“Troops from the Ninth Armoured Division liberated Nimrud town completely and raised the Iraqi flag above its buildings,” the Iraqi army said in a statement on Sunday.
Modern day Nimrud is about 1km west of the remnants of the 3,000-year-old city, which Baghdad officials say Isis bulldozed last year. It is not yet clear if Iraqi forces have fully secured the archeological site as well as the town.
The capture of Nimrud is more symbolic than strategic. It became synonymous with cultural tragedy after Isis militants released video of their fighters taking drills and explosives to some of its ancient relics, which radical Sunni Muslim groups say are idolatrous.
Nimrud sits on the eastern bank of the Tigris river and is about 30km south of Mosul, Iraq’s second city and the object of a major military campaign by Iraqi forces and the US-led international coalition. Iraqi forces have been fighting for more than three weeks to recapture the city from the jihadis, with fighting becoming more difficult and intense as troops penetrate deeper into the city.
It was not clear if some of the footage of militants blowing up or defacing the Nimrod relics depicted original artefacts or copies. Many of Nimrod’s treasures, such as Assyrian reliefs and statues of lamassu — Assyrian deities with a human head, wings and an ox or lion’s body — are on display in museums in London, New York and Baghdad.
Isis has defaced artefacts across the territory it controls in Iraq and neighbouring Syria. But it is also believed to enable systematic looting of other artefacts in order to tax and profit from their sales.