“You can find it on money notes, you can find it in scrapbooks,” said Rasha Al Aqeedi, who grew up in Mosul and is now a research fellow at the Al-Mesbar Studies and Research Center in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. “It’s everywhere. I don’t know how to put it into words. It’s just something people always identified with because it was always there.”
Ali al-Nashmi, a prominent Iraqi historian, said, referring to the terrorists: “These dogs, they are the worst of what God has created. I swear to God I cannot imagine Mosul without Al Hadba.”
The long campaign for control of Mosul was closing in on the part of the Old City where Al Hadba beckoned, thrusting toward the sky. Capturing the mosque, built by Nur al-Din Mahmoud Zangi, a ruler who in the 12th century unified Arab forces against crusaders from Europe, would have provided an important symbolic moment for the Iraqi security forces, who have taken heavy casualties in day after day of street battles and ambushes by the Islamic State.
“Imagine the Iraqi flag on this mosque, and everyone taking selfies,” Ms. Aqeedi said, envisioning what might have been.
Earlier Wednesday evening, Iraqi officers had indicated that on Thursday they planned to begin an assault on the mosque.
Shortly after the Iraqi military issued a statement announcing that the Islamic State had destroyed the mosque, the terrorist group used its news agency to claim that the mosque had actually been destroyed by an American airstrike.
Col. Ryan Dillon, an American military spokesman in Baghdad, said that the coalition had confirmed, through drone surveillance footage, that the mosque had been destroyed. “We don’t know how,” said Colonel Dillon, who added that the coalition was investigating.
But shortly after, the United States Central Command issued a statement bluntly accusing the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, of destroying the mosque. “As our…