ISIS is continuing its rampage of erasing Iraq's history, and its latest target is a staggering loss. ISIS bulldozed the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, Iraq's ministry of tourism and antiquities announced Thursday night, looting valuable artifacts from the site before leveling it to the ground. The 3,000-year-old city is just the most recent target in a string of attacks on cultural and historical sites around Iraq, including libraries, museums, and religious institutions. While UNESCO has firmly condemned ISIS's systematic destruction of Iraq's history and pre-Islamic heritage, it's using the label "war crime" for the first time to describe the group's latest attack.
ISIS started to demolish the site on Thursday after noon prayers, an Iraq antiquities official told Agence-France Presse. A local tribal source also confirmed the destruction to Reuters:
Islamic State members came to the Nimrud archaeological city and looted the valuables in it and then they proceeded to level the site to the ground. There used to be statues and walls, as well as a castle that Islamic State has destroyed completely.
Daesh terrorist gangs continue to defy the will of the world and the feelings of humanity. In a new crime in their series of reckless offences, they assaulted the ancient city of Nimrud and bulldozed it with heavy machinery, appropriating the archaeological attractions dating back 13 centuries BC.
("Daesh" is an acronym for the Arabic translation of ISIS and is said to offend the militants because it sounds like "daes," which means "one who crushes something underfoot.")
The city of Nimrud, which sits about 20 miles south of Mosul along the Tigris river, was built around 1250 BC. It was once the capital of the neo-Assyrian Empire, which was the most powerful empire in the world at the time. Excavations over the last two centuries have revealed ivory plaques and figures, bas-reliefs, gold jewelry, precious stones, and colossal statues. Fortunately, archeologists moved the statues to the British Museum in London years ago and the jewelry and stones are kept in a bank in Baghdad.
The rest of the site, however, was pillaged in ISIS's ongoing crusade to destroy Iraq's pre-Islamic history, which the group deems blasphemous and idolatrous.
In response to Thursday's act, UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova issued her strongest criticism of ISIS yet:
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.The bulldozing of Nimrud comes just a week after ISIS released a video showing militants smashing ancient statues and artifacts at the Mosul Museum, damages that experts have assessed to be "devastating" and "catastrophic." The same week, ISIS also ransacked the Mosul public library and burned 8,000 rare books and manuscripts.
ISIS's goal is clear: to erase the history and cultural identity of the Iraqi people. Why? Because doing so would cement its control over the region. Historian Tom Holland told the Guardian:
Destroy the past, and you control the future. The Nazis knew this, and the Khmer Rouge – and the Islamic State clearly understand it too.