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Iraq's tourism and antiquities minister has called on the US-led military coalition to bomb Islamic State (Isis) positions in the country in order to protect ancient treasures from further looting and destruction.
Adel Shirshab said that only air strikes can stop IS from levelling Iraq's cultural and historical heritage to the ground. "The sky is not in the hands of the Iraqis, the sky is not in our hands. Therefore, the international community must move with the means it has," the minister told journalists in Baghdad. "We request aerial support."
Jihadists attacked the 2,000-year-old city of Hatra with bulldozers after flattening the Nimrud archaeological site near Mosul, in northern Iraq. Two weeks ago, the jihadist group published a video showing militants destroying artefacts in a Mosul museum and at the Nergal Gate to ancient Nineveh, taking a sledgehammer to artefacts.
"We have confirmation that they bulldozed sites at Nimrud and Hatra. What we don't have is information about the size of the area which has been razed," said Qais Rasheed, head of the antiquities board.
Shirshab and Rasheed criticised the international coalition for not doing enough to prevent the attacks, especially at Hatra.
"It was possible to carry out surveillance. Why didn't this happen?" the Iraqi minister asked.
The attacks on artefacts and antiquities in Iraq and Syria are carried out in the name of an iconoclastic and strict interpretation of Islamic law. IS draws inspiration from early Islamic history, rejects religious shrines and condemns Iraq's majority Shi'ite Muslims as heretics.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon also appealed to the international community to halt the destruction of Iraqi archaeological sites at the hands of IS.
"The secretary-general urgently calls on the international community to swiftly put a stop to such heinous terrorist activity and to counter the illicit traffic in cultural artefacts," Ban said in a statement via his spokesman.
"The deliberate destruction of our common cultural heritage constitutes a war crime."