Islamic State fighters have reportedly used a bulldozer to desecrate the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrod in northern Iraq on Thursday.
This comes less than a week after the release of a video footage featuring ISIS members destroying priceless artifacts in a Mosul museum.
An Iraqi official in touch with Mosul antiquities staff said, “they came at midday with a bulldozer and started destroying the palace”.
It is not clear what else has been destroyed, but she states that the winged bull statues called ‘lamassu’, which were placed in Ashurnasirpal II’s palace gates as protective spirits, had been smashed.
Hatra, another ancient city registered as a World Heritage Site, also faces imminent danger.
Nimrod has been listed by the World Monuments Fund as one of the most endangered sites in the world. The city’s statues and stone reliefs have been decaying as a result of being exposed to the elements, and the lack of security on the site has made it vulnerable to looters.
Known as the biblical city of Calah, Nimrod’s first settlers are believed to have arrived7000 years ago. At its peak, it is estimated that around 60,000 residents lived in the walled city, known for its lush gardens and extensive parks. It was known as the jewel of the Assyrian era.
The palace destroyed by ISIS belonged to King Ashurnasirpal II, who ruled an expansive empire which comprised of Mesopotamia, lower-Egypt, the Levant, and even parts of Turkey. The palace was built using materials from all over his empire, namely marble and precious wood.
In response to the destruction, the United Nations has characterized the Islamic State’s act as a “war crime”. U.N. Chief Ban Ki-moon said, “the deliberate destruction of our common cultural heritage constitutes a war crime and represents an attack on humanity as a whole”.
Archaeologists and heritage experts have compared the recent obliteration to that of the 2001 demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan at the hands of the Taliban.
Jihadists have used an extreme interpretation of Islam, which condemns idols, shrines, and statues, as justification for overrunning the ancient sites.
Iraqi security forces are said to be battling to regain ground against the Jihadists with support from neighboring Iran, as well as an international anti-ISIS coalition.
However, major operations aiming to drive ISIS away from Nineveh may take some time, leaving the area’s ancient sites at the mercy of the militants.▪