$12 billion of Iraqi antiquities lost or destroyed

$12 billion of Iraqi antiquities lost or destroyed
Feature: By demolishing Iraq's antiquities IS has committed a crime against history, and damaged the country's economy and tourism revenues for years to come.
3 min read
14 March, 2015
IS has destroyed many of Iraq's invaluable antiquities [AFP]
The world weeps for Iraq. An entire generation of people around the world will never be able to forget the images of Islamic State group (IS) fighters attacking the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, Mosul museum and the Tal Afar Castle, or their brutal crimes and inhumane behaviour.

The destruction and theft of antiquities and statues has created a gap in history and caused severe losses for Iraq, the impact of which will be felt for years. Iraqi government officials have said the destruction of antiquities in the historic Mosul museum has had a psychological and financial impact on Iraqis in general, and the people of Nineveh in particular.

The officials added that the direct losses exceed $12 billion, and that the Iraqi treasury has lost significant tourism revenues that could have benefited the stricken areas after the fighting has ended.

Significant losses

Ali al-Mawla, antiquities expert and professor at the University of Mosul, told al-Araby al-Jadeed: "Mosul was one of the most important touristic cities in Iraq. It accounted for nearly 12 percent of the country's GDP, and generated an income of over $2 billion."

Mawla said that before the IS assault the Mosul Museum, the ancient city of Nimrud, and the Nerkal gate were visited almost every day by Arab and foreign tourist groups.

"The antiquities destroyed by the IS date back to the Assyrian civilisation. The most prominent was the winged bull and the Nerkal gate, as well as the ancient city of Nimrud in Nineveh”, Mawla added. He said IS's footage of the destruction was filmed one week before it was released.

Mawla said that a number of local residents had been protecting the site from smugglers. However, IS had stopped them getting close to the museum a few days before it was bombed. IS fighters arrived at the museum in four-wheel drives and stayed inside for 12 hours, he explained.

"Shop owners in Aleppo street, where the museum is located, saw people carrying antiquities away from the area in their cars late at night. However, they don't know what was stolen," he added.

Repercussions on the tourism sector
     The Iraqi treasury has lost significant tourism revenues that could have benefited the stricken areas after the fighting has ended.

"IS has destroyed everything human and civilised in Nineveh, which was deeply rooted in history," governor of Nineveh Atheel al-Nujaifi told al-Araby al-Jadeed. The governor explained that they items destroyed were invaluable. Additionally, IS is reported to have smuggled out a large number of pieces and sold them to raise funds for the organisation.

Economist Abdul Karim al-Siraj said losses incurred from the destruction of Mosul's antiquities were significant, especially because the local economy had largely depended on tourism.

"The city of Mosul is one of the most important tourist areas in Iraq, especially for Iraqis from southern and central areas fleeing the summer heat," said Siraj. He argued that IS’s had destroyed one of the governorate's most important financial resources.

The economist argued that the government should deploy its security forces to regain control of the area. After that, he said, the ministry of tourism should develop a strategy to promote tourism both at home and abroad, and help local people rebuild destroyed tourist facilities.

Opening a new museum

"By destroying antiquities IS fighters have proved they are the monsters of this era,” Adel Sharshab, Iraqi tourism and antiquities minister told al-Araby al-Jadeed. Sharshab argued that IS's actions were having a deep impact on Iraqis and the whole world.

The minister added that Nineveh was one of the most important cities in Iraq, with remnants from the Assyrian and Akkadian civilisations. "What was destroyed was invaluable," he said, arguing that a new museum would be opened in Nineveh after the area is liberated from IS.

Iraq has responded to IS's crime by opening the Iraqi museum in Baghdad to local and foreign visitors starting from next month. "The museum exhibits antiquities restored by the ministry,” he explained.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.