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ROME – When Omar Mohammed opened the blog Mosul Eye in 2014, his intention was to keep the world informed on what was going on in this Iraqi city occupied by the terrorist organization ISIS in June of that year.
Today, he’s been forced to live in exile, fearing one of the many members of Islamic State will kill him in retaliation for telling the world about the horrors that this historic city went through during the three years it was used as “capital” of the self-proclaimed caliphate.
Yet far from giving up on the city he loves, Mohammed, a historian by profession, has now turned into telling the story of Mosul’s rebuilding. And getting involved in the process, even if from afar.
Perhaps one of his biggest victories to date, he oversaw – from a distance – the launching of the Green Mosul project on Thursday, with over 5,000 trees being planted across the war-torn city. The entire initiative, that has to do with bringing beauty back into the city, fighting climate change and fostering brotherhood, began with a tweet he sent out in 2020.
Cypress, pines, lemon and orange trees were planted by volunteers in 12 zones across the northern Iraqi city, including on sites of importance to Christian, Muslim and Yazidi communities. Locations for planting include the University of Mosul, Telskuf village and the Sinjar Academy office.
Heritage sites currently being rebuild with the help of UNESCO, including the Mosul Museum, the Al Nouri Mosque complex and the Catholic Church Our Lady of the Hour Church, will also have new trees.
“It’s time to put Mosul on the world map,” said Mohammed told Crux. “We need to move beyond humanitarian projects and subsistence solidarity. Mosul is too great to be nothing but a post-war city.”
“A city that was devastated by terrorism is now producing life,” he said.
Long-term conflict, pollution, desertification and flooding took a toll on this city, once known as the green capital of Iraq.
After a successful initiative to gather thousands of books for the University of Mosul Library through his over 50,000 twitter followers, Mohammed decided to try his luck at finding people and institutions willing to help plant 5,000 trees along rubble-strewn streets.
His call for help came in July 2020, as the world was consumed by the COVID-19 pandemic. But the responses were generous: The French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs’ Crisis and Support Centre offered their support, as did many private donors, both from Mosul and the world.
Members of the Green Mosul team, along with the university faculty and students, activists, government officials, Catholic priests and international guests began planting the trees after a short ceremony to mark the occasion on Wednesday. It will take until February 2022 to plant the 5,000 donated trees.
Mohammed explained that an extensive study was carried out to understand what the best trees to plant in the city were, and that an irrigation system will also be put in place, using recycled water so as to not waste the water resources. The day before the massive planting, the World Bank had warned that Iraq is running out of water.
In January of 2022, he will be traveling to Brussels, in an attempt to convince members of the European Union to invest in the city of Mosul, while working with local people to convince them of the same: “Of course, international support is always important to us, but we want local investors to bring their money back to the city. It’s time to reclaim Mosul.”
His hope is for Mosul Eye to continue working as an interlocutor of sorts between Mosul’s citizens, government officials and players of the international community who might be willing or able to help rebuild the city.
“We have witnessed important progress when it comes to rebuilding the diversity and coexistence that used to define our city, and hopefully this initiative will help Mosul move closer to regaining these historic qualities back,” he said.
Though not a Catholic himself, Mohammed drives much inspiration from Pope Francis, who welcomed him to the Vatican last month. The historical papal visit to Iraq in March, that included a visit to Mosul, as well as the pope’s encyclical Fratelli Tutti, on human fraternity, are two of the many reasons he lists to explain why the Argentine is “the only human I fully trust in.”
Francis was kept up to date about the Green Mosul initiative, the historian said, and though it was impossible for the pope to send a tree from Rome – “it would not have been very climate friendly,” Mohammed said – an olive tree was nevertheless, planted in his honor.
The tree, planted in Hosh Al Bieaa, the Church Square, was set to “honor the message of his pilgrimage to Old Mosul earlier this year. A message of hope: Even a city so deeply scarred by war and terrorism, can recover anew,” Mohammed said.