Visiting Mosul University, a Symbol of Hope for a City in Ruins
Iraq’s second largest university was under the control of anti-education extremists for three years. Recently reopened, both students and teachers see the possibilities for a better Iraq on campus.
Just a few short months ago, the students and teachers at what had been one of Iraq’s largest universities, who were lucky enough to be able to, were sharing a strange picture: It showed a donkey roaming the deserted campus that was once a serious centre of learning.
The picture was a metaphor: For months, the extremist group known as the Islamic State, or IS, had been using the university buildings for their own ends. The group, which had controlled the city since the middle of 2014, were moving from hall to classroom stealthily during fighting for the city and had used other buildings for administration previously.
They had started grazing donkeys and other livestock in the university grounds and the picture of the strolling donkey was a symbol of how the extremists had shut down the university and were trying to reinvent local culture and religion according to their own fantastical rules.
Things have changed a lot since then. Just three months after the fighting ended on the eastern side of Mosul, life started to return to Mosul university, which boasts facilities such as teaching hospitals, science centres, museums and over 20 different schools of learning. By June, the institution’s gates were wide open for students again.
Although the signs of war are still visible on both the buildings and the faces of the students, that has not stopped an estimated 35,000 students from starting class. The university formerly taught around 40,000 students.
One student, Omar Habib, brings his wife to university every morning. The couple have to work hard to get there: They must wait in the queues to cross one of the temporary floating bridges set on the Tigris river, which runs through the city, to cross over to the east. All five of the bridges in Mosul were destroyed during fighting.