Fact Sheets
Mosul, Iraq
Oct 16, 2007 - 12:50:47 PM

Mosul (Arabic al-Mawṣil, Kurdish: موصل Mûsil, Syriac: ܢܝܢܘܐ Nîněwâ, Turkish: Musul) is a city in northern Iraq and the capital of the Ninawa Governorate. It stands on both banks of the Tigris River, with five bridges linking the two sides, some 396 km (250 miles) northwest of Baghdad.

The fabric Muslin, long manufactured here, is named for this city. Another historically important product of the area is Mosul marble.

In 1987, the city's population was 664,221 people; the 2002 population estimate was 1,739,800.[1] It is Iraq's third largest city, after Baghdad and Basra.

The city of Mosul is home to the University of Mosul, one of the largest educational and research centers in Iraq and the Middle East.


The name of the city is an Arabic-language name with many meanings, one of which is "the linking point". Another Arabic name for the city is Um Al-Rabi'ain (The City of Two Springs), because autumn and spring are very much alike there. It is also named Al-Faiha (The Paradise), Al-Khadhra (The Green), and Al-Hadba (The Humped), and sometimes described as "The Pearl of the North". The Assyrians call the city by its ancient name, Nineveh.


This city is indicative of the mingling ethnic and religious cultures of Iraq, where people lived in harmony for centuries. There is a clear Arab majority in urban areas, such as downtown Mosul on the Tigris. Further north in the suburban areas, thousands of Kurds, Assyrians and Turkomans make up the rest of Mosul's population.

The population of Mosul has progressively become a mixture of Arabs, Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, and Turkomans, since 1958 when Iraqi Prime minister Abd al-Karim Qasim encouraged Kurds and other minorities to resettle inside Mosul as part of a plan to integrate other ethnic groups into the major cosmopolitan areas of Iraq. Mosul had been predominantly Arabic until that time. These plans were counteracted in the 80's by former Iraqi dictator Saddam Husein and his Baath party, which forced some of those minorities to move outside the city, back into Kurdish regions.

The city is close to the Kurdish regions of Iraq and is considered by some Kurdish officials to be traditionally Kurdish, and situated in the Kurdistan region. There have been some demands from Kurdish parties that Mosul should be included in the Kurdish regional government. Kurdish fighters have been moving into the city since the fall of the Ba'ath government, causing some tensions with the Sunni Arabs of the city. Clashes erupted in recent months, between Sunni Arabs in Mosul and Kurdish fighters entering the city from the Kurdish regional governorates.

The majority of people in Mosul are Muslims, though Mosul does have the highest proportion of Christians of all Iraqi cities. Other religions, such as Yazidi, also call Mosul home.[4][5]

Long before the Muslim conquest of the 7th century, the old city Nineveh Christianized when the Assyrians converted to Christianity during the 1st and 2nd centuries.

Despite institutional ethnic persecution by various political powers, including the Ba'ath Party regime, Mosul has maintained a multi-cultural and multi-religious mosaic. The difficult history of Mosul, however, still contributes to tensions among its modern inhabitants.


The language of the people in Mosul is a special dialect of Arabic, partially influenced by the Syrian dialect, due to the proximity of Mosul to Syria. This dialect is sometimes described as the feminine version of the Iraqi dialect (see Syrian Arabic). It puts more emphises on "gh" and replace "r", more emphasis is laid on the "qa" to replace the "gh". There is a substantial Turkish-speaking Turkoman population. The Kurds of Mosul speak the Kurmanji dialect of Kurdish, known as Behdini in the region. Other languages such as Armenian and Assyrian (Syriac) are also spoken among their communities.

Arabic is the primary language of communication, education, business and official work, known to the majority of the city's residents.


A Maslawi is a person who is from the city of Mosul, Iraq. A Maslawi does not indicate one's ethnicity or religion, as a Maslawi can be either an Arab, Assyrian, or Kurd.

Ancient and Ottoman Mosul

The area around Mosul has been continuously inhabited for at least 8,000 years. Built on the site of an earlier Assyrian fortress, Mosul succeeded Nineveh which was founded by the Assyrians as an outpost or citadel located on the hill of Q'leat on the right bank of the Tigris, across from the ancient city of Nineveh (now the town of Ninewa). In approximately 850 BC, King Ashurnasirpal II of Assyria chose the city of Nimrud to build his capital city where present day Mosul is located. In approximately 700 BC, King Sennacherib made Nineveh the new capital of Assyria. The mound of Kuyunjik in Mosul is the site of the palaces of King Sennacherib and his grandson Ashurbanipal. Probably built on the site of an earlier Assyrian fortress, Mosul later succeeded Nineveh as the Tigris bridgehead of the road that linked Syria and Anatolia with Persia.

