Terrorism

Iraq faces arduous task of restoring Nimrud

By Khalid al-Taie

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An Iraqi officer points out some of the damage 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' fighters inflicted on the ancient city of Nimrud near Mosul. [Photo courtesy of the Iraqi Ministry of Defence]

Now that the ancient city of Nimrud has been released from the destructive hands of the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL), the Iraqi government faces the arduous task of repairing the extensive damage caused by its fighters.

Iraqi forces liberated the important archaeological site south of Mosul on November 13th, more than two years after it was overrun by ISIL fighters.

While ISIL was in control of the area, it turned archaeological buildings in the ancient city into a "pile of rubble", according to Iraqi Heritage and Antiquities Authority restoration expert Abbas Quraishi.

"The terrorists destroyed everything in the city; its temples, palaces and high ziggurats," he told Diyaruna. "The images that we received from the area after the liberation are painful. Everything is leveled to the ground."

In March 2015, websites associated with ISIL posted photos and videos of the group's fighters destroying huge statues of winged bulls , murals, panels and archaeological findings in Nimrud using hammers and electric drills.

A month later, the group bulldozed some parts of the city and planted explosive barrels in others, before blowing them up.

Assessing the damage

"The bombings, according to what we learned at the time, were massive and their effect extended to neighbouring villages. We later verified the horrific scale of destruction using satellite imagery," Quraishi said.

The Iraqi government is getting ready to send in specialised field teams to assess the damage in order to begin a reconstruction plan, he added, noting that this "will not be an easy task".

"We will need the support of the international community," he said. "These ruins are global human heritage, and the world should now mobilise all it has to help us in the reconstruction."

He called on UNESCO to host an emergency meeting to discuss the devastation and "launch a joint action plan with us for the restoration of the city".

"We must be provided with human expertise and modern technology in the field of collection, numbering and rebuilding destroyed monuments and creating specialised labs for this purpose," he said.

"There are a lot of items, particularly the large broken ones, that can be restored to what they were, but this requires extensive and tiring work," he said.

Securing the area

Quraishi also warned of the potential threat from thieves and antiquities smugglers if the sites are not adequately secured.

"It is important that the security forces mobilise quickly to secure the area," he said, noting that smugglers are eager to get their hands on priceless artefacts.

"Security personnel must install barbed-wire fencing around the city and deploy intensive patrols to monitor and start the transfer of small pieces and panels with writings and drawings to the Baghdad Museum," he said.

The parliamentary committee on culture and archaeological ruins has begun to take steps to ensure the security of the city, which dates back to the 13th century BCE, committee chairman Ali al-Maliki told Diyaruna.

"We co-ordinate with security forces to provide full protection to Nimrud ruins," he said, explaining that the site is encircled by troops from all directions and unmanned aircraft also have been deployed to secure it.

"We are currently equipping ourselves to visit the area as soon as it is secured and cleared of explosives," he said. "We want to see all archaeological monuments subject to vandalism and write reports on them."

Developing action plans

"That ancient Assyrian city was gruesomely attacked at the hands of ISIL," al-Maliki said. "They stole and smuggled some of its precious artefacts outside the country and blew up its buildings."

Al-Maliki said his committee will lead a major campaign to inform the world about the destruction that has taken place and urge countries and international organisations to provide necessary aid to Iraq.

The ancient city of Nimrud is a testimony to the extent of ISIL's brutality, said Duraid Hikmat, an advisor to the Ninawa governor.

"The terrorists wanted to destroy the archaeological ruins and Ninawa's heritage, erasing the cultural identity and Iraq's history of civilisation and humanity, because they are backward, barbaric and spiteful," he said.

"But we, after our heroic forces were able to defeat them, are determined to reconstruct all destroyed monuments and discover more of them, as most of them are still buried under the earth and not yet found," he added.

Hikmat stressed the need to develop "a national action strategy" for the restoration and maintenance of archaeological monuments in co-operation with the international community and to retrieve artefacts stolen by ISIL.

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