Cultural Heritage Devastation in Iraq

Cultural Heritage Devastation in Iraq
Cultural Heritage Devastation in Iraq

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Cultural Heritage Devastation in Iraq

Part 1

Harmansah’s article talks about the destruction of Khorsabad, an ancient archeological site in the northern region of Iraq by the Islamic militant group (ISIS). Also, Iraq’s minister for tourism and antiquities is concerned about the destruction, and they are likely to destroy the site. Again, a Kurdish official reported that the militant group had already destroyed the site. The group has also destroyed 3,000 years Nimrud and 2000 year cultural heritage sites (Yacoub, 2015). The UN Secretary General considered such destruction as a war crime and irritated by continued destruction. Khorsabad was built by King Sargon II as the new capital of Assyria during his reign in 721 and abandoned following his demise in 705 B.C.

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Cultural Heritage Devastation in Iraq        

The site is constructed on a 24-meter wall, stone foundation and seven gates. Because it was a single-epoch city, few artifacts associated to Sargon II were found. Nonetheless, the site is famous for shedding light on Assyrian art and construction. The statuette nugget chunks that once lined the fortress walls are now displayed in museums in Baghdad, Paris, London and Chicago (Yacoub, 2015).

The ISIS faction controls more than 30% of Iraq and Syria. The Sunni radical faction has been protesting to purge ancient relics they indicate enhance reverence that breaches their fundamentalist explanation of Sharia law. The latest footage shows them destroying work of art in the Mosul museum. In January, ISIS razed down dozens of books and manuscripts from the Mosul archive and the University.

Part II

During the Iraq war, the coalition has botched to safeguard Iraq’s unparalleled cultural inheritance, uncovering it to plunderers and art thieves. The National Library as well the National Museum, along with many other significant cultural institutions, were badly impaired and plundered in the early days of the occupation (Nabil al-Tikriti, 2003). Subsequently, the allied forces have developed army camps on sensitive archeological sites and devastated historic cities during military maneuvers. Despite the many implications globally, the conflicts have left Iraq’s archeological sites exposed to looters, in gross contempt of international law. Lifters have now looted dozens of the most appropriate sites and every day the prowling keeps going on.                

In early 2003, the military took control of Baghdad and other cities across Iraq never protected cultural heritage (Nabil al-Tikriti, 2003). In addition, the military did not take defensive position or actions of destruction, especially when they requested by the concerned citizens. Because the fundamental cultural sites were; located in two places of Baghdad, the military could have used simple strategies like those utilized in protecting Oil Military of Iraq. Some tanks, as well as detachments of foot troops, were located in the neighborhood. The military could have mediated (Tomlinson, 2015). However, they were prohibited. Following the demobilization of Iraq army and police, exposed the country’s cultural heritage to significant risk and damages.

Cultural Heritage Devastation in Iraq

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Destruction of cultural treasures started immediately after the collapse of the old government, an aspect of frequent attacks on government properties. The art experts had alleged that damage often occurs when order breaks in the public. With regards to Iraq, attackers on cultural treasures had various goals. Some attackers expressed anger on old government, neighborhood, and organized political factions like those who brought down the documentationsin the National Library (Winsor, 2015).

Additionally, other attackers were organized as looters with a clear understanding of what they were looking for. Later a chief American investigator claimed that the attackers received orders from international dealers. Some of the evidence include they chopped off stone statutes and took off with pleasures parts. Much as art looters took high-quality cultural treasures, neighborhood thieves stole computers, conversation substances, carpets, among others. Some thieves destroyed copper wiring from walls, windows, and doors. For different reasons, the thieves burned, leaving significant devastation.                                                                          

By and large, ISIS militants employed explosives and bulldozers to bring down a two thousand year city of Hatra, which was seen as one of the best-kept exemplars of a Parthian city. To many observers, that obliteration was anything but a crude strategy of cultural cleansing adopted by ISIS in Iraq (Tomlinson, 2015). As if that was not enough a three thousand old city of Assyrian was plundered by ISIS still. Most of these demolitions were executed around the ISIS stronghold areas, like the Mosul Museum where stone sculptures and age-old artifacts were crushed to nothingness. 

Cultural Heritage Devastation in Iraq

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The majority of concerned citizens took the risk and attempted to control the attacks while safeguarding the endangered cultural sites (Roger, 2006).Institution employees protected precious items in the storerooms. Whereas Baghdad was attacked after the beginning of looting, attempts were taken to preserve it. An imam kept a section of the National Library’s treasures in Haqq Mosque. On the other hand, volunteers matched with manuscripts as well as books in the street, though putting their lives at risk.

Moreover, the imam assisted library employees to weld steel door for controlling further attacks and destruction. As the destruction of cultural heritage sites, global cultural institutions and experts plead to the military to protect such sites.  Workers and cultural bodies’ officials requested military protection, particularly those in nearby centers and officers at Palestine Hotel. However, the military failed to take urgent action.

The Iraq National Museum redeemed some artifacts; however, the center has not recovered. It became apparent that the leadership in Iraq and allied forces to safeguard archeological sites. In Baghdad, the Ministry of Culture is yet to have the institution reopened  (Winsor, 2015). Bounded by weeds, the museum is visible behind metal gates, sandbags and concertina wire, another representation of the disentanglement occupation.                                                                                    

As of 2009, the United States authorized the 1954 Hague Convention to safeguard cultural artifacts during conflicts. This enhances government protection of cultural property compulsory. Latest conflicts in Iraq, Syria and other Arab nations have triggered renewed interest in Cultural Property Protection (CPP) (UNESCO, 2013). The CPP mandate is captured in international accords and armed controls and convoluted by various stakeholders with different echelons of understanding and inclination to invest in training and application.

 Cultural Heritage Devastation in Iraq

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While the CPP comprise the military obligation to curtail damage, it ought to be implemented before operations are commenced.  The absence of CPP planning can aggravate social chaos; obliterate national, cultural and religious identities; prompt global condemnation; and protract wars. If well-orchestrated, the CPP can be a force multiplier by simultaneously enhancing global and national stability and friendliness (UNESCO, 2013). With this backdrop, ideas for general security procedures and techniques for instigating them against further distraction and damage are befitting.        


The ratification of the Geneva Convention has made it mandatory for the military involved in conflicts to maintain public order and restrain people from looting cultural artifacts.  In particular, the Geneva and Hague resolutions expect the security of cultural sites against demolition and theft. It also forbids its application to enhance the military action. The truth is that the coalition has ignored and violated these international laws, culminating in significant and irreversible damage to the cultural inheritance of Iraq and all humanity.


Nabil al-Tikriti (2003). “Iraq Manuscript Collections, Archives & Libraries Situation Report” (June 8, 2003) [Oriental Institute, University of Chicago]

O’Keefe, Roger (2006). The Protection of Cultural Property in Armed Conflict. Cambridge, UK: New York: Cambridge University Press.

Tomlinson. S (2015) Have ISIS destroyed ANOTHER ancient city? Iraq investigating reports jihadists have looted and blown up former 700BC Assyrian capital near Mosul. Accessed February. 20. 2016 at

UNESCO  (2013)“UNESCO and the Protection of Cultural Property During Armed Conflict”International Journal of Cultural Policy (2013) Vol. 19 No. 1, 1 – 19.

Winsor. M., (2015). ISIS Destroys Khorsabad: Third Archaeological Site In Iraq Wrecked By Islamic State.  Accessed February. 20. 2016 at

Yacoub. S.N (2015) Iraq Probes Report Of ISIS Attacks On Ancient Site Of Khorsabad. Accessed February. 20. 2016 at

Cultural Heritage Devastation in Iraq

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