The ancient statues that Islamic State militants smashed in Mosul on camera last month have been proved to be exact replicas of precious artifacts of Iraqi heritage. The real masterpieces of antiquity are said to be in Baghdad.
“They were copies. The originals are all here,” Baghdad’s museum director told Germany’s Deutsche Welle.
The head of the antiquity department in Iraq’s cultural heritage authority, Fawzye al-Mahdi, also told the German broadcaster that “none” of the artifacts “were originals.”
This, experts say, explains why in a video that shows the destruction statues crumble so easily.
“The reason they crumble so easily is that they’re made of plaster. You can see iron bars inside,” Mark Altaweel of the Institute of Archaeology at University College, London said to Channel 4.
However, Mosul’s exiled governor Atheel Nuafi, said that, while many of destroyed items were not originals, but there were real ones demolished afterward.
“There were two items that were real and which the militants destroyed,” he told Iraq television. “One is a winged bull and the other was the God of Rozhan.” He also said that before destroying the museum, ISIS militants could have stolen several items.
A video appeared on Youtube in February, showing several men crashing museum statues and winged bulls monuments securing gates of ancient Nineveh, located not far away from Mosul.
Mosul Museum has the second biggest collection of ancient relics in Iraq. It owned dozens of thousands of items from Nineveh and other ancient centers of Northern Mesopotamia. In 2003, at the height of operation against Saddam Hussein, the museum was ransacked by looters, but its workers managed to save most valuable masterpieces and moved them to Baghdad before the city assault. Meanwhile, some important items were still kept there including an ancient statues and ceramics collection.
In summer 2014, ISIS took over Mosul and began destroying ritual constructions as relics are considered by the militants as “worthless idols”.
It’s not just ancient statues but also temples which the Islamic State targets. Thus, jihadists razed to the ground the Mosque of the Prophet Yunus, equaled to Bible’s Jonah, the Mosque of the Prophet Jerjis worshiped by Shiah Muslims and other relics, including those honored by Christians Assyrians.
— RT (@RT_com) March 7, 2015
In February 2015 ISIS also burned the city’s library as well as the libraries of a Dominican monastery and of a Catholic church. Hundreds of thousands books, rare Iraqi newspapers from the beginning of the 20th century and Ottoman Empire period maps and books were also burned or exploded in archives, while a small portion of the collection was carried off by truck in an unknown direction.
ISIS did not stop at Mosul and later in March demolished the remains of the ancient city of Hatra in the north of the country, which has been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1987, following a“bulldozing” of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud.
This week, the Islamic States threatened to beyond Iraq and destroy Egypt’s Sphinx and pyramids as it was time for Muslims to erase the pharaohs’ heritage.
Earlier, Iraqi Tourism and Antiquities Minister Adel Shirshab called on the US-led coalition “to activate its air strikes” to defend the cultural heritage of the country.
Shirshab and the head of the antiquities board, Qais Rasheed, said the coalition did not do enough to prevent the attacks in the ancient cities. They insist the coalition troops were able to see at least the preparations of the militants to bulldozing of Hatra.
In response to the calls and accusations, the highest military-ranking officer in the US on ruled out immediate airstrikes.
“Military campaigns are all about priorities,”General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff stressed and then pointed out that the US would consider protecting heritage sites“as priorities shift.”
“We will consider it, but it will have to fit into all the other things we are being asked to do on behalf of Iraq,” the Wall Street Journal cited Dempsey as saying.
At the same time, the United States plan to return to Iraq 60 cultural artifacts which were illegally smuggled to the U.S. According to the country’s state department, archeological items will be repatriated on Monday.
“At a time when ISIL is destroying the ancient monuments and artifacts of Iraq’s rich history, the United States continues to work towards preserving its historical legacy for the Iraqi people and for the world,”the statement added, using one of the militant group’s former abbreviations.