An Iraqi woman walks in front of Assyrian mural sculptures on exhibit in Baghdad in this 2003 photo. One of the most significant archaeological finds of the 20th century, the Nimrud treasures -- excavated in the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud near present day Mosul-- date back to 900 B.C. and consist of gold artifacts and precious gems. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Radu Sigheti HIGH RES:

Islamic State militants bulldoze ancient Nimrud city

An Iraqi woman walks in front of Assyrian mural sculptures on exhibit in Baghdad in this 2003 photo. One of the most significant archaeological finds of the 20th century, the Nimrud treasures -- excavated in the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud near present day Mosul-- date back to 900 B.C. and consist of gold artifacts and precious gems.

An Iraqi woman walks in front of Assyrian mural sculptures on exhibit in Baghdad in this 2003 photo. One of the most significant archaeological finds of the 20th century, the Nimrud treasures -- excavated in the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud near present day Mosul-- date back to 900 B.C. and consist of gold artifacts and precious gems. Photo courtesy of Reuters:/Radu Sigheti

BAGHDAD (Reuters)  Islamic State fighters have looted and bulldozed the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, the Iraqi government said, in their latest assault on some of the world's greatest archaeological and cultural treasures.

A tribal source from the nearby city of Mosul told Reuters the ultra-radical Sunni Islamists, who dismiss Iraq's pre-Islamic heritage as idolatrous, had pillaged the 3,000-year-old site on the banks of the Tigris river, once capital of the world's most powerful empire.

The assault against Nimrud came just a week after the release of a video showing Islamic State supporters smashing museum statues and carvings in Mosul, the city they seized along with much of northern Iraq last June.

The United Nations cultural agency UNESCO condemned Islamic State's actions as "cultural cleansing" and a war crime. The government in Baghdad said the fighters were defying "the will of the world and the feelings of humanity."

"In a new crime in their series of reckless offenses they assaulted the ancient city of Nimrud and bulldozed it with heavy machinery, appropriating archaeological attractions dating back 13 centuries BC," the tourism and antiquities ministry said.

Nimrud, about 20 miles south of Mosul, was built around 1250 BC. Four centuries later it became capital of the neo-Assyrian empire -- at the time the most powerful state on earth, extending to modern-day Egypt, Turkey and Iran.

Many of its most famous surviving monuments were removed years ago by archaeologists, including colossal Winged Bulls which are now in London's British Museum and hundreds of precious stones and pieces of gold which were moved to Baghdad.

But ruins of the ancient city remain at the northern Iraqi site, excavated by a series of experts since the 19th century. British archaeologist Max Mallowan and his wife, crime writer Agatha Christie, worked at Nimrud in the 1950s.

'Cultural cleansing'

"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," the Mosul tribal source told Reuters. "There used to be statues and walls as well as a castle that Islamic State has destroyed completely."

Archaeologists have compared the assault on Iraq's cultural history to the Taliban's destruction of Afghanistan's giant Bamiyan Buddha statues in 2001. But the damage being wreaked by Islamic State, not just to ancient monuments but also on some Muslim places of worship, is even more relentless and wide-ranging.

"This is yet another attack against the Iraqi people, reminding us that nothing is safe from the cultural cleansing underway in the country," said UNESCO chief Irina Bokova.

"The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage constitutes a war crime," Bokova said, describing Iraq's history as "the heritage of the whole of humanity".

Last week's video showed fighters toppling statues and carvings from plinths in the Mosul museum and smashing them with sledgehammers and drills. It also showed damage to a huge statue of a bull at the Nergal Gate into the city of Nineveh.

Archaeologists said it was hard to quantify the damage; although some items appeared to be replicas, many priceless articles had been destroyed including artifacts from Hatra, a stunning pillared city in northern Iraq dating back 2,000 years.

Iraq's senior Shi'ite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called on the country's deeply divided religious and ethnic groups to come together to fight Islamic State.

"Day after day, the need is proven for everyone to unite and fight this ferocious organisation that spares neither man nor stone," Sistani said in a Friday sermon delivered by an aide in the southern city of Kerbala.

Iraqi forces and Shi'ite militia supported by Shi'ite Iran have launched an offensive to drive Islamic State from the northern city of Tikrit and could move on Mosul later this year. A U.S.-led coalition is also mounting air strikes against the fighters.

Iraqi officials said last week that Islamic State had kept many artifacts to sell to antiquities smugglers and raise revenue.

A prominent politician from Iraq's Assyrian Christian community, some of whose members still speak the Aramaic language of Jesus, told Reuters on Friday that the destruction at Nimrud was aimed at covering up the fact that the militants had stolen and sold many pieces. Yonadam Kanna described them as "an ignorant, backward gang that seeks to erase the collective memory of Iraq and its culture and heritage".

Modern day Iraq was one of the birthplaces of civilization, with agriculture and writing pioneered on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers more than 5,000 years ago. Many of the cities and empires mentioned in the bible's Old Testament were in what is now northern Iraq.

In the south, sheltered from Islamic State depredation but still damaged by years of conflict and theft, lie Babylon - site of Nebuchadnezzar's Hanging Gardens - Ur, birthplace of the Biblical patriarch Abraham, and the imperial capitals of Arab and Iranian empires in Samarra, Baghdad and Ctesiphon.

