Nimrud's broken glory lies in dust after Islamic State rampage

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Islamic State's destruction of Nimrud
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Islamic State's destruction of Nimrud
Remains of wall panels and colossal statues of winged bulls, destroyed by Islamic State militants are seen in the Assyrian city of Nimrud eastern bank of the Tigris River, south of Mosul, Iraq, November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ari Jalal
Remains of wall panels and colossal statues of winged bulls, destroyed by Islamic State militants are seen in the Assyrian city of Nimrud eastern bank of the Tigris River, south of Mosul, Iraq, November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ari Jalal
Remains of wall panels and colossal statues of winged bulls, destroyed by Islamic State militants are seen in the Assyrian city of Nimrud eastern bank of the Tigris River, south of Mosul, Iraq, November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ari Jalal
Remains of wall panels and colossal statues of winged bulls, destroyed by Islamic State militants are seen in the Assyrian city of Nimrud eastern bank of the Tigris River, south of Mosul, Iraq, November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ari Jalal
Remains of wall panels and colossal statues of winged bulls, destroyed by Islamic State militants are seen in the Assyrian city of Nimrud eastern bank of the Tigris River, south of Mosul, Iraq, November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ari Jalal
Remains of wall panels and colossal statues of winged bulls, destroyed by Islamic State militants are seen in the Assyrian city of Nimrud eastern bank of the Tigris River, south of Mosul, Iraq, November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ari Jalal
A view of remains of wall panels and colossal statues of winged bulls, destroyed by Islamic State militants are seen in the Assyrian city of Nimrud eastern bank of the Tigris River, south of Mosul, Iraq, November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ari Jalal
Remains of wall panels and colossal statues of winged bulls, destroyed by Islamic State militants are seen in the Assyrian city of Nimrud eastern bank of the Tigris River, south of Mosul, Iraq, November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ari Jalal
Remains of wall panels, destroyed by Islamic State militants are seen in the Assyrian city of Nimrud eastern bank of the Tigris River, south of Mosul, Iraq, November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ari Jalal
Members of Iraqi army gather at the remains of wall panels and colossal statues of winged bulls, destroyed by Islamic State militants in the Assyrian city of Nimrud eastern bank of the Tigris River, south of Mosul, Iraq, November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ari Jalal
A member of Iraqi army walks at the remains of wall panels and colossal statues of winged bulls, destroyed by Islamic State militants in the Assyrian city of Nimrud eastern bank of the Tigris River, south of Mosul, Iraq, November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ari Jalal
Remains of wall panels and colossal statues of winged bulls, destroyed by Islamic State militants are seen in the Assyrian city of Nimrud eastern bank of the Tigris River, south of Mosul, Iraq, November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ari Jalal
A member of Iraqi army walks at the remains of wall panels and colossal statues of winged bulls, destroyed by Islamic State militants in the Assyrian city of Nimrud eastern bank of the Tigris River, south of Mosul, Iraq, November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ari Jalal
Remains of wall panels and colossal statues of winged bulls, destroyed by Islamic State militants are seen in the Assyrian city of Nimrud eastern bank of the Tigris River, south of Mosul, Iraq, November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ari Jalal
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NIMRUD, Iraq, Nov 