BAGHDAD • Iraqi forces yesterday said they had retaken the Nimrud area, the site of an ancient Assyrian city blown up by ISIS, as they battled the militants south of Mosul.
Iraqi troops pushed towards Nimrud last week as they pressed an offensive launched on Oct 17 to recapture Iraq's second city, which the militants seized along with swathes of Iraq and Syria in mid-2014.
A Kurdish-Arab alliance is pursuing a twin offensive against the other major city still under ISIS control, Raqqa in Syria, and a US-led coalition is backing both assaults with air strikes.
Iraq's Joint Operations Command (JOC) said troops had recaptured the Nimrud area and another village south-east of the famed archeological site.
"Units of the 9th Armoured Division completely liberate the Nimrud (area) and raise the Iraqi flag over the buildings," the JOC said in a statement.
It did not specifically mention the Nimrud archaeological site, which is located a little more than a kilometre west of the village that bears its name.
BACK IN IRAQI HANDS
Units of the 9th Armoured Division completely liberate the Nimrud (area) and raise the Iraqi flag over the buildings.
IRAQ'S JOINT OPERATIONS COMMAND
Nimrud was one of the great centres of the ancient Middle East. Founded in the 13th century BC, it became the capital of the Assyrian empire, whose rulers built vast palaces and monuments that have drawn archaeologists for more than 150 years.
In April last year, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria posted video online of its fighters smashing monuments before planting explosives around the site and blowing it up.
It was part of a campaign of destruction against heritage sites under extremist control that also took in ancient Nineveh on the outskirts of Mosul, Hatra in the desert to the south and Palmyra in neighbouring Syria.
Although ISIS says the ancient monuments are idols that violate the teachings of its extreme form of Sunni Islam, it has still sold artefacts to fund its operations.
The Iraqi offensive has seen federal forces and Kurdish peshmerga fighters advance on Mosul from the east, south and north.
The elite Counter-Terrorism Services have pushed into the eastern outskirts of Mosul, with heavy fighting in recent days.
In neighbouring Syria, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia alliance has moved to about 30km from Raqqa since launching its offensive a week ago.
Commanders say the SDF is close to completing a first phase of the operation to surround and isolate Raqqa before launching an assault on the city itself.
In a separate report yesterday, Human Rights Watch said Iraqi Kurdish forces had demolished Arab homes and buildings in disputed areas in the country's north.
The rights watch found "a pattern of apparently unlawful demolitions of buildings and homes, and in many cases entire villages, between September 2014 and May 2016", the report said.
It raised concern that the destruction was "for the purpose of preventing or dissuading Arabs from returning" to the homes in order to strengthen Kurdish claims to the areas.