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A second shipment of books donated by UK publishers to Book Aid International is due to depart for Iraq as part of the ‘Mosul Book Bridge’, the initiative begun by one of the university’s lecturers, Dr Alaa Hamdon, after the library’s destruction by Da’esh in 2014. A lorry containing several thousand books is expected to leave London shortly for the gruelling, 3,000-mile overland trip that can take anything from ten days to three weeks – the first delivery in March last year took two months to reach Iraq, having been delayed because of unrest in Kurdistan.
Built in 1967, Mosul University Library was the largest in northern Iraq and one of the largest in the Middle East and North Africa. The space once housed more than one million books for 150 university departments covering diverse fields of knowledge and 30,000 periodicals, in some cases dating back to 1700 CE.
Hamdon spoke movingly about the scheme at the London Book Fair recently. “In 2014 Da’esh took over my city. I could not stay – I had to leave and I went to Turkey and then Aberdeen where the university gave me a chance to continue my studies. I went back to Iraq in 2016. The university library had been burnt by Da’esh. I was so sad. The library was a lighthouse for the community. The people are like lost ships without it.”
The Mosul Book Bridge was established in March 2017 and the first delivery of books – around 3,700 – arrived in March of 2018. Alongside the books for the university were more than 3,400 new children’s books which War Child UK uses in its work with children. These include story books in English, English readers to support young learners as they learn English and a donation of 820 Arabic readers from Oxford University Press.
War Child UK has supported children in Iraq since 2003, most recently responding to the one million people who were displaced since the military offensive against Da’esh began. War Child UK is working to rehabilitate 12 schools which have been destroyed by fighting in the west of Mosul and training teachers to deliver education in emergencies and psychosocial support.
Two UK publishers in particular have been supporters of the Mosul Book Bridge – Oxford University Press (OUP) and Wiley. OUP’s Group Communications Director Rachel Goode, said: “We’ve supported Book Aid International for many years now and are always impressed by how tirelessly they work to help people access books and educational resources, even in some of the hardest to reach parts of the world. The Mosul Book Bridge is a truly fantastic and worthwhile project and we’re so pleased that we have been able to support it. We’re particularly proud to have enabled Book Aid International to provide Arabic books for the first time – something I hope we can support again in the future. I’m look forward continuing our partnership so that we can give even more people across the world the chance to read and learn.”
One of the bitter ironies of Da’esh’s actions is the number of rare Qurans that it destroyed. Book Aid’s chief executive Alison Tweed said: “No one can fail to be moved by the deaths and the displacement of people. But there is also the cultural destruction too, the intellectual destruction, the closing of schools. There are few places in the world today where the need for books is greater than Mosul and we intend to provide more books in the future to help Mosul rebuild its library collection.”
Hamdon says his dream is to see the students of Mosul using the books again in the rebuilt library, “so that the lighthouse shines again for the people”.