ISIS militants who have laid waste to the archaeological site of Nimrud in northern Iraq are trying to wipe out Iraq’s "history of civilization," Iraqi officials told NBC News. The United Nations’ cultural agency said the destruction at the ancient Assyrian city constitutes a war crime.
The terror network, which smashed relics in a Mosul museum last week, is "trying to erase the history of Iraq," Qais Hussein Rashid, deputy tourism and antiquities minister, said Friday. "It is a part of their plan to erase civilization and humanity in general."
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization also condemned ISIS's rampage through Nimrud on Thursday, and warned that the site's large statutes in the nearly 3,000-year-old city could be used for illicit trafficking. "We call this cultural cleansing because unfortunately, we see an acceleration of this destruction of heritage as deliberate warfare," UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova told The Associated Press.
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Bokova said U.N. officials have to rely on satellite images of the destroyed city to assess the level of damage, because the dangerous security situation makes it impossible to get people close to the site. Officials have seen photos of destroyed symbols of the ancient kingdom of Assyria, with the head of a human man and the body of a lion or eagle. She called those relics and and other items at the site priceless.
Rashid also said the Iraqi government has been unable to secure any pictures or videos from the location because the area has been tightly held by ISIS. He acknowledged UNESCO's swift disapproval of the antiquities' destruction, but said words aren’t enough.
"We are looking for more than a condemnation, we are looking for a real role for the international allies to put an end to the existence of ISIS in Iraq — not only in Mosul," Rashid said. "ISIS militants are holding the ground and destroying everything, and they are going to cause more destruction in Iraq, then to the region."
— NBC News
The Associated Press contributed to this report.