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Iraqi forces retake damaged Hatra heritage site

April 26, 2017

The full extent of destruction to Hatra, a historic UNESCO-listed site, is not yet known. The city's liberation from the "Islamic State" is part of the battle by Iraqi forces to regain full control of Mosul.

Irak Al-Hadra Kulturstätte
Image: picture-alliance/Bildagentur-online/Tips Images

Iraqi pro-government militias announced on Wednesday that they had wrested control of historic Hatra from radical Sunni "Islamic State" (IS) militants, who had previously inflicted grave damage to the ancient town's walls, statues and buildings.

Karte Irak Hatra ENG
Hatra lies southwest of the embattled Mosul (click to enlarge)Image: DW

An official in Iraq's Shiite parliamentary group stated that the US-backed "Popular Mobilization forces have managed today to liberate the town of Hatra after fierce battles with against [Islamic State]."

No details on potential causalities were provided.

Hatra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site founded in the 2nd or 3rd century B.C. and renowned for its temples, is located in the desert around 110 kilometers (68 miles) southwest of Mosul. A modern city of the same name lies nearby. Iraqi forces were reported to be some three kilometers (two miles) away for modern Hatra, but no further details were available as to the status of this push.

IS destruction of human treasures

Irak Mossul IS Zerstörung Hatra UNESCO Welterbe
IS published videos of its militants destroying ancient statues and other objectsImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/Militant video

Historic Hatra came into added international attention in April 2015, when IS published a video online showing its fighters smashing priceless statues with sledgehammers and destroying the trading center's ancient walls with assault rifles. The fortifications are said to have prevented two Roman invasions in the 2nd century.

The radical branch of Sunni Islam to which IS purports to adhere forbids idolatry and calls for statues and relics to be destroyed.

IS has also destroyed priceless art and architecture in other cities during the group's de-facto control over broad swaths of Iraq and Syria. Treasures of human civilization in Nimrud, Iraq and Palmyra, Syria, were destroyed by IS fighters, drawing international outcry.

Read more: nations pledge millions to protect cultural heritage after IS destruction

Ongoing Mosul offensive

The recapture of Hatra is part of a larger offensive launched in October 2016 to wrest control of the remaining sections of the Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, and its surrounding areas from IS hands.

The offensive has led to violent clashes between US-backed Iraqi forces and IS militants, displacing millions of Iraqis

In January of this year, Iraqi forces announced they had taken control of the eastern section of the city and would focus their offensive on recapturing the western part. 

cmb/sms (dpa, AFP, AP)