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Still no progress in restoring ancient Nimrud

July 24, 2017

The Iraqi Army liberated the ancient city of Nimrud in November 2016, after the "Islamic State" destroyed the archaeological site. But in the past eight months, nothing has happened to restore it.

Nimrud before the destruction: stone entrance in front of a brilliant blue sky
Nimrud before the destructionImage: picture-alliance/Bildagentur-online/Tips Images

In its rage of destruction, the "Islamist State" (IS) militia did not leave unharmed the ancient Assyrian city of Kalhu, also known as "Calah," and in modern times known as Nimrud.

Some 30 kilometers south of Mosul, Iraq, it is strategically located near the convergence of the Tigris River with its tributary, the Great Zab, in the Nineveh plains of northern Mesopotamia. It was a major Assyrian hub between 1350 and 610 BC.

Ruins were discovered and intermittent archaeological excavations began in 1845, with the pace picking up after 1949. Prized excavated pieces were moved to museums in Iraq and abroad. Once an Assyrian royal city complete with a majestic palace, it is now a candidate vying for a position on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.

Read more: Ancient city of Nimrud lies in ruins after 'IS' occupation

As such, IS terrorists targeted it for demolition, with the Iraqi government reporting in spring 2015 that the militant organization had used bulldozers to destroy excavated remains of the ancient city. In November 2016, Iraqi forces reclaimed the city and confirmed the destruction.

An ISIS propaganda video showing destruction of Nimrud in 2015
An ISIS propaganda video showing destruction of Nimrud in 2015Image: Militant video via AP

While much was demolished by the bulldozers and jackhammers, smaller artifacts were blown up to 10 kilometers away during huge explosions. Some of those involved in the excavations believe the jihadists may have sold the smaller pieces on the black market.

On par with Palmyra

The destruction was so comprehensive, "that it could be placed on par with the destruction of Palmyra," Stefan Hauser, an archaeology professor at the University of Constance, told dpa press agency. "In Nimrud, a complete artwork of architecture and sculptures went missing."

As in Nimrud and Palmyra, jihadists have destroyed ancient ruins in Hatra and Mosul.

Yet in Nimrud, no systematic inventory has been made of the damage since Iraqi forces recaptured the city. "Nothing has happened," said Layla Salih, who works for the NGO Gilgamesh Center for Antiquities and Heritage Protection.  

Read more: Iraq claims victory over 'Islamic State' in Nimrud

Indeed, the official government agency for the preservation of antiquity in Baghdad should be pursuing the issue, but the agency has not permitted a single employee of its 300 local staff to resume work, the Gilgamesh Center reported. The Center added that since the staff had worked under IS, the Iraqi Interior Ministry must reassess each individual, which has not yet occurred.

Iraqi soldiers only found minor remains in Nimrud in 2016
Iraqi soldiers only found minor remains in Nimrud in 2016Image: Getty Images/AFP/S. Hamed

Saleem Khalaf, Director of the Baghdad-based State Board of Antiquities and Heritage in Iraq, told dpa that security concerns in northern Iraq were the issue. "We have initial plans for reconstruction, but we cannot put them into motion because liberation operations are still underway in the area," he said. Help from foreign sources was also necessary to put the plans into action, he added, pointing to Iraq cooperation measures with UNESCO.

Meanwhile, with plans still hanging in the air, the remains in Nimrud continue to be vulnerable to looting and the effects of weather.

als/eg   (with dpa)