Palace of Ashurnasirpal in Nimrud, Iraq

The destruction of the Ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud in Mosul once again demonstrates the callousness of the Islamic State (Daesh) group. It also serves as a worrying reminder of what might be just over the horizon as there is continuous talk about a major ground offensive aimed at uprooting Daesh out of Iraq’s second-city Mosul scheduled to transpire later this Spring – but will likely transpire later than that.

Obviously Daesh will dismantle, destroy or otherwise deface any piece of Iraq’s wondrous ancient heritage within their reach, they are already beginning to attack, and loot, the ancient ruins of Hatra (the capital of the first ever Arab kingdom) and will doubtlessly destroy it as soon as they can. The depraved vandalism of priceless artifacts in Mosul’s museum shows their evident disdain for Iraq’s richly diverse and cultured heritage. Their bulldozing of Nimrud – and recent burning of thousands of books and manuscripts from Mosul’s vast central library, a treasure trove when it comes to historic maps, newspapers and various writings from the Ottoman period (pieces of history in their own right) whose destruction constituted, in UNESCO’s Irina Bokova’s words, “one of the most devastating acts of destruction of library collections in human history” among other things – also shows the lengths to which they are prepared to go in order to effectively destroy every standing physical testament to Iraq’s ancient civilization. And do so very quickly.

Nimrud serves as a very apt reminder of Daesh’s earnest effort to do away with all that they find objectionable, be it ancient statues or a community of people whose very existence they deem an affront to their pathological creed.

I’d posit that there is an important question we need to be asking ourselves. Are Daesh’s setbacks coupled with fear of an upcoming offensive aimed at putting an end to their criminal enterprise in Mosul driving them to destroy Iraq’s cultural heritage sites and artifacts as quickly as possible? In other words, is this manic drive on the part of Daesh fueled at least partly by a realization that, concerning their presence in Mosul, their Hitler-in-the-bunker moment is rapidly approaching?

Hatra ruins.
Hatra ruins.

Speaking of World War II analogies the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobani was frequently referred to as Daesh’s “Stalingrad” throughout their lengthy 134-day siege of that city. However Daesh today seems to diverting a lot of its resources to retain their hold on the town of Tikrit (could this ultimately see to Tikrit becoming the “Stalingrad” and Kobani going down in history as the “Leningrad” of this war?), or at the very least sacrificing a lot of their men in order to make victory there extremely costly for the Iraqis fighting them. Similarly they, like most totalitarians, seek to poison and taint any eventual victory over them by destroying what, not to mention who, they can across North Iraq.

Yazidi's displaced by Daesh's sectarian onslaughts in the summer of 2014. / By Rachel Unkovic/International Rescue Committee
Yazidi’s displaced by Daesh’s sectarian onslaughts in the summer of 2014. / By Rachel Unkovic/International Rescue Committee

This isn’t to say that they are only doing this because they have been forced into a corner. They are merely doing what they always intended, and sought, to do, only faster because they know their time is limited. That’s a fundamentally important distinction to make. Daesh itself has at times claimed this was the case in its media outlet and in its various broadcasts. When they, for example, infamously beheaded the American journalist James Foley in August 2014 they claimed it was a direct response to U.S. air strikes against its forces in Northern Iraq. Which were in turn carried out as that group was nearing Iraqi Kurdistan autonomous capital city Erbil, after already committing many atrocities against minority communities in that part of the country. If one was to subscribe to this notion that Daesh was preempted or unfairly pushed into a corner whereby they were forced to violently lash out as a result then one would then have to, therefore, assume that allowing Daesh to mount another vicious Sinjar-like ethno-sectarian rampage across Iraqi Kurdistan and other parts of Iraq would have been the right course of action, or right course of inaction.

Or, to put it another way, what Daesh was really saying was that their indignation stemmed from the fact that others intervened in order to prevent them from continuing to undertake their criminal “cleansing” of whole communities and whole cultures.

Sinjar Under Attack From ISIS
Displaced people near Sinjar.

Similarly when Daesh burned alive the captured Jordanian fighter pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh they reacted quite defensively to condemnation from Jordan and throughout the Middle East and tried to justify that execution as a just retaliation for damages afflicted on them throughout the U.S.-led air campaign. Which was of course launched in a bid to hamper their ability to project their violent mass-murdering, and potentially genocidal, rampages.

If anything both those episodes indicate that Daesh wasn’t confronted soon enough. And possibly far too late to save many lives. Which is why one hopes that the planned offensive against Mosul proves to be a resounding success and that Daesh is forcibly prevented from continuing to afflict crimes on culture, and much more importantly, on humanity.