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Mar. 07, 2017

Mosul museum's ancient art a prime target for jihadists

In June 2014, IS fighters overran Mosul and set about selling, destroying priceless artefacts that they claimed violated Islamic tenets.

Image grab from video released by IS shows jihadists toppling ancient statue, Feb. 26, 2015

MOSUL - The Mosul museum that Iraqi security forces have now recaptured from the Islamic State group housed ancient works of art that made it a prime target for the jihadists.

Founded in 1952, the museum was the second largest in Iraq, had four halls and was set to reopen in 2014 after rebuilding work made necessary by looting after the US-led invasion in 2003.

Before the first Gulf War (1990-1991), the museum housed more than 1,000 objects, according to Lamia Gailani, research associate at the Department of the Languages and Cultures of Near and Middle East at SOAS University of London.

Among the priceless artefacts were many that dated to the Assyrian and Hellenistic periods.

The Mosul region was home to a mosaic of minorities, including the Assyrian Christians who consider themselves to be the region's indigenous people.

Before IS arrived, many portable antiquities had already been transferred to the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad, but heavy immovable statues and wall reliefs remained behind.

In June 2014, IS fighters overran Mosul and set about selling or destroying works that they claimed violated Islamic tenets against idolatry.

The jihadists videoed themselves smashing priceless artefacts to feed the group's propaganda machine.

Footage released in February 2015 showed militants knocking statues from their plinths and smashing them, although clouds of white dust indicated that some were simply plaster copies.

However, experts estimated that around 90 works were destroyed, most of them originals.

Jihadists also scaled a monumental granite Assyrian winged bull at the nearby Nergal Gate, which was almost 3,000 years old, and relentlessly attacked it with pneumatic drills.

Their rampage was compared to the Taliban's 2001 dynamiting of the famed Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan.

Mosul museum initially consisted of three main exhibition spaces, according to UNESCO.

The Assyrian Gallery displayed objects, many of which were stone originals, from the ninth to the sixth centuries BC.

The Hatra Gallery documented a caravan city that blossomed in the first century BC and the first century AD, and contained stone statues of the city's citizens and kings.

The Islamic Gallery did not appear in the IS video, and the fate of original stone antiquities it contained is not yet clear.


Middle East Online