THE systematic destruction by Islamic State (IS) fighters of
some of the most ancient sites in the Middle East has been
denounced around the world as a further sign of the group's
Over recent days IS has used bulldozers and other heavy
equipment to damage or destroy several treasured archaeological
sites in northern Iraq, including the remains of the ancient
Assyrian cities of Nimrud and Khorsabad, and the 2000-year-old
Hatra fortress. They had already been seen on video looting and
wrecking priceless antiquities in Mosul museum.
The Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq,
Archbishop Louis Sako, commenting on the destruction of Nimrud,
told Vatican Radio: "This city is a very old city, before
Christianity and before Islam. So IS is killing people and
The director-general of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, said that the
action by IS against Nimrud proved that "nothing is safe from the
cultural cleansing under way in the country: it targets human
lives, minorities, and is marked by the systematic destruction of
humanity's ancient heritage."
She continued: "We cannot remain silent. The deliberate
destruction of cultural heritage constitutes a war crime."
It was the duty, she said, of all political and religious
leaders in the region to stand up and remind everyone that "there
is absolutely no political or religious justification for the
destruction of humanity's cultural heritage."
On the devastation wreaked on Hatra, Ms Bokova issued a
statement jointly with the head of the Islamic Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organisation (IESCO), Abdulaziz Othman
Altwaijri. This "latest act of barbarism" against a World Heritage
site, the statement said, showed the contempt in which IS held "the
history and heritage of Arab people".
The statement described Hatra as a large fortified city under
the influence of the Parthian Empire which had withstood invasions
by the Romans in AD 116 and 198, thanks to its high, thick walls,
reinforced by towers. The remains of the city, "especially the
temples where Hellenistic and Roman architecture blend with Eastern
decorative features, attest to the greatness of its
UNESCO and ISECO said that they were ready to "assist the Iraqi
people in any way possible" in coping with wholesale vandalism of
Although Iraqi forces, with Iranian assistance, are slowly
pushing IS fighters back from territory that they seized last year,
the authorities are in no position to recover what has been looted
over recent months, or to apprehend the culprits. Indeed, the Iraqi
authorities have suggested that the international anti-IS coalition
should have been in a position to stop at least some of the
destruction caused by IS.
The country's Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Adel Fahad
al-Shersab, said that Hatra was a case in point. The fortress was
situated in the desert, "where it is possible to see any
infiltration" from the air: "it was expected that IS would destroy
it. The sky is not in the hands of the Iraqis; the sky is not in
Progress in containing and even defeating IS in Iraq does not
imply that the group's regional reach is diminishing. Jihadists are
operating freely in three other Arab countries where the rule of
law is either weak or absent: Syria, Yemen, and Libya - the latter
being the site of the recent killing of 21 Egyptian Coptic
The Prince of Wales was among those to send letters of
condolences to the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt,
Pope Tawadros II, and the General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox
Church in the UK, Bishop Angaelos.
The Archbishop of Canterbury conveyed his condolences to the
Coptic Church during a visit to the Coptic Orthodox Centre in
Stevenage last month.