Mosul Explained

For the village in Azerbaijan, see Mosul, Azerbaijan.

Official Name:Mosul
Native Name:الموصل
Pushpin Map:Iraq
Subdivision Type:Country
Subdivision Name:Iraq
Subdivision Type1:Governorate
Subdivision Name1:Ninawa
Subdivision Type2:District
Subdivision Name2:Mosul
Population Urban:3,000,000 (2008)
Timezone:GMT +4
Twin1:Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Twin1 Country:

Mosul (Arabic: الموصل, al-Mawṣil, Maṣlawī Arabic al-Mōṣul, Assyrian: ܢܝܢܘܐ or Ninaweh, Kurdish: Mosul/Ninawa, Turkish: Musul) is a city in northern Iraq and the capital of the Ninawa Governorate, some 400 km (250 miles) northwest of Baghdad. The original city stands on the west bank of the Tigris River, opposite the ancient city of Nineveh on the east bank, but the metropolitan area has now grown to encompass substantial areas on both banks, with five bridges linking the two sides. Despite having an amount of Kurdish population, it does not form part of the area controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government. It is Iraq's second largest city after Baghdad.[1]

The fabric Muslin, long manufactured here, is named for this city. Another historically important product of the area is Mosul marble.

In 1987, the city's population was 664,221 people; the 2002 population estimate was 1,740,000, and by 2008 was estimated to be 1,800,000[2]

The city's mayor is Zuhair Mohsin Mohammed Abdulazeez [3] .

The city of Mosul is home to the University of Mosul, one of the largest educational and research centers in Iraq and the Middle East.[4]

The city is also a historic center for the Nestorian Christianity of the Assyrians, containing the tombs of several Old Testament prophets such as Jonah and Nahum.


The name of the city has many meanings, one of which is "The Linking Point". Another name for the city is Ummu r-Rabi'ayn "The Mother of Two Springs" because fall and spring are alike there. The Assyrians call the city by its ancient name, Nineveh.

It is also named al-Faiha "the Paradise", al-Khaḍrah "the Green" and aal-Hadbah "the Humped" and sometimes described as "The Pearl of the North".[5]


This city is indicative of the mingling ethnic and religious cultures of Iraq, where people lived in harmony for centuries. There is a clear Arab majority in urban areas, such as downtown Mosul on the Tigris. Across the Tigris and further north in the suburban areas, thousands of Kurds, Assyrians and Turkomans make up the rest of Mosul's population.[6]

The population of Mosul has progressively become a mixture of Arabs, Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, and Turkomans, since 1958 when Iraqi Prime minister Abd al-Karim Qasim encouraged Kurds and other minorities to resettle inside Mosul as part of a plan to integrate other ethnic groups into the major cosmopolitan areas of Iraq. These plans were counteracted in the 1980s by former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and his Baath party, which forced some of those minorities to move outside the city, back into Kurdish regions.

The city is close to the Kurdish regions of Iraq and is considered by some Kurdish officials to be traditionally Kurdish, and situated in what was historically the Kurdistan region. There have been some demands from Kurdish parties that Mosul should be included in the Kurdish regional government. Kurdish fighters have been moving into the city since the fall of the Ba'ath government, causing some tensions with the Sunni Arabs of the city. Clashes erupted in recent months, between Sunni Arabs in Mosul and Kurdish fighters entering the city from the Kurdish regional governorates.[7]

The majority of people in Mosul are Muslims, though Mosul does have the highest proportion of Christians of all Iraqi cities. Other religions, such as Yazidi, also call Mosul home.[8] [9]

Long before the Muslim conquest of the 7th century, the old city Nineveh Christianized when the Assyrians converted to Christianity during the 1st and 2nd centuries.

Despite institutional ethnic persecution by various political powers, including the Ba'ath Party regime, Mosul has maintained a multi-cultural and multi-religious mosaic. The difficult history of Mosul, however, still contributes to tensions among its modern inhabitants.


