ISIS bulldozes ancient city of Nimrud in Iraq

Trucks that may have been used to haul away artefacts had also been spotted at the site

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Militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have bulldozed the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud in Iraq, the government said in a statement, in the extremist group’s latest onslaught on the country’s heritage.

“ISIS terrorist gangs continue to defy the will of the world and the feelings of humanity after committing today a new crime ... by assaulting the archeological city of Nimrud and bulldozed it with heavy vehicles, damaging monuments that date back to the third century BC,” the tourism and antiquities ministry said in a statement.

“Leaving these stray gangs unpunished would encourage them to assault the human civilization as a whole and the civilization of Mesopotamia [in particular], causing irreparable loss,” the ministry added.

The ministry said it called on the U.N. Security Council to take urgent steps and support Iraq.

Also read: Nimrud, the jewel of the Assyrian era

An Iraqi antiquities official told AFP earlier that the destruction began after noon prayers on Thursday and that trucks that may have been used to haul away artefacts had also been spotted at the site.

"Until now, we do not know to what extent it was destroyed," the official said on condition of anonymity.

The head of UNESCO, meanwhile, condemned the destruction of Nimrud, saying it amounted to a “war crime.”

“I condemn with the strongest force the destruction of the site at Nimrud,” Irina Bokova said in a statement.

She said she had already spoken with the heads of the U.N. Security Council and International Criminal Court on the issue.

“We cannot remain silent. The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage constitutes a war crime. I call on all political and religious leaders in the region to stand up and remind everyone that there is absolutely no political or religious justification for the destruction of humanity’s cultural heritage.”

Speaking to Al Arabiya News Channel from Paris, Bassam Mansour of the UNESCO said the organization’s role was raise awareness of the seriousness of the crimes being committed against the human heritage in Iraq.

“UNESCO only has a moral and educational authority” to confront such crimes, Mansour said, adding that further research was undergoing to understand the scale of the damage to the Iraqi heritage site.

Nimrud, which was founded in the 13th century BC, lies on the Tigris around 30 kilometres (18 miles) southeast of Mosul, Iraq's second city and the main hub of IS in the country.

The destruction at Nimrud, one of the jewels of the Assyrian era, came a week after the jihadist group released a video showing militants armed with sledgehammers and jackhammers smashing priceless ancient artefacts at the Mosul museum.

That attack sparked widespread consternation and alarm, with some archaeologists and heritage experts comparing it to the 2001 demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan by the Taliban.

In the jihadists' extreme interpretation of Islam, statues, idols and shrines are a corruption of the purity of the early Muslim faith and amount to recognizing other objects of worship than God.

The group spearheaded a sweeping offensive last June that overran Nineveh province, where Mosul and Nimrud are located, and swept through much of Iraq's Sunni Arab heartland.

Iraqi security forces and allied fighters are battling to regain ground from the jihadists with backing from an international anti-ISIS coalition as well as neighboring Iran.

But major operations to drive ISIS out of Nineveh are likely months away, leaving the province's irreplaceable historical sites at the mercy of militants who have no regard for Iraq's past.

[With AFP]