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Islamists Vandalize Ancient Assyrian Reliefs in North Iraq
By Julian Bechocha
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An ancient Assyrian archeological site in Duhok was vandalized on Friday and defaced with Islamic writings, the third time in seven years that this site has been damaged. The perpetrators are unknown.

The site at Halamata cave on Zawa Mountain, south of Duhok city, is nearly 3,000 years old. It is known as the Maltai reliefs and depicts King Sennacherib who ruled the Assyrian empire from 704 to 681 BC.

The phrase 'Allahu Akbar' (God is the Greatest) was spray painted on the reliefs.

"We will file a complaint on Monday to the relevant security authorities to open the camera footage in the area and figure out who desecrated the reliefs," Bekas Brifkani, the head of Duhok's archeological directorate, told Rudaw English.

Brifkani said the damage was done to "destroy and distort" the reliefs and it removing it is "not easy." His directorate will request a team in Italy to send the proper materials needed to clean the graffiti.

"Unidentified persons deface the sculpture of the Assyrian King Sennacherib ... with paint in Zawa Mountain, Nohadra province," US-based Assyrian National Broadcasting (ANB) TV reported, using the historic Assyrian name for Duhok.

The Kurdistan Region's authorities often face criticism from minority groups who complain about a lack of effort to protect their history that they fear is being erased with sites vulnerable to theft or damage.

In 2016, the Maltai reliefs were vandalized by unknown perpetrators who sprayed the Kurdistan flag on the carvings. The paint was later removed by Italian experts. Two years later, thieves arrived at the cave in a Humvee and stole a part of the relief carvings.

Related: Timeline of ISIS in Iraq
Related: Attacks on Assyrians in Syria By ISIS and Other Muslim Groups

The Kurdistan Region and Iraq witnessed a spike in the desecration and looting of ancient monuments after the Islamic State (ISIS) group swept through large areas in northern Iraq in 2014.


When ISIS took over Iraq's second-largest city of Mosul in 2014, the terror group embarked on a campaign to destroy large amounts of artifacts and antiquities, including the 2015 bulldozing of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, the destruction of Hatra, and the demolition of the Mosul museum.

Halamata cave is believed to date back some 2,700 years. Assyrian reliefs are carved into the mountainside outside the cave, facing Duhok city.

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