Iraq says to track down antiquities after Islamic State museum rampage

By Dominic Evans

Islamic State militants who destroyed priceless antiquities from the northern Iraqi city of Mosul have kept some artefacts to sell, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Saturday, vowing to prevent the radical Islamists from smuggling them to market.

Responding to a video showing Islamic State fighters taking sledgehammers and power drills to sculptures and statues which date back nearly 3,000 years, Abadi also appealed for international support to thwart the “terrorist barbarians”.

“We have information that Islamic State destroyed some (artefacts) and kept others for smuggling, and the smuggling operation is afoot,” he told a news conference.

All the items were marked and recorded, he said, and Iraq would seek to track them down with international help.

“We will chase them with the world on our side. This is a serious call to the Security Council and the United Nations and all peace-loving states to chase them all,” he said.

“Damn them and their hands for what they are doing.”

The video, released on Thursday, showed men smashing up artefacts dating back to the 7th century BC Assyrian era, toppling statues from plinths, smashing them with a sledgehammer and breaking up a carving of a winged bull with a drill.

Archaeologists said some of the items were from the ancient Mesopotamian cities of Nimrud and Nineveh, where Mosul now stands, as well as the ruins of Hatra, which dates back more than 2,000 years.

A commentary on the video said the statues were destroyed because they promoted idolatry.

Islamic State promotes a fiercely purist school of Sunni Islam, deeming many other Muslims to be heretics and destroying places of worship venerated for centuries by Shi’ites and Sufis, as well as attacking churches and other shrines in areas it controls.

The United Nations Security Council has condemned what it described as “barbaric terrorist acts” in Iraq by Islamic State, including the destruction of the artefacts, abduction of Sunni tribesmen and what it said was the immolation of 45 Iraqis.

The head of the United Nations culture and education agency UNESCO, Irina Bokova, said a cultural tragedy had struck Iraq.

“I condemn this as a deliberate attack against Iraq’s millennial history and culture, and as an inflammatory incitement to violence and hatred,” she said.