Around us the rubble of West Mosul throws a fine white dust into the air that coats your clothing and grits your hair, covers your shoes and camera lens, and gets into just about everything else. I find myself briefly wondering what percentage of my newly acquired coating of Mosul particles represents vaporized human remains. But people were not the only things destroyed in this part of the Old City of Mosul, in northern Iraq.
Just a few blocks away, centuries of Muslim, Chaldean, Syriac Orthodox and Catholic and Armenian places of worship are now little more than piles of debris and gravel and dust. Some ornate door arches remain as depressing reminders of the church architecture that used to stand here, a clutch of faiths located together in the Old City. The church arches had already been defaced by ISIS militants with bullet blasts meant to remove crosses and other Christian symbols even before the walls around them were demolished by mortar rounds or U.S. and Iraqi air strikes. Of course, a spiteful ISIS in retreat did its best to destroy what it could, so who did which damage to what here is hard to say. The view from the collapsed roof of the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (also known as the Church of Al-tahira), parts of which date back to the seventh century, is especially disheartening. Though the sounds of hammers, cement mixers and construction saws at work rise to the roof of this broken church, the perspective it offers is one of utter destruction in all directions.