As Iraqi Troops Reclaim Mosul Museum, Its Destruction by ISIS Is Revealed

The Mosul museum has been emptied and destroyed.

A member of the Iraqi forces enters the destroyed building of the museum of Mosul. Photo ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images

After the Iraqi army reclaimed government buildings and the museum in Mosul from ISIS last Tuesday, March 7, it was revealed this weekend that the museum, which once contained many priceless, unique artifacts, had been almost completely cleared out and destroyed by the militant group.

The memory of the images broadcast by ISIS of members of the group smashing large statues and antiquities from the museum will still be present in people’s minds. Once Iraqi forces had secured areas of west Mosul and reporters could enter the museum on Saturday, it emerged that the museum—which had been used as a base during the fighting—had also been completely cleared out and decimated.

The main entrance for museum is now through a hole in the basement. Photo ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images

The main entrance to the museum is now through a hole in the basement. Photo ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images

“They only destroyed that which they couldn’t loot, so many of the smaller items are gone,” Lieutenant Colonel Abdel Amir al-Mohammedawi, of the Rapid Response Division, told the London Times. “They did not just steal the artifacts, they have stolen part of Iraqi history—part of my history. When my men fight for a site like the museum, or Nimrud [the ancient Assyrian city south of Mosul] they are not just fighting for Iraq’s future, they are fighting for its past too,” he added.

Items destroyed include two imposing winged-bull or “lamassu” statues, and a winged lion. These were three of the most valuable pieces in the museum, Iraqi archaeologist Layla Salih told AFP.

“Two silver goblets found in the royal cemetery of Ur… dating from 2,600 BC….Various small objects found in the royal palaces of Nimrud—9th century BC,” she listed some of the most important missing items.

Caches of buried artifacts were also discovered under piles of rubble near the museum, adding to the theory that ISIS were storing them for potential sale later. Some items were taken to the Baghdad museum before ISIS moved into Mosul but the majority of what was inside the museum has been destroyed.

What ISIS left behind is an empty shell of a building, filled with rubble and without electricity, with soldiers using the building as cover from enemy fire.

“A restoration is possible, but it will be difficult to know if we will find all the fragments,” said Salih.

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