News that Islamic State fighters had bulldozed and vandalized the ancient city of Nimrud in northern Iraq provoked widespread outrage yesterday, as archaeologists despaired that the militant extremist group was systematically destroying the priceless relics of a birthplace of civilization.
The top cultural official at the United Nations called the latest destruction a war crime and vowed to do “whatever is needed” to stop the plundering by the Islamic State.
Irina Bokova, who is director general of UNESCO, the U.N. organization for education, science and culture, said, “This is yet another attack against the Iraqi people, reminding us that nothing is safe from the cultural cleansing underway in the country.”
Iraq’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities confirmed on Thursday that Islamic State militants had used bulldozers and other heavy vehicles to vandalize an important archaeological site at Nimrud, 18 miles southeast of Mosul, the northern Iraqi city seized by the group in June.
Nimrud was founded more than 3,300 years ago and was one of the capitals of the Assyrian empire. Its statues, frescos and other works are revered around the world. The Nimrud destruction came a week after Islamic State militants videotaped themselves marauding through Mosul’s museum, using sledgehammers and torches to destroy statues, artifacts and books.
Islamic State leaders have sought to justify the cultural destruction by asserting that statues and other artifacts violate Islamic prohibitions on idol worship. But religious authorities have denounced the destruction as barbaric and anti-Islamic.