ISIS Destruction of Ancient Sites Denounced by Top Iraqi Cleric Sistan

Iraq’s most senior Shia cleric
has denounced the
destruction of Iraq’s rich
heritage in the country’s
northern regions by the
Islamic State, following
Thursday’s confirmation by
the Ministry of Tourism and
Antiquities that the terror
group had bulldozed the
ancient Assyrian city of
Nimrud.
An aide to 84-year-old Grand
Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the
highest-ranking Shia
authority in Iraq, delivered
the cleric’s Friday sermon in
Karbala, a city situated
approximately 100km (62
miles) southwest of the Iraqi
capital, Baghdad.
This week, a combination of
30,000 Iraqi security forces,
backed by Sunni and Shia
militiamen launched a
campaign to retake the city of
Tikrit, the hometown of
former Iraqi dictator Saddam
Hussein, from ISIS after it
swept through northern Iraq
last summer.
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Commenting on the offensive
Sistani countered fears that it
could turn into a sectarian
conflict, due to the
predominant involvement of
Shia militias in the operation
on the Sunni-majority city, by
issuing a call for unity
between all sects against the
barbarism of ISIS.
“Thank you to the tribes of
Salah ad-Din [the province
where Tikrit is situated] who
are fighting Daesh [an Arabic
term for ISIS] with few
weapons and supplies,” said
the aide, delivering Sistani’s
message. “The government
should support them with all
it can.”
“With Daesh destroying
Mosul's treasures and the
heritage of civilisation, this
should make all united
against it for its barbarism,”
he added.
Sajad Jiyad, Iraq expert and
director of research at
independent consultancy
Integrity, believes that
Sistani is a crucial voice in
the Shia-led battle to retake
Tikrit because he holds
higher influence with Shia
militias than that of the
coalition government in
Baghdad, which may prevent
the outbreak of a sectarian
conflict.
“The timing is spot-on, he
realises the importance of
having both the local people
and the residents of Tikrit
being involved in this effort
and to not make it look like a
sectarian effort only,” he
says.
“The message is to the Shia
fighters and it is also to the
government. I think he will
have a lot of the Shia fighters
listening to him.”
Tikrit was the site of mass
executions of Iraqi forces by
ISIS militants at the time of
its capture last June. A
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
report claimed that
approximately 770 captured
soldiers were killed after the
terror group took control of
former U.S. military base in
the city, Camp Speicher, in
executions which HRW
advisor Fred Abrahams
described as “crimes against
humanity”.
The province of Salah ad-Din,
where Tikrit is situated, hosts
the city of Samarra, which
contains the Imam al-Askari
shrine, one of the most
important holy sites in the
world for Shia Muslims.
The crushing of the ancient
Assyrian city of Nimrud -
which lies approximately
30km (18 miles) southeast of
Iraq’s second-largest city of
Mosul - by the terror group
has sparked international
condemnation with the UN’s
cultural agency, UNESCO,
describing the action as a
“war crime”.
The Iraqi Tourism and
Antiquities Ministry said that
ISIS’s actions “continued to
defy the will of the world and
the feelings of humanity”.
The group see ancient statues
and shrines as jahili (pre-
Islamic) and are intolerant of
antiquities that depict
humans.