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American soldiers at the ruins of Ashur, a UNESCO World Heritage site, in 2008 (image via Wikimedia)

The United Nations issued a warning yesterday on possible danger to Iraqi cultural heritage sites as the insurgent army of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) continued its southward sweep of the country towards Baghdad.

(image Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

The statement, which came from Irina Bokova, director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), cautions that the risks mirror those posed earlier in the Iraq conflict and in Syria. The organization held a press conference last October at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to announce what it termed a “red list” of cultural sites threatened by the conflict.

“I call on all Iraqis to stand united for the protection of their country’s cultural heritage. It represents a unique testimony of humanity, of the origins of our civilization, and of inter-ethnic and inter-religious coexistence,” Bokova wrote yesterday.

The statement adds that the “main threats to Iraq’s heritage are the military use and targeting of monuments and sites and the looting and illicit trafficking of cultural property.”

Iraq has three World Heritage sites: Ashur (Qal’at Sherqat), Hatra, and Samarra. Ashur and Samarra are both located in Saladin Province, where PBS reported today residents are arming themselves in anticipation of the ISIS militia’s arrival; the province remains otherwise unprotected.

Ninawa Province, where Hatra is located, is under apparent ISIS control; the Washington Post reported on decrees issued by ISIS to residents on June 12. Both Ninawa and Saladin were the site of anti-ISIS airstrikes carried out by the Iraqi air force last week, Al Shorfa, a publication funded by the United States, reported on June 12.

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Mostafa Heddaya

Mostafa Heddaya is the former managing editor of Hyperallergic.

One reply on “UNESCO Issues Caution on Iraq World Heritage Sites”

  1. Better get the Nobel Peace Laureate, Barry Bojangles, to look into this?? The guy awarded with a medal for, errr, stopping wars and promoting peace??


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