Iraqi intelligence forces have recovered artefacts pilfered from the ancient city of Nimrud from a house south-east of Mosul that was abandoned by an "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) leader.
The artefacts were discovered after security forces acted on a tip from local residents, according to media intelligence official Ali al-Dahlaki.
"We received accurate information from local residents stating the existence of artefacts in a house near the archaeological city of Nimrud," he told Diyaruna.
"A military intelligence force from the Iraqi Army's 16th Brigade immediately moved to inspect the place," he said, adding that the house had belonged to an ISIL leader who had fled after the army restored full control of Nimrud.
"The force raided the house and found 12 pieces in total: three clay pots and nine other pieces which are parts of stones and archaeological panels dating back to the 13th century BCE that were stolen from the Nimrud site after ISIL elements blew it up and bulldozed it," al-Dahlaki said.
"Once we found these priceless treasures, we moved them to a safe place and delivered them to the Department of Antiquities in Ninawa province," he said.
Iraqi forces liberated the important archaeological site on November 13th, more than two years after it was overrun by ISIL fighters.
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.
The group later bulldozed some parts of the city and blew up barrels of explosives in others.
Finding stolen artefacts from Nimrud among ISIL's possessions is clear evidence they are prized as a source of revenue, said Nimrud site official Saadi Ali.
"ISIL expropriated the entire city of Nimrud," he told Diyaruna. "Everything was turned into ruins."
"The place was full of sculptures and archaeological pieces weighing hundreds of tonnes," he added. "Everything was destroyed."
Before and after ISIL blew up and bulldozed Nimrud's archaeological sites, ISIL elements looted many of the smaller artefacts, Ali said.
"They stole everything easy to carry and sell," he said. "As for big archaeological assets, their destiny was to be blown up and demolished. What that humanitarian cultural heritage suffered was scary and very sad."
Ali said there is a need for significant efforts by the international community for the rehabilitation of the ancient city, adding that the task will be "very difficult".
"There are large pieces that can probably be restored easily, but some were unfortunately completely smashed and are difficult to restore," he said.
It is not yet completely clear which artefacts have been stolen and which have been destroyed, he said, calling for "the co-operation of everyone to return what we have lost".
Assessing the damage
Now that ISIL has been expelled from Nimrud , efforts are under way to assess the damage.
On December 14th, UNESCO sent a delegation to Nimrud to begin assessing and documenting the damage, and to take measures to ensure the site's restoration and protection.
"UNESCO reiterates its full determination to work with the Iraqi authorities to ensure the safeguarding of what remains and lay the foundation for a progressive recovery of the site," said director general Irina Bokova.
"This is important for the people of Iraq," she said. "This is key for the security and stability of the region. This is important for the history of humanity."
"The security services were guided to the antiquities stolen from Nimrud based on reports from citizens," Ninawa provincial council member Abdul Rahman al-Wakka told Diyaruna.
"This shows their interest in their archaeological treasures and reflects [their] high confidence in the forces responsible for protecting them," he said.
With further co-operation from local residents and as security continues to improve, Iraqi forces will likely find more artefacts in ISIL dens, al-Wakka said.
"[ISIL] was trading in Iraqi antiquities and collecting a lot of money from the operations of smuggling and selling them," he said, adding that it is likely more caches will be found as the group's fighters "did not have enough time to dispose of them".
The council has asked the Iraqi government to request international assistance to restore the monuments looted by ISIL during the period it controlled Nimrud.
"We want the world to participate directly in the preservation of our cultural heritage and the reconstruction of what was wrecked by the terrorists," he said.