Mosul reconstruction to give UNESCO window to revive fortunes

The agency is spearheading the restoration of the city’s market, the central library at its university, two churches and a Yazidi temple. (File/AFP)
Updated 10 September 2018
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Mosul reconstruction to give UNESCO window to revive fortunes

  • UNESCO has seen internal political fights between some of its 195 member states in recent years that have paralyzed its work
  • Mosul needs at least $2 billion of reconstruction aid, according to government estimates

PARIS: The United Nations’ cultural agency wants to use the reconstruction of Iraq’s second city Mosul as a way to restore its credibility and show how a fraying multilateral order can be revived, its director general said on Monday.
Officially entitled the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Paris-based UNESCO is best known for designating and protecting world heritage sites, from the Galapagos Islands to the tombs of Timbuktu.
It was plunged into turmoil almost a year ago after the United States pulled out, striking a blow to multilateralism and raising questions over the funding of an agency founded after World War Two.
While most of its activities are uncontroversial, UNESCO has seen internal political fights between some of its 195 member states in recent years that have paralyzed its work, notably on issues related to the Holy Land.
Those culminated in the United States and Israel announcing their withdrawal from the organization, accusing it of anti-Israel bias, just days ahead of the new Director General Audrey Azoulay’s appointment in October 2017.
Almost a year later, Azoulay has sought to refocus the agency on its fundamentals, with Mosul’s reconstruction at the center of that effort.
“At a time when multilateralism is sometimes being questioned, the objective and magnitude of this initiative shows exactly why an organization like UNESCO is important,” Azoulay told Reuters ahead of a conference in Paris on Mosul.
Partnering with the Iraqi government, UNESCO wants to position itself as the go-to coordinator to rebuild some of the city’s landmarks that were turned to rubble by urban warfare between Daesh militants and the US-backed coalition.
Mosul needs at least $2 billion of reconstruction aid, according to government estimates. Azoulay said she wanted to restore the city’s heartbeat, diversity and history, while using UNESCO’s educational programs to combat extremism.
The agency is spearheading the restoration of the city’s market, the central library at its university, two churches and a Yazidi temple.
Its biggest project, funded with $50 million from the United Arab Emirates, is restoring the Grand Al-Nuri Mosque, famous for its eight-century-old leaning minaret, which was blown up by Daesh militants.
The political tension in Baghdad following elections, the unrest in the southern port city of Basra over the last week, and ongoing security threats from Islamic State inevitably raise questions as to how much can actually be achieved.
“We’re fully aware of Mosul’s specificities and the difficulties on the ground ... but it’s exactly because the situation is still fragile that we need to act,” Azoulay said.


Iran: US sanctions on Khamenei mean end of diplomacy

Updated 56 min 15 sec ago
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Iran: US sanctions on Khamenei mean end of diplomacy

  • Trump said the sanctions would have been imposed regardless of drone attack
  • Washington has repeatedly imposed sanctions on Tehran since last year

Iran said on Tuesday that a US decision to impose sanctions on the country’s supreme leader and other top officials permanently closed the path to diplomacy between Tehran and Washington.
“Imposing useless sanctions on Iran’s Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) and the commander of Iran’s diplomacy (Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif) is the permanent closure of the path of diplomacy,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in a tweet.
“Trump’s desperate administration is destroying the established international mechanisms for maintaining world peace and security.”

US President Donald Trump earlier signed an executive order that would impose fresh sanctions on Iran, amid increased tensions between the long-time foes.

Trump initially told reporters the sanctions, which will target Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his office, were in response to Tehran's downing of a US drone last week. Tehran has said the drone was flying in its airspace, which Washington has denied.

Later, Trump said the sanctions would have been imposed regardless of the incident over the drone.

The US will also blacklist Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and block "billions" more in Iranian assets as part of expanded sanctions, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Monday.

Mnuchin told reporters Zarif would be added to an economic sanctions list "later this week," adding that eight top military commanders from Iran's Revolutionary Guards have now also been blacklisted.

The US has also blamed Iran for attacks earlier this month on two oil tankers at the entrance of the Gulf of Oman. Iran, in turn, has denied that it is to blame.

Washington has repeatedly imposed sanctions on Tehran since last year, when the US withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to curb Iran's nuclear program in exchange for easing of sanctions. Trump’s administration has said the deal struck under his predecessor President Barack Obama did not do enough.

Trump has said he would be open to talks with Iranian leaders, but Tehran has rejected such an offer unless Washington drops the sanctions.

The Trump administration wants to force Tehran to open talks on its nuclear and missile programmes and its activities in the region.

The US also accuses Iran of encouraging allies in Yemen to attack Saudi targets. In a joint statement on Monday, the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and UK expressed concern over Middle East tensions and the dangers posed by Iranian "destabilizing activity" to peace and security in Yemen and the region.