Iraq steps up efforts to restore lost heritage at ancient Nimrud


An Iraqi army soldier walks among historic ruins destroyed by Islamic State militants in the Assyrian city of Nimrud, south of Mosul, Iraq, Nov. 16, 2016. (photo by REUTERS/Ari Jalal)

Iraqi authorities announced last month that UNESCO has started the first stage of the restoration of the ancient city of Nimrud, which is located on the banks of the Tigris River, about 20 miles south of Mosul. The city was liberated from the Islamic State (IS) in November 2016 and is the cradle of the Assyrian civilization founded in the 13th century B.C.

 In 2015, IS wreaked havoc on archaeological sites in the city, using bulldozers and explosives to destroy monumental landmarks, while filming all these acts of vandalism and destruction. According to a press statement by Qais Rashid, the undersecretary of the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities, following Nimrud’s liberation, 70% of the city’s antiquities were destroyed. Moreover, Iraqi army Maj. Gen. Diyaa Kazem al-Saidi, who took part in the liberation of the city, said that 200 ancient paintings were stolen from Nimrud.

The relics around Mosul, including the ones in Nimrud, were discovered in 1845 by British archaeologist Henry Layard and Chaldean Mesopotamian archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam, who uncovered significant Assyrian relics in Ninevah. The discovered relics include the statue of the winged bull and the Library of Ashurbanipal.

On March 6, 2016, the Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities confirmed that IS had deliberately demolished Nimrud for ideological reasons. This prompted Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova to confirm her support for the city on Nov. 25, 2016, the day Nimrud was liberated from the clutches of IS. Bokova stressed that UNESCO must help protect Iraq’s heritage from further looting and destruction, calling for an assessment of the inflicted damage.

The Nimrud reconstruction project coincides with the launch of the Ministry of Planning and Development Corporation’s 10-year reconstruction plan of the liberated areas, scheduled to start in early 2018, at an estimated cost of $100 billion.

Earlier this summer, the UNESCO mission visited the archaeological site of Nimrud and conducted preliminary inspections of the site to determine ways to proceed.

Faleh al-Shammari, the head of the Department of Antiquities for Ninevah province, told Al-Monitor, “The committees formed by the Antiquities and Heritage Authority have begun to document the damage caused to the archaeological sites in the liberated areas — namely the city of Nimrud. This is the first step for the UNESCO reconstruction project.”

Shammari said, “In fact, the rehabilitation process has already begun with the construction of a 3-meter-high modern security fence around the city and strengthening the security points around the fence to prevent any breaches by citizens of nearby areas. Operations have been launched to demine the area and remove any booby traps and bombs, to create a more secure environment for the UNESCO project.”