The battle for Mosul neared the remains of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud on Thursday (November 10th), AFP reported, raising fears for the famed heritage site already ravaged by jihadist bombs and sledgehammers.
Iraqi troops were advancing on two villages held by the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) near the ancient site some 30 kilometres south of Mosul, the Joint Operations Command said.
"Units of the 9th Armoured Division and the tribal mobilisation are beginning to advance to liberate the villages of Abbas Rajab and al-Nomaniyah, toward Nimrud," it said, later announcing that Abbas Rajab had been retaken.
In April last year, ISIL posted a video on the internet of its fighters sledgehammering Nimrud monuments before planting explosives around the site and blowing it up.
It was part of a campaign of destruction by the group against heritage sites under its control that also took in ancient Ninawa on the outskirts of Mosul, Hatra in the desert to the south and Palmyra in neighbouring Syria.
It is unclear what still remains of Nimrud's ancient ruins as Iraqi forces move closer.
On Wednesday, units of the 9th Armoured Division killed ISIL's new war commander as they were advancing in east Mosul, the Ministry of Defence said.
"Khaled al-Matyouti, ISIL's new war commander, and his aide Muhannad Hamed al-Bilawi were killed yesterday in al-Intessar neighbourhood, east of Mosul," according to a ministry statement.