The language of the Arab people in Mosul is a special dialect of Arabic, partially influenced by Turkish, due to the proximity of Mosul to Turkey. This dialect is sometimes described as the feminine version of the Iraqi dialect. It puts more emphasis on "gh" (replacing "r"). The dialect of Mosul is influenced heavily by the Turkish language. For example, like Turkish, a vowel is inserted between two consonants as well as negation of a sentence by placing mu or ma at the end. The melody of sentences and expressions are also influenced by Turkish. Many words the dialect are taken directly from the Turkish language. The Kurds of Mosul speak the Kurmanji dialect of Kurdish, known as Behdini in the region. There is a substantial Turkish-speaking Turkoman population. Other languages such as Armenian and Assyrian (Syriac) are also spoken among their communities.

Arabic is the primary language of communication, education, business and official work, known to the majority of the city's residents.


The term "Maslawi" may refer to a person who is from the city of Mosul. Maslawi does not indicate one's ethnicity or religion. Maslawi also refers to the particular dialect of Arabic spoken in the Mosul area.


Ancient era and early Middle Ages

It is mentioned in Biblical references that Nineveh was founded by Asshur; son of Shem[10], however Hellenistic Greek sources state that Nineveh was first founded by Ninus the Great.

In approximately 850 BC, King Ashurnasirpal II of Assyria chose the city of Nimrud to build his capital city where present day Mosul is located. In approximately 700 BC, King Sennacherib made Nineveh the new capital of Assyria. The mound of Kuyunjik in Mosul is the site of the palaces of King Sennacherib and his grandson Ashurbanipal, who established the Library of Ashurbanipal.

Mosul later succeeded Nineveh as the Tigris bridgehead of the road that linked Syria and Anatolia with Median Empire. In 612 BC, the Mede emperor Cyaxares, together with the alliance of Nabopolassar the Chaldean, conquered Nineveh.

Mosul became an important commercial center of the Median Empire and Persian Empire in the 6th century BC. Identification with the ancient Μέπσιλα (Mèpsila) mentioned by Xenophon is disputed, while more likely is that with the Persian center of Budh-Ardhashīr.

It became part of the Seleucid Empire after Alexander's conquests in 332 BC before being re-taken by indegenous Iranians under the Parthian Empire in 224 BC. The Parthian capital of Ctesiphon was sacked and conquered by the Roman Empire under Emperor Trajan, but quickly reverted back to the Parthian Iranians.[11]

The city changed hands once again with the rise of Sassanid Persia in 225 AD. Christianism was present in Mosul as early as the 2nd century. It became an episcopal see of Nestorian faith in the 6th century. In 637 (other sources states 641), during the period of the Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab, the city was annexed to the Islamic empire by Utba bin Farqad Al-Salami.

Mosul was promoted to the status of capital of Mesopotamia under the Umayyads in the 8th century, during which it reached a peak of prosperity. During the Abbassid era it was an important trading centre because of its strategic location, astride the trade routes to India, Persia, and the Mediterranean.

9th to 15th centuries

In the late 9th century control over the city was seized by the Hamdanid Arab dynasty, who, for several decades, had in it their main stronghold, first as governors of the Abbassid and later as de facto independent rulers. One century later they were supplanted by the Uqaylids.

Mosul was conquered by the Seljuks in the 11th century. After a period under semi-independent atabeg such as Mawdud, in 1127 it became the centre of power of the Zengid dynasty. Saladin besieged the city unsuccessfully in 1182. In the 13th century it was captured by the Mongols led by Hulegu, but was spared the usual destruction since its governor, Badr al-Din Luʾluʾ, helped the Khan in his following campaigns in Syria. After the Mongol defeat in the Battle of Ain Jalut against the Mamluks, Badr al-Din's son sided for the latter; this led to the destruction of the city, which later regained some importance but never recovered its original splendour. Mosul was thenceforth ruled by the Mongol Ilkhanid and Jalayrid dynasties, and escaped Tamerlan's destructions.

