Some two years ago, an anonymous blogger in war-torn Mosul, Iraq, sent out a plea over Twitter. Could people send books to help us rebuild? he asked.
His city’s prestigious university had been decimated by ISIS terrorists. The library’s historical manuscripts, maps, documents and academic texts had been deliberately burned in what amounted to an incalculable loss of culture and history.
The resounding answer from across the world was yes — magnified in large part by a small nonprofit in Minneapolis.
Using donations from friends and partners in the charitable world, the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project (IARP) recently celebrated the successful delivery of 10,000 books to Mosul.
“Part of what made it so popular was that this was a project that people could get their hands on,” said the group’s spokeswoman, Erin Hart.
“A book is an intimate personal thing. Everyone understands how important books have been and everyone understands how this is something tangible in rebuilding Iraq,” she said
The reconciliation project began in 2007 with peace activists first organizing around art projects before developing a sister-city relationship between Minneapolis and Najaf, Iraq. They’ve traveled to Iraq and hosted Iraqi visitors. They now have an eight-member board of directors and as many as 90 people participating in local events organized by a full-time staff member and Hart, who works part-time.
Mosul is Iraq’s second largest city, a richly historical center in Iraq’s north and home to the prestigious University of Mosul, one of the largest in the Middle East. The city fell to ISIS in 2014, ushering in a dark new chapter when the group’s leader declared the creation of a new caliphate.
A bloody campaign pushed ISIS out of the city in 2017.
A blogger who documented the fall of Mosul emerged after the city’s liberation to become a cheerleader and organizer for Mosul’s reconstruction. Omar Mohammed, known during the war only as the anonymous voice behind his website Mosul Eye, launched the books campaign not knowing what would happen.
Today, Mohammed said, the campaign has flowered, with shipments arriving from cities across the globe. Earlier this month he got an e-mail from a 7-year-old student in Japan who had collected 150 books.
“Mosul is now connected to everywhere by books,” said Mohammed via phone, who was on a Yale University fellowship in the U.S. this fall.
When members of IARP learned of the Books for Mosul project, they launched a collection campaign unlike anything they’d ever done, tapping every contact they had and raising $15,000 to collect, sort, store and eventually ship their donations.
Using a list of preferred topics prepared by a librarian in Mosul, the project began collecting books in March on medicine, engineering, literature and computer science from individuals and schools, including the University of St. Thomas, Harvard University Law School and even the University of Puerto Rico, which donated just months after a hurricane ravaged the island.
The 10,000-book effort is the group’s largest of its kind so far.
“They are in the library and the students have access to them now. Isn’t that great?” Mohammed said.
Mosul, he noted, became known for its occupation by ISIS. Now he wants the world to know his city for its books.
“It’s kind of like cleaning the name of Mosul,” he said. “If you Google it, you will see the name is now associated with books. I wanted this result.”