7 Mar 2015

Islamic State ‘destroys world heritage site of Hatra’

Islamist militants in Iraq have blown up and bulldozed the remains of the 2,000-year-old city of Hatra, the Iraqi government says.

An official from the tourism and antiquities ministry said it had received reports from its employees in the northern city of Mosul, which is under IS control, that the site at Hatra had been demolished on Saturday.

The official said it was difficult to confirm the reports and the ministry had not received any pictures showing the extent of the damage at the archaeological site, which lies about 70 miles from Mosula and was named a world heritage site in 1987.

A resident said he heard a powerful explosion early on Saturday and local people had reported that Islamic State militants destroyed some of the larger buildings in Hatra and were bulldozing other parts.

A week ago the militants released a video showing them smashing statues and carvings in the city`s museum, home to priceless Assyrian and Hellenistic artefacts dating back 3,000 years.

On Thursday they attacked the remains of the Assyrian city of Nimrud, south of Mosul, with bulldozers. The United Nations cultural agency Unesco condemned the actions as “cultural cleansing” and said IS’s actions amounted to war crimes.

Lindsey Hilsum’s report on last week’s attack on the remains of the Assyrian city of Nimrud

Hatra is about 2,000 years old and was built during the Seleucid empire, which controlled a large part of the ancient world conquered by Alexander the Great. It is famous for its large pillared temple.

Saeed Mamuzini, spokesman for the Mosul branch of the Kurdish Democratic Party, said militants had used explosives to blow up buildings at Hatra and were also bulldozing it.

The antiquities ministry said in a statement: “The delay in international support for Iraq has encouraged terrorists to commit another crime of stealing and demolishing the remains of the city of Hatra.”

Last week`s video showed them toppling statues and carvings from plinths in the Mosul museum and smashing them with sledge hammers and drills. It also showed damage to a huge statue of a bull at the Nergal Gate into the city of Nineveh.

Islamic State’s ideology forbids religious shrines of any sort and condemns Iraq`s majority Shia Muslims as heretics.

Shia militia near Tikrit (Reuters)

Iraqi army makes gains

Iraqi government forces and Shia militia fighters have advanced towards Saddam Hussein’s home city of Tikrit, currently also under IS control.

The Iraqi forces have seized control of a number of local towns including al-Dour.

Army and militia fighters were filmed attacking IS positions on the outskirts of Tikrit on Saturday.

The city was taken by IS, along with the country’s second city, Mosul, during the militants’ lightning push last year across the north of Iraq.

Iran has taken a leading role in the campaign, with the commander of its Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force Qassem Soleimani spotted on the battlefield this week helping to supervise the offensive.

The United States says it has played no role in the Tikrit offensive despite an air campaign against Islamic State fighters in both Iraq and Syria.