THE BATTLE FOR IRAQ'S 2ND CITY MOSUL NEARING THE REMAINS OF ANCIENT NIMRUD THAT HAS BEEN RAVAGED BY JIHADIST BOMBS AND SLEDGEHAMMERS
Units of the 9th Armoured Division and the Hashed al-Ashaeri (tribal militia) are beginning to advance to liberate the villages of Abbas Rajab and Al-Nomaniyah that are near Nimrud.
Nimrud was one of the great centers of the ancient Middle East. Founded in the 13th Century BC, it became the capital of the Assyrian empire, whose rulers built vast palaces and monuments that have drawn archaeologists from around the world for more than 150 years.
Many of its monumental stone sculptures and reliefs were taken way for display in museums around the world but some of the more massive structures remained in place when the jihadists swept through in mid-2014.
In April last year, IS posted video on the internet of its fighters sledgehammering monuments before planting explosives around the site and blowing it up. It was part of a campaign of destruction by the jihadists against heritage sites under their control that also took in ancient Nineveh on the outskirts of Mosul, Hatra in the desert to the south and Palmyra in neighboring Syria,
IS says the ancient monuments are idols that violate the teachings of its extreme form of Sunni Islam. But that has not stopped the group from trafficking artifacts it purports to revile on the black market to fund its operations. It is unclear what still remains of Nimrud's ancient ruins as Iraqi forces move closer.
But it is just one of a number of treasured heritage sites that are threatened with further damage by the offensive that the government launched in October '16 to retake Mosul, the jihadists' last major stronghold in Iraq.
The area where ancient Hatra is located may see fighting between IS and pro-government militias who aim to retake the town of Tal Afar, which commands Mosul's western approaches. Ancient Nineveh is also in the path of advancing troops.