LONDON: “Gentle steps forward” have been taken in recovering sites destroyed during Daesh’s occupation of Mosul, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) has said.
Iraq’s second-largest city endured three years of Daesh control, with much of it laid to waste. Many buildings and key infrastructure were destroyed, including a significant war-graves site.
When Daesh rule ended in 2017, it was estimated that 90 percent of the cemetery was damaged.
The CWGC manages the site, where members of the armed forces of Commonwealth nations have been laid to rest.
The commission reported that the remains of those buried were not disturbed, but the iconic Cross of Sacrifice and the surrounding memorials were destroyed, with a pocket of external walls surviving.
British diplomats and other key stakeholders have been working with the CWGC to restore the site.
Preparatory moves before the commencing of recovery work has included representatives from the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) sweeping the grounds to remove any ordnance left behind by the site’s previous combatant occupants.
Teams will now survey the site and review how the cemetery can be secured for the full recovery work.
“The CWGC has noted that local conditions are now stabilizing in Mosul, and it has a window of opportunity to re-establish the site,” a CWGC spokesperson told Sky News.
“In addition, it has the excellent support of the UK Consul, UNMAS, and the opportunity to engage a local workforce to assist with the gradual clearance and rehabilitation,” the spokesperson added.
“The commission has rebuilt cemeteries before after serious damage caused by conflict — it is within the CWGC’s capability to do so.”
Iraq saw more than 54,000 Commonwealth war casualties. The commission has not sent a working party to the country since 2006 due to safety concerns. With the violence in Iraq increasing, CWGC cemeteries have been neglected.
When Daesh started its occupation of Mosul, the site was already in a precarious state. With the city now liberated, hope has returned that its graves can receive the restoration they desperately need.
There are Commonwealth graves in the site from 1914 up to the end of World War II, with Mosul witnessing many seismic military events in the 20th century.