Mosul became an important commercial center of the Persian Empire in the 6th century BC. It became part of the Seleucid Empire after Alexander's conquests in 332 b.c. before being re-taken by indegenous Iranians under the Parthian Dynastys in 224 b.c. The Parthian capital of Ctesiphon was sacked and conquered by the Roman Empire under Emperor Trajan, but quickly reverted back to the Parthian Iranians. See "Roman relations with the Parthians and Sassanians". The city changed hands once again with the rise of Sassanid Persia in 225 a.d. before falling to Muslim rule in 637 AD during the period of the Muslim Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab, Utba bin Farqad Al-Salami was the leader of the Muslims Army that conquered the city. It was promoted to the status of capital of Mesopotamia under the Umayyads in the 8th century, during which it reached a peak of prosperity. During the Abbassid era it was an important trading centre because of its strategic location, astride the trade routes to India, Persia and the Mediterranean. In 1127 it became the centre of power of the Zengid dynasty. Saladin besieged the city unsuccessfully in 1182 but in the 13th century it was conquered and destroyed by the Mongols; although it was later rebuilt under the rule of the Ottoman Empire and remained important, it did not regain its earlier grandeur. It remained under Ottoman control until 1918, with a brief break in 1623 when Persia seized the city for a short time, and was the capital of Mosul Vilayet one of the three vilayets (provinces) of Ottoman Iraq (the other two being Baghdad Vilayet and Basra Vilayet).

The city is a historic center for the Nestorian Christianity of the Assyrians, containing the tombs of several Old Testament prophets such as Jonah, who is commemorated in a rare joint Muslim/Christian shrine (originally a Nestorian church, now a mosque), and the somewhat more obscure Nahum.

Long before Islam, a number of Arab tribes had settled in and in later times it played a leading role in the Islamic wars of conquest and became a city of great importance. It was an important trade center in the Islamic era, because of its strategic position on the caravan route between India, Persia and the Mediterranean.

Mosul in the 20th century

Mosul's importance as a strategic trading centre declined after the opening of the Suez Canal, which enabled cargoes to travel to and from India by sea rather than by land across Iraq. However, the city's fortunes revived greatly with the discovery and exploitation of oil in the area, from the late 1920s onwards. It became a nexus for the movement of oil via truck and pipeline to both Turkey and Syria. Qyuarrah Refinery was built within about an hour's drive from the city and was used to process oil for roadbuilding projects. It was damaged but not destroyed during the Iran-Iraq War. Mosul provides a key portion of the country's electrical needs via Mosul Dam and several neighbouring thermal turbine facilities. The construction of Mosul University enabled the education of many in the city and surrounding areas, and it features excellent engineering and linguistics departments among its many other academic offerings.

The region had long been part of the Ottoman Empire until the end of World War I. The possibility of dissolving this Empire became real with the Great War, since Germany was the ally of the Ottoman Empire. Secret agreements between the French and the British government (known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement) decided in 1916 to draw a straight line from the Jordan heights to Iran: where the northern zone (Syria, and later the upcomming Lebanon) would be under French influence, and the southern zone (Jordan, Iraq, and later, after renegotiations in 1917, Palestine) would be under British influence. Mosul was in the northern zone, and would have become a Syrian city; but early discoveries of oil in the region just before the end of the war (1918), pushed the British government to yet another negotiation with the French; to include the region of Mosul into the southern zone (or the British zone). The border line that divides the two sides have not changed since 1918, but it has set the fate of the modern Middle East for the comming century with the raising of different countries from the Ottoman Empire.

By the end of World War I, forces of the British Empire occupied Mosul in October 1918. After the war, the city and the surrounding area became part of the British mandate of Iraq. However, this mandate was contested by Turkey which continued to claim the area. Iraq's possession of Mosul was confirmed by the League of Nations in 1926 and the Treaty of Lausanne between Great Britain, Iraq and Turkey.

Some of the villages and towns around Mosul with its large Kurdish population were significantly affected by the anti-Kurdish campaigns of the deposed former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, particularly during the 1990s when the Kurdish population mounted an unsuccessful revolt against the regime. In the wake of the revolt's failure, a swathe of Kurdish-populated territory in the north and northeast of Iraq fell under the control of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Kurdistan Democratic Party, which established autonomous (and de facto independent) rule in the region. Mosul did not fall within the Kurdish-ruled area, but it was included in the no-fly zones imposed and patrolled by the United States and Britain between 1991 and 2003. Although this prevented Saddam's forces from mounting large-scale military operations again in the region, it did not stop the regime from implementing a steady policy of "Arabisation" by which the demography of some areas of Ninawa Governorate were gradually changed. Despite the program Mosul and its surrounding villages remained home to a mixture of Arabs, Kurds, Syriacs, Turkomans, a few Jews, and isolated populations of Yazidis. Saddam was however able to garrison portions of the 5th Army within the Mosul city, had the international flight capable airport under military control, and recruited heavily from the city for his military's officer corps; this may be due to the fact that most of the officers and generals of the Iraqi Army were from Mosul long before the Saddam regime era .

