuing their studies, it is about a symbolic defiance against everything ISIS is against. Mosul University was Iraq’s most highly-regarded learning institution before the militants took over Mosul. It’s restoration, therefore, a promising sign that it can become so once again, alongside the whole of Mosul where life is slowly returning to normal.