Monday 18 December 2017

Iraqi flag raised again in ancient city but larger battle to drag on

An ancient statue at the archaeological site of Nimrud, around 30 kilometres southeast of Mosul, Iraq's second city Picture: AFP/Getty
An ancient statue at the archaeological site of Nimrud, around 30 kilometres southeast of Mosul, Iraq's second city Picture: AFP/Getty

Sara Elizabeth Williams

Iraqi forces battling Isil captured Nimrud, the site of an ancient city on the banks of the Tigris, yesterday during the operation to retake Mosul from the jihadists.

"Troops from the ninth armoured division liberated Nimrud town completely and raised the Iraqi flag above its buildings," said a statement issued by Iraq's joint operations command.

Nimrud was seized by Isil in its 2014 blitz across northern Iraq.

The town, a cultural and archaeological jewel in an area often referred to as the cradle of civilisation, is of special significance to Iraqi Christians.

Modern-day Nimrud lies 1km west of the ruins of the old city, which was built around 1250 BC and became the capital of the Assyrian empire.

Nimrud, which is mentioned in the 'Book of Genesis', blossomed in the ninth-century BC during the reign of the King Ashurnasirpal and grew rich in jewels, monuments and palaces.

Despite being repeatedly plundered by Western explorers from the mid-19th century, the city managed to hide some of its secrets. In 1988, archaeologists at the site unearthed a collection of 613 precious stones, which were hailed as the most significant archaeological discovery since Tutankhamen's tomb.

After being damaged in the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, Nimrud was further battered by Isil militants in March 2015. Wielding drills, explosives and bulldozers, they set out to pulverise the city's heritage and erase all religious symbolism deemed idolatrous.

Whatever may have survived Isil's 2015 attack is likely to have been further damaged in the latest fighting.

For the coalition of forces battling to oust Isil from Mosul, the victory at Nimrud is tempered by a growing sense that the larger battle may not be over any time soon.

After last week's advance into Mosul proper, Iraqi forces have encountered increasingly fierce resistance, battling wave after wave of lethal car bombs.

"The only weapons they have left are car bombs and explosives," Iraqi special forces Major General Sami al-Aridi said.


"There are so many civilian cars and any one of them could be a bomb," he said.

Iraqi officers say they have cleared the eastern neighbourhoods of Qadisiya and Zahra and are planning to push further into the heart of Mosul, but progress is slow.

As they move forward, troops build earthworks and road blocks to prevent car bombs from breaching front lines. Even as they gain territory, troops struggle to hold it under heavy counter-attacks, raising the spectre of fighting Isil from the front and the rear at once.

While the Iraqi armed forces do not release official casualty figures, field hospitals have reported dozens killed and wounded in the operation.

Isil still controls other Assyrian landmarks including the ruins of Nineveh and Khorsabad, as well as the 2,000-year-old desert city of Hatra, famed for its pillared temple which blended Graeco-Roman and eastern architecture.

The scale of the damage at the sites is not clear.

But Iraqi officials say some buildings have been totally destroyed. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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