Historical Places in Mosul

Mosul is rich in old historical places and ancient buildings: mosques, castles, churches, monasteries, schools, most of which abound in architectural features and decorative works of significance. The town center is dominated by a maze of streets and attractive 19th century houses. There are old houses here of beauty. The markets are particularly interesting not simply for themselves alone but for the mixture of types who jostle there: Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians & Turkmen.

The Mosul Museum contains many interesting finds from the ancient sites of the old Assyrian capital cities Nineveh and Nimrud. The Mosul house is a beautiful, old-style building, constructed around a central courtyard and with an impressive facade of Mosul marble. It contains displays of Mosul life depicted in tableau form.

The famous English writer, Agatha Christie, lived in Mosul whilst her second husband, an archaeologist, was involved in the excavation in Nimrod.

Mosques and shrines of Mosul

The Umayyad Mosque
The first ever in the city, built in 640 AD by Utba bin Farqad Al-Salami after he conquered Mosul in the reign of Caliph umar ibn Al-Khattab. The only part still extant is the remarkably elaborate brickwork 52 m high minaret that leans like the Tower of Pisa, called Al-Hadba (The Humped).

The Great (Nuriddin) Mosque
Built by Nuriddin Zanki in 1172 AD next door to the Umayyad Mosque. Ibn Battuta (the great Tunisian traveller) found a marble fountain there and a mihrab (the niche that indicates the direction of Mecca) with a Kufic inscription.

The Mosque of the Prophet Yunus or Younis (jonah)
On one of the two most prominent mounds of Nineveh ruins, rises the Mosque (an Nestorian-Assyrian Church before) of Prophet Younis "Biblical Jonah", the son of Amittai, from the 8th century BC which is believed to be the burial place of him, and where King Esarhaddon had once built a palace.

This old shrine standing on the site of a Christian church is a mere stone's throw from the built-up walls and gates of Nineveh.

In the middle of the Mosque stood a Sepulcher, covered with a Persian carpet of silk and silver, and at the four corners, great copper candlesticks with wax tapers, besides several lamps and ostridge shells that hung down from the roof. A whale's tooth, appropriate to Jonah's well-known adventure at sea, is said to be preserved there.

It is one of the most important mosques in Mosul and one of the few historic mosques that are found in the east side of the city.

The Mujahidi Mosque
Dates back to 12th century AD, distinguished for its beautiful dome and elaborately wrought (mihrab).

The Mosque of the Prophet Jerjis (Georges)
Believed to be the burial place of Prophet Jerjis. Built of marble with beautiful relieves and renovated last in 1393 AD. It was mentioned by the explorer Ibn Jubair in the 12th century AD, and is believed also to embrace the tomb of Al-Hur bin Yousif.

Mashad Yahya Abul Kassem
On the right bank of Tigris, known for its conical dome, decorative brick-work and calligraphy engraved in Mosul blue marble, 13th century.

Bash Tapia Castle
Part of Mosul's old walls which has disappeared, with the exception of these imposing ruins rising high over Tigris.

Qara Serai (The Black Palace)
The remnants of the 13th century palace of Sultan Badruddin Lu'lu'.

Churches and monasteries of Mosul

Mosul has the highest proportion of Christians of all the Iraqi cities, and contains several interesting old churches, some of which originally date back to the early centuries of Christianity. Its ancient churches are often hidden and their entrances in thick walls are not easy to find. Some of them have suffered from overmuch restoration.

The oldest church Shamoun Al-Safa (St. Peter), dates from the 13th century and has a most devious approach. It also has a deep underground courtyard and a cemetery between high walls containing some ornate tombstones of Moslawi merchants. The Syrian Orthodox Church- Mar Toma (St. Thomas) - is another one with a deceptive. It stands solidly but almost undetectable behind enormously thick walls and is lavishly, even gaudily, decorated.

Inside dozens of bulbs produce a blaze of electric light. The altar-cross the altar-steps are nearly as bright as a film-set. There are painted in Arabic, an old Bible in Syriac on a lectern and a lime-green with dark blue borders. And, on one wall, a small illuminated and lass-fronted pigeon-hole in which are displayed the relics of St. Thomas above your head complicated chandeliers dazzle the eye. Luckily, the church equipped with electric fans and modern heaters. Mosul's summers are hot and the winter evenings bitterly cold.

