ISIS’ de­struc­tion of an­tiq­ui­ties in Mo­sul and Nim­rud hides sin­is­ter money-mak­ing schemes

The Kurdish Globe - - NEWS -

The Is­lamic State group’s wan­ton de­struc­tion of trea­sured his­tor­i­cal sites, priceless an­tiq­ui­ties and works of art at places like Mo­sul and Nim­rud is heart­break­ing to most and wor­ri­some to those who be­lieve the ex­trem­ist net­work may be earn­ing a place among his­tory’s most de­struc­tive con­querors.

The group first swept from Syria across Iraq last sum­mer, seiz­ing mas­sive swaths of ter­ri­tory, in­clud­ing the city of Mo­sul, Iraq’s sec­ond largest and a ver­i­ta­ble trea­sure trove of ar­chae­o­log­i­cal relics. The ex­trem­ists’ lead­ers have sub­se­quently as­serted that the group must de­stroy all false idols within the lands it now con­trols.

Th­ese ca­su­al­ties have re­port­edly in­cluded the pur­ported Tomb of Jonah and the Shrine of Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve, with parts dat­ing back to the 8th cen­tury B.C. Most re­cently, the Is­lamic State fighters have been video filmed while destroying priceless ar­ti­facts at the Mo­sul Mu­seum. Last week it “bull­dozed” the arche­o­log­i­cal site of Assyr­ian cul­ture dat­ing back to 900 B.C. at Nim­rud. An un­con­firmed re­port on Mon­day in­di­cated the Is­lamic State group may also have de­stroyed an 8th cen­tury mosque at Sit Nafis near Mo­sul.

The Is­lamic State group lead­ers may truly be­lieve that th­ese items pose a re­li­gious af­front to their be­liefs, or per­haps they want to re­shape his­tory for those who will suf­fer un­der their con­trol.

Oth­ers, how­ever, be­lieve they’re just try­ing to make money more ef­fi­ciently.

“They’ve been very con­sis­tent in do­ing two things: They de­stroy an­tiq­ui­ties for ef­fect, and they likely use the smoke­screen of de­struc­tion to cover them­selves while they move more trans­portable items for profit,” says Mark Vla­sic, an ad­junct pro­fes­sor at the Ge­orge­town Uni­ver­sity Law Cen­ter, who has been fol­low­ing the group’s use of so-called “blood an­tiq­ui­ties.” “It is, af­ter all, a crim­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

Vla­sic is among those who be­lieve the highly pub­li­cized de­struc­tion served as a mere sleight of hand to al­low the Is­lamic State group to cap­i­tal­ize upon the valu­able loot it couldn’t eas­ily move. Those larger items are then sac­ri­ficed for the sake of a pro­pa­ganda “win.”

The ex­iled Gover­nor of Mo­sul, Atheel Nu­jaifi, con­firmed to Kur­dish news ser­vice Ru­daw that seven prom­i­nent items from the mu­seum’s col­lec­tion are now miss­ing. He also in­di­cated that some of the pieces the ter­ror­ists ap­peared to de­stroy may ac­tu­ally have been copies.

It’s un­clear how much rev­enue the Is­lamic State group gen­er­ates through its var­i­ous crim­i­nal en­ter­prises. Most as­sess­ments place oil rev­enues at the top of its money-mak­ing schemes, fol­lowed by its lu­cra­tive and high-pro­file busi­ness of extortion and kid­nap­ping.

Loot­ing and other forms of theft, in­clud­ing sell­ing an­tiq­ui­ties on the black mar­ket, gen­er­ally comes in third, though those es­ti­mates may also in­clude ac­tiv­i­ties such as loot­ing banks of cash in the ar­eas it con­trols.

David Co­hen, the un­der­sec­re­tary for ter­ror­ism and fi­nan­cial in­tel­li­gence in the Trea­sury Depart­ment, es­ti­mated late last year that th­ese prac­tices ac­count for tens of mil­lions of dol­lars in rev­enues per month.

The U.S. and its part­ners have em­ployed diplo­macy and im­posed sanc­tions to try to stem th­ese sources of in­come. But that can’t hap­pen quickly enough to stop the im­me­di­ate dam­age.

“It’s heart­break­ing to see some of the ear­li­est ev­i­dence of hu­man civ­i­liza­tion be­ing wan­tonly de­stroyed,” says Corine We­gener, a cul­tural her­itage preser­va­tion of­fi­cer at the Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion.

Th­ese ex­trem­ists’ propen­sity for van­dal­ism and plun­der fol­low a con­sis­tent pat­tern of other his­tor­i­cal con­querors. The Tal­iban in 2001 dy­na­mited the 6th-Cen­tury Bud­dhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, say­ing they were idols and must be de­stroyed. The Nazis in­fa­mously seized valu­ables from Jews, Poles and other eth­nic groups they sought to ex­ter­mi­nate and ac­tively per­se­cuted artists whose por­tray­als they didn’t be­lieve aligned with their ver­sion of his­tory. The Ro­mans rou­tinely de­stroyed whole cities of their enemies, such as Carthage fol­low­ing the Third Pu­nic War.

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