(AFP) The battle for Iraq’s second city Mosul neared the remains of ancient Nimrud on Thursday, the military said.
Troops and volunteer fighters were advancing on two villages held by the Takfiri ISIL group near the ancient site some 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Mosul, the Joint Operations Command said.
“Units of the 9th Armored Division and the Hashed al-Ashaeri (tribal forces) are beginning to advance to liberate the villages of Abbas Rajab and Al-Nomaniyah, toward Nimrud,” it said, later announcing that Abbas Rajab had been retaken.
Nimrud was the 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 away for display in museums around the world but some of the more massive structures remained in place when the Takfiris swept through in mid-2014.
In April last year, ISIL posted video on the internet of its fighters sledge hammering monuments before planting explosives around the site and blowing it up.
It was part of a campaign of destruction by the Takfiris 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.
ISIL says the ancient monuments are idols that violate the teachings of its Takfiri ideology.
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.