The Church of St. Peter (Shamoun Al-Safa)
The oldest Chaldean church in Mosul, named after Shamoun Al-Safa or St. Peter. Previously, it had the name of the two Apostles, Peter and Paul. It was fouded in the 9th century, and it is considered a very important church due to its archeological value. It lies 5 m below street level. The church includes an epitaph of Shammas Raphael Mazagi who established a Chaldean printing press and a Patriarchal seminary next door of this church; and after the latter has been transferred to Baghdad in 1960, the building was inhabited by the nuns of the Sacred Hearts.

Church of St. Thomas
One of the oldest historical churches, named after St. Thomas the Apostle who preached the Gospel in the East, including India. The exact time of its foundation is unknown, but it can be assumed that it dates prior to 770 AD, since reference tell that Al-Mahdi, the Abbasid Caliph, listened to a grievance concerning this church on his trip to Mosul.

Mar Petion Church
Mar Petion who was educated by his cousin in monastery, was martyred in 446 AD. It is the first Chaldean Catholic church in Mosul, after the union of the Assyro-Nestorians with Rome. It dates back prior to the 10th century, and lies 3 m below street level. This church suffered destruction, and it has been reconstructed many times. A hall has been built on one of its three parts in 1942. As a result to that, most of artistic features have been confused.

Ancient Tahira Church (The Immaculate)
Near Bash Tapia, considered one of the most ancient churches in Mosul. No evidence helps to determine its exact area. It could be either the remnants of the church of the Upper Monastery or the ruined Mar Zena Church. Al-Tahira Church dates back to the 7th century, and it lies 3 m below street level. Reconstructed last in 1743.

Mar Hudeni Church
It was named after Mar Ahudemmeh (Hudeni) Maphrian of Tikrit who martyred in 575 AD. Mar Hudeni is an old church of the Tikritans in Mosul. It dates back to the 10th century, and lies 7 m below street level. First reconstructed in 1970. People can get mineral water from the well in its yard. The chain, fixed in the wall, is thought to cure epileptics.

St. George's Monastery (Mar Gurguis)
One of the oldest churches in Mosul, named after St. George, located to the north of Mosul. Most probably built late in the 17th century. Pilgrims from different parts of the North visit it annually in the spring, when many people also go out to its environs on holiday. It is about 6 m below street level. A modern church was built over the old one in 1931 abolished much of its archeological significance. The only monuments left are a marble door-frame decorated with carved Estrangelo (Syriac) inscription, and two niches, which date back to the 13th or 14th century.

Mar Matte
This famous monastery is situated about 20 km east of Mosul on the top of a high mountain (Mount Maqloub). It was built by Mar Matte; a monk who fled with several other monks 362 AD from the Monastery of Zuknin near the City of Amid (Diyar Bakir) in the southern part of Asia Minor (Turkey nowadays) and the north of Iraq during the reign of Emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363 AD). It has a precious library containing Syrianic scriptures.

Monastery of Mar Behnam
Also called Deir Al-Jubb (The Cistern Monastery), in the Nineveh Plain near Nimrud about 32 km southwest of Mosul, 12th or 13th century. The monastery is a great fort-like building rises next to the tomb of Mar Behnam a prince who was killed by the Sassanians, perhaps during the 4th century AD. A legend made him a son of an Assyrian king.

Other Christian historical buildings:

    * The Roman Catholic Church (Built by the Dominican Fathers in Nineveh Street in 1893).
    * St. Elijah's Monastery
    * Mar Michael
    * Mar Elias
    * Mar Oraha
    * Rabban Hormizd

Mosul: In 1903 there were 1,100 Jews in a total population of 45,000. The affairs of the community are directed by the chief rabbi, hakam Jacob, assisted by a court composed of three members. The community is not organized as such, levying no taxes; nor are there any benevolent societies…There are two synagogues: the Large Synagogue, which is very ancient, and the Bet ha-Midrash, founded in 1875, which serves also as a school (250 pupils). Benjamin of Tudela says that in his time the tombs of the prophets Obadiah, Nahum, and Jonah existed at Mosul; and the natives say that beside the tomb of the last-named a bush springs up every year, recalling the ‘kikayon’ (the fast growing protective desert bush) of Jonah. Thirty hours by horse to the north of Mosul is the village of Bar Tanura, inhabited exclusively by Jews, who claim that their ancestors have lived there since the return from Babylon, and who support themselves by manual labor.

Today there are no longer Jews in Mosul, due to the Nazi aligned anti-Jewish leaders of Iraq of the 1940s.