16th to 19th centuries

In the early 16th century Mosul was under the Turkmen federation of the Ak Koyunlu, but in 1508 it was conquered by by the Safawids. Finally, in 1535, Ottoman sultan Suleyman the Magnificent added it to his empire. Thenceforth Mosul was governed by a pasha. Mosul was celebrated for its line of walls, comprising seven gates with large towers, a renowned hospital (maristan) and a covered market (qaysariyya), and was also famous for its fabrics and flourishing trades.

It remained under Ottoman control until 1918, with a brief break in 1623 when Persia seized the city for a short time, and was the capital of Mosul Vilayet one of the three vilayets (provinces) of Ottoman Iraq.

20th century

Mosul's importance as a strategic trading centre declined after the opening of the Suez Canal, which enabled goods to travel to and from India by sea rather than by land across Iraq and through Mosul. However, the city's fortunes revived greatly with the discovery of oil in the area, from the late 1920s onwards. It became a nexus for the movement of oil via truck and pipeline to both Turkey and Syria. Qyuarrah Refinery was built within about an hour's drive from the city and was used to process oil for road-building projects. It was damaged but not destroyed during the Iran–Iraq War. Mosul provides a key portion of the country's electrical needs via Mosul Dam and several neighbouring thermal turbine facilities.

The construction of University of Mosul in 1967 enabled the education of many in the city and surrounding areas, and it features excellent engineering and linguistics departments among its many other academic offerings.

The region had been part of the Ottoman Empire from 1534 until the end of World War I in 1918.[12] The possibility of dissolving this Empire became real with the Great War, since Germany was the ally of the Ottoman Empire. Secret agreements between the French and the British government (known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement) decided in 1916 to draw a straight line from the Jordan heights to Iran: where the northern zone (Syria, and later the upcoming Lebanon) would be under French influence, and the southern zone (Jordan, Iraq, and later, after renegotiations in 1917, Palestine) would be under British influence. Mosul was in the northern zone, and would have become a Syrian city; but early discoveries of oil in the region just before the end of the war (1918), pushed the British government to yet another negotiation with the French; to include the region of Mosul into the southern zone (or the British zone). The border line that divides the two sides has not changed since 1918, but it has helped determine the boundaries of the modern Middle East for the coming century with the creation of different countries from the Ottoman Empire.

At the end of World War I in October 1918, British forces occupied Mosul. After the war, the city and the surrounding area became part of the British mandate of Iraq. However, this mandate was contested by Turkey which continued to claim the area. Iraq's possession of Mosul was confirmed by the League of Nations in 1926 and the Treaty of Lausanne between Great Britain, Iraq and Turkey.

Some of the villages and towns around Mosul with its large Kurdish population were significantly affected by the 1991 rebellion suppression by the deposed former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, during the 1991 Kurdish-mounted, unsuccessful revolt against the regime. In the wake of the revolt's failure, a swathe of Kurdish-populated territory in the north and northeast of Iraq fell under the control of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Kurdistan Democratic Party, which established autonomous (and de facto independent) rule in the region. Mosul did not fall within the Kurdish-ruled area, but it was included in the no-fly zones imposed and patrolled by the United States and Britain between 1991 and 2003.

Although this prevented Saddam's forces from mounting large-scale military operations again in the region, it did not stop the regime from implementing a steady policy of "Arabisation" by which the demography of some areas of Ninawa Governorate were gradually changed. Despite the program Mosul and its surrounding villages remained home to a mixture of Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Turkomans, a few Jews, and isolated populations of Yazidis. Saddam was however able to garrison portions of the 5th Army within the Mosul city, had the international flight capable airport under military control, and recruited heavily from the city for his military's officer corps; this may be due to the fact that most of the officers and generals of the Iraqi Army were from Mosul long before the Saddam regime era.

