The battle for Iraq’s second city Mosul neared the remains of ancient Nimrud yesterday, the military said, raising fears for the famed heritage site already ravaged by jihadist attacks.
Troops and allied militia were advancing on two villages held by the Islamic State group near the ancient site 30km south of Mosul, the Joint Operations Command said.
“Units of the 9th Armoured Division and the Hashed al-Ashaeri [tribal militia] are beginning to advance to liberate the villages of Abbas Rajab and al-Nomaniyah, toward Nimrud,” it said.
Founded in the 13th century BC, Nimrud became the capital of the Assyrian empire, whose rulers built vast palaces and monuments that have drawn archaeologists from around the world for more than 150 years.
Many of its monumental stone sculptures and reliefs were taken away for display in museums around the world but some of the more massive structures were still in place when the jihadists swept through in mid-2014.
In April last year, IS posted a video on the internet of its fighters attacking monuments with sledge hammers and explosives.
It was part of a campaign of destruction by the jihadists against heritage sites under their control that also took in ancient Ninevehon the outskirts of Mosul, Hatrain the desert to the south, and Palmyra in neighbouring Syria, IS says the monuments are idols that violate the teachings of its extreme form of Sunni Islam.
But that has not stopped it from trafficking artefacts on the black market to fund its operations.