Islamic State, which rules a self-declared caliphate in north Iraq and eastern Syria, promotes a fiercely purist interpretation of Sunni Islam, rejecting religious shrines of any sort and condemning Iraq's majority Shi'ites as heretics.

In July it destroyed the tomb of the prophet Jonah in Mosul. It has also attacked Shi'ite places of worship and has ordered non-Muslims to convert, pay a tax or face the sword.

(Reporting by Dominic Evans, Saif Hameed and Isabel Coles.)



  1. It will be things such as this that will anger ALL the govt’s and the UN will begin to destroy “false religion” because God will put it into their minds to carry out HIS thoughts. The total destruction of “Babylon the Great”, the world empire of FALSE religion… Revelation 17 and 18 prophecy must be fulfilled.

  2. Oh the irony.

    ISIS is literally destroying the remnants of “Babylon the Great”.

    Their beliefs in end times and destruction of false religion (meaning any faith but theirs) is pretty much the same as your own.

  3. It is not about “cultural cleansing” or Islam. It is a rational and understandable backlash against US/Israeli policies. Duh!

  4. I just can’t wait for THAT to happen! After that takes place, the entire earth will finally be filled with the knowledge of God as water covers the seas, and it will finally be accurate and true knowledge, for a change! (Isaiah 11:9)

  5. ISIS is part of Babylon the Great.. No doubt about that!

  6. Abraham’s seed, Jesus, the Messiah and God’s son, will soon put an end to all this madness (Matthew 1:1-16; Isaiah 11:4), as King of God’s kingdom. As God promised to Abraham, all nations on earth will be blessed by his Jesus’ rule!!!

  7. “The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage constitutes a war crime,” Bokova said, describing Iraq’s history as “the heritage of the whole of humanity”.

    Such is the depravity religion.

    From burning infidels as ‘witches’ to the burnings of libraries, the reasonable and rational people have tried in vain to teach and explain peaceably the price of such ignorance.

    Humanity is doomed if we cannot secularize and become reasonable.

    We stopped the Ozone Hole and we learned (so far) to control nuclear weapons. But humanity has no spare time to go through another dark age – this garbage of religion will destroy us.

  8. After all respect for all religions and ensuring the free exercise of religion is such an imposition to christian folk like yourself. Those who feel entitled to dictate how others must believe. You are not being persecuted. You are just being told to behave in a civil manner respectful to the lives of others. .

    Totalitarian humanism is like saying extreme moderate or dictatorial democracy. A contradiction in terms. A sign Ken, that you have no clue what you are talking about. You sound more like ISIS than someone who understands and appreciates liberties.

  9. “The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

    William Butler Yeats

  10. It is belief systems that are the mechanism for all these horrors. Marxism has been described as secularized religion. Society is organized as a tool that only advantages a segment of the society, but is sold as a necessity for salvation of the society as a whole. This is exactly the pitch of Christian religion, converted to economics as the salvation, rather than heaven. Naturally, one needs a devil as well, so, other belief systems serve that role.

  11. Excellent, Samuel.
    Here’s one of my favorites:

    Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1813

    “I was an infant when my mother went
    To see an atheist burned. She took me there.

    The dark-robed priests were met around the pile;
    The multitude was gazing silently;
    And as the culprit passed with dauntless mien,
    Tempered disdain in his unaltering eye,
    Mixed with a quiet smile, shone calmly forth;
    The thirsty fire crept round his manly limbs;
    His resolute eyes were scorched to blindness soon;
    His death-pang rent my heart! the insensate mob
    Uttered a cry of triumph, and I wept.
    “Weep not, child!” cried my mother, “for that man
    Has said, ‘There is no God.’”

    Religion sucks.

  12. @Ken,

    “…totalitarian bulldozer called “separation of Church and State.””

    The worst sort of ignorance is the prideful sort.
    And pray, dear Ken, which Christian sect would you install to so totally free us all?

  13. In the midst of all the horrors that come from Islamic State and their buddies in Boko Haram, something else is happening: the trashing of the image of radical Islam. Moderate Muslims are raising their voice against this wanton thuggery while some scholars are pointing out that the excesses of Islamic State and Boko Haram can be justified from the Koran and the traditions of the Prophet.

    Fundamentalist Islam is being trashed by the excesses of the zealots, and this includes the tortures being inflicted on Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia.

    But before we think that this just applies to Islam, we should remember that the excesses of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation were followed by the Enlightenment, with its development of science, its rejection of fundamentalist religion and its establishment of human rights,

  14. RNS many times has commented on Jewish Israeli vandalism of Christian sites.

  15. If you pour through the Old Testament you can actually find the dates (or the math to get the dates, “this many years from this event” kinds of things). Though many people don’t like to use those dates since most of ’em have passed.

  16. Ben,

    The exact day is not given in the Bible, but Jesus provided the tell-tale signs we are living in the last days of this wicked era (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21).

    Those signs have been taking place since God’s kingdom was established in the heavens, and the preaching of the good news of God’s kingdom is also being preached worldwide (Matthew 24:14), before God’s day comes (Zephaniah 2:2, 3).

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