After Saddam's fall

When the 2003 invasion of Iraq was being planned, the United States had originally intended to base troops in Turkey and mount a thrust into northern Iraq to capture Mosul and the strategically vital oilfields there. However, the Turkish parliament refused to grant permission for the operation. When the war did break out in March 2003, US military activity in the area was confined to strategic bombing with airdropped special forces operating in the vicinity. Mosul fell on April 11, 2003, when the Iraqi Army 5th Corps, loyal to Saddam, abandoned the city and eventually surrendered, two days after the fall of Baghdad. Kurdish fighters took civil control of the city, and started what eventually became a widespread looting before agreeing to cede control to US forces.

On July 22, 2003, Saddam Hussein's sons, Uday Hussein and Qusay Hussein, were attacked and killed by Coalition forces in Mosul. The brothers were killed in a gunbattle that ensued after a failed attempt at their apprehension.[13] The city also served as the operational base for the US Army's 101st Airborne Division during the occupational phase of the Operation Iraqi Freedom. During its tenure, the 101st Airborne Division was able to extensively survey the city and, advised by the 431st Civil Affairs Battalion, non-governmental organizations, and the people of Mosul, began reconstruction work by employing the people of Mosul in the arenas of security, electricity, local governance, drinking water, wastewater, trash disposal, roads, bridges, and environmental concerns[14] . Other US Army units to have occupied the city have been the 172nd Stryker Brigade, the 3rd Brigade-2nd Infantry Division, the 1st Brigade-25th Infantry Division, the 511th Military Police Company, the 812th Military Police Company and company-size units from Reserve components.

In November 2004, concurrently with the US and Iraqi attack on the city of Fallujah, the Battle of Mosul (2004) began. On November 10, insurgents conducted coordinated attacks on the police stations. The policemen who were not killed in the fighting fled the city, leaving Mosul without any civil police force for about a month. However, soon after the insurgents' campaign to overrun the city had begun, elements from the 25th Infantry Division and components from the Multinational force comprised mainly of Albanian forces, took the offensive and began to maneuver into the most dangerous parts of the city. Fighting continued well into the 11th with the insurgents on the defensive and US forces scouring neighborhoods for any resistance.

On December 21, 2004, fourteen US soldiers, four American employees of Halliburton, and four Iraqi soldiers were killed in a suicide attack on a dining hall at the Forward Operating Base (FOB) Marez next to the main US military airfield at Mosul. The Pentagon reported that 72 other personnel were injured in the attack carried out by a suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest and the uniform of the Iraqi security services. The Islamic terrorist group Army of Ansar al-Sunna (partly evolved from Ansar al-Islam) declared responsibility for the attack in an Internet statement.

In early 2005, the head of Mosul's anti-corruption unit, Gen. Waleed Kashmoula, was killed by a bomb which exploded outside his office. In October 2005, the Iraq Interior Department attempted to fire the police chief of Mosul. Mosul Sunni leaders saw it as a Kurdish attempt to seize control over the police. In the end the police chief was replaced by a Sunni Arab, MG Wathiq Al Hamdani, who is a city resident.

In December 2007, Iraq reopened the airport in Mosul. An Iraqi Airways flight carried 152 Hajj pilgrims to Baghdad, the first commercial flight since US forces declared a no-fly zone in 1993, although further commercial flight remained prohibited.[15] On January 23, 2008, an explosion in an apartment building killed 36 people. The following day, a suicide bomber dressed as a police officer assassinated the local police chief, Brig. Gen. Salah Mohammed al-Jubouri, the director of police for Ninevah province, as he toured the site of the blast.[16]

After November 2004, the city of Mosul suffered tremendously due to deteriorated security conditions (including military actions as well as threats and killing of innocent civilians by terrorists and criminals), unprecedented violence levels (especially on ethnic bases), continuous destruction of the main infrastructures of the city, and neglect and mismanagement by the occupation forces, by the Nineveh Governerate Council, by multiple political parties as well as by the central Iraqi Government in Baghdad.

