Directors of a Mosul museum housing biblical relics are warning that they won’t be able to protect them from radical Islamic militants, The Daily Beast reports.
The museum, still recovering from brutal raids during the Iraq War, was “unable to take preventative measures” when ISIS descended on Mosul in June. “These groups of terrorists — their arrival was a brutal shock, with no warning,” said Iraqi National Museum Director Qais Hussein Rashid.
The museum had been on the verge of reopening, and now Iraqi officials are pleading for international help to safeguard the precious antiquities.
“We as Iraqis are incapable of controlling the situation by ourselves,” said Abbas Qureishi, director of the recovery program for the Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. He also expressed concern about nearby archaeological sites, saying that the terrorists “will destroy them and say the Iraqi army bombed these sites.”
The museum has been occupied by ISIS-forces since last week, who are “awaiting instructions from their guide [Islamic State self-proclaimed Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi] to destroy these statues,” said Rashid.
Mosul is the capital of Iraq’s Nineveh province, site of numerous Old Testament biblical battles and, according to Christian and Jewish tradition, founded by Nimrod, great-grandson of Noah.
According to CyArk, “The ancient city achieved legendary status in the 7th century B.C. when the greatly expanded and embellished city became the imperial capital of the Assyrian empire under the king Sennacherib. In addition to figuring prominently in the Book of Jonah, Nineveh appears often in the written records of Egypt and other major contemporary powers as well as in the literature of subsequent epochs.”
CyArk is a digital preservation project founded in 2003 in response to the Taliban’s 2001 destruction of world heritage sites.
ISIS forbids portrayals of human beings and deities, and has been destroying statues and shrines throughout the region — including Shia and Sufi mosques and tombs. They are following Islamic restrictions on art, which is thought to lead to idolatry and encourage polytheism.
“By destroying Shia holy sites, ISIS hopes to erase Shia culture from the regions they control and also provoke a response from Iraq’s Shia, which will in turn drive more Sunnis to supporting ISIS,” explained Near East scholar Christopher Jones. Thousands of Shia Muslims in Iran and India have already vowed to descend on ISIS to protect their remaining shrines.
While Shiism and Sufism are branches of Islam, ISIS, a Salafi jihadist movement (itself a radical subsect of Sunni Islam), finds their veneration of saints and shrines heretical.
Crosses atop the churches of Chaldean and Orthodox churches have been covered with the black ISIS flag, and two nuns and three orphans have gone missing, the Assyrian International News Agency reported Sunday.
There are also reports that they are smuggling rare manuscripts and relics onto the black market to supplement their rapidly growing war chest. One Iraqi official estimated that “400 archaeologically significant sites are under threat of illegal diggers and smugglers.”
“While proclaiming pure aniconic [hostile to shrines and images] Islam on one hand, they are perfectly happy to tolerate artifacts when they can make money off of them,” said Jones. “A person with sympathies to ISIS probably won’t be convinced by the argument that ISIS and its sympathizers are evil… But their attraction to ISIS’s ideology could be broken if ISIS are shown to be hypocrites.”
“Even the Nazis tried to hide their atrocities. ISIS proudly posts them all on the Internet for everyone to see.”