All these factors deprived the city of its historical, scientific, and intellectual foundations in the last 4 years, when a large number of scientists, professors, academics, doctors, health professionals, engineers, lawyers, journalists, religious clergy (both Muslims and Christians), historians, as well as the professionals and artists in all walks of life, were either killed or forced to leave the city under the threat of being shot, exactly as it happened elsewhere in Iraq in the years following 2003.[17] [18] [19] [20]

On May 10, 2008 a military offensive was launched by US-backed Iraqi Army Forces led by Maj. Gen. Riyadh Jalal Tawfiq, the commander of military operations in Mosul, in the hope of bringing back stability and security to the city the representatives of Mosul in the Iraqi Parliament, the intellectuals of the city, and other concerned humanitarian groups agreed on the pressing need for a solution to the unbearable conditions of the city, they still believe that the solution is merely political and administrative. They are also questioning whether such a large scale military offensive will spare the lives of innocent people.[21]

By October 2008, many Iraqi Christians(about 12,000) have fled the city of Mosul following a wave of murders and threats targeting their community. The murder of dozen Christians, asking them to convert to Islam or face death, the destruction of their houses forced the Christians to leave their city in hurry. Some families crossed the borders to Syria and Turkey while others have been given shelters in Churches and Monasteries. Accusations and blames have been exchanged between Sunni fundamentalists and some Kurdish groups for being behind this new exodus. For the time the motivation of these acts remains mysterious, but some claims related it with the provincial elections due to be held at the end of January 2009, and especially connected to Christian's demand for wider presentation in the provincial councils.[22]

A investigation in 2009 pointed out that more than 2500 Kurds had been killed and more than 40 family's displaced in Mosul since 2003. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan blames Al-Qaeda and former Ba'ath Party's[23] . Despite all the odds, the citizens of Mosul have vowed to bring stability and prosperity to Mosul, to rebuild the city, and to regain its historical and cultural roles as one of the three major cities in Iraq and one of the first historic metropolitan areas in the world.

Main sights

Mosul is rich in old historical places and ancient buildings: mosques, castles, churches, monasteries, and schools, many of which have architectural features and decorative work of significance. The town center is dominated by a maze of streets and attractive 19th century houses. There are old houses here of beauty. The markets are particularly interesting not simply for themselves alone but for the mixture of types who jostle there: Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, and Turkmen.

The Mosul Museum contains many interesting finds from the ancient sites of the old Assyrian capital cities Nineveh and Nimrud. The Mosul Museum is a beautiful, old-style building, constructed around a central courtyard and with an impressive facade of Mosul marble containing displays of Mosul life depicted in tableau form.

The famous English writer, Agatha Christie, lived in Mosul whilst her second husband, an archaeologist, was involved in the excavation in Nimrod.

Mosques and shrines

See main article: Mosques and shrines of Mosul.

Churches and monasteries

See main article: Churches and monasteries of Mosul.

Mosul has the highest proportion of Christians of all the Iraqi cities, and contains several interesting old churches, some of which originally date back to the early centuries of Christianity. Its ancient churches are often hidden and their entrances in thick walls are not easy to find. Some of them have suffered from overmuch restoration.

Other Christian historical buildings:


The so-called Mosul School of Painting refers to a style of miniature painting that developed in northern Iraq in the late 12th to early 13th century under the patronage of the Zangid dynasty (1127-1222). In technique and style the Mosul school was similar to the painting of the Seljuq Turks, who controlled Iraq at that time, but the Mosul artists had a sharper sense of realism based on the subject matter and degree of detail in the painting rather than on representation in three dimensions, which did not occur. Most of the Mosul iconography was Seljuq - for example, the use of figures seated cross-legged in a frontal position. Certain symbolic elements however, such as the crescent and serpents, were derived from the classical Mesopotamian repertory.

Most Mosul paintings were illustrations of manuscripts - mainly scientific works, animal books, and lyric poetry. A frontispiece painting, now held in the Bibliothèque National, Paris, dating from a late 12th century copy of Galen’s medical treatise, the Kitab al-diriyak (“Book of Antidotes”), is a good example of the earlier work of the Mosul school. It depicts four figures surrounding a central, seated figure who holds a crescent-shaped halo. The painting is in a variety of solid colours; reds, blues, greens and gold. The Küfic lettering is blue. The total effect is best described as majestic. Another mid-13th century frontispiece held in the Nationalbibliothek, Vienna, to another copy of the same text suggests the quality of later Mosul painting. There is realism in its depiction of the preparation of a ruler’s meal and of horsemen engaged in various activities, and the painting is as colourful as that of the early Mosul school, yet it is somehow less spirited. The composition is more elaborate but less successful. By this time the Baghdad school, which combined the styles of the Syrian and early Mosul schools, had begun to dominate. With the invasion of the Mongols in the mid-13th century, the Mosul school came to an end, but its achievements were influential in both the Mamluk and the Mongol schools of miniature painting.


Starting from the 13th-century, metal craftsmen centred in Mosul influenced the metalwork of the Islamic world from North Africa to eastern Iran. Under the active patronage of the Zangid dynasty, the Mosul School developed an extraordinarily refined technique of inlay - particularly in silver - far overshadowing the earlier work of the Sāmānids in Persia and the Būyids in Iraq.

Mosul craftsmen used both gold and silver for inlay on bronze and brass. After delicate engraving had prepared the surface of the piece, strips of gold and silver were worked so carefully that not the slightest irregularity appeared in the whole of the elaborate design. The technique was carried by Mosul metalworkers to Aleppo, Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo, and Persia; a class of similar metalwork from these centres is called Mosul bronzes.

Among the most famous surviving Mosul pieces is a brass ewer inlaid with silver from 1232, and now in the British Museum, by the artist Shujā’ ibn Mana. The ewer features representational as well as abstract design, depicting battle scenes, animals and musicians within medallions. Mosul metalworkers also created pieces for Eastern Christians. A candlestick of this variety from 1238 and housed in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, attributed to Dà’ūd ibn Salamah of Mosul, is bronze with silver inlay. It displays the familiar medallions but is also engraved with scenes showing Christ as a child. Rows of standing figures, probably saints, decorate the base. The background is decorated with typically Islamic vine scrolls and intricate arabesques, giving the piece a unique flavour.

Famous births

See also: Maslawi.

See also

External links

Notes and References

  1. Web site: Largest Cities in Iraq. 01-01-2002. 01-26-2009.
  2. Web site: Mosul, the next major test for the U.S. military in Iraq. 01-31-2008. -01-26-2009.
  3. Web site: From Mosul to Market Street. 05-08-2009. 01-26-2009.
  5. Mosul, Iraq
  6. Mosul â€" FREE Mosul Information | Facts, Pictures, Information!
  7. Seattle Times
  8. ArabNet Mosul Entry
  9. 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica
  11. See Roman relations with the Parthians and Sassanians.
  12. Mosul
  13. - Pentagon: Saddam's sons killed in raid - July 22, 2003
  14. Mosul
  16. Gamel, Kim: Provincial Police Chief Killed in Mosul, Associated Press, January 25, 2008.
  18. Human Rights in Iraq
  19. France 24 | Iraq's deadly brain drain | France 24
  20.,8599,725055,00.html Losing Mosul? - TIME
  22. "Christians flee Iraqi city after killings, threats, officials say." CNN. 11 October 2008.
  23. Web site: More than 2500 Kurds were killed since 2003. 27-01-2009. Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. 27-01-2009.
  24. NPR's Morning Edition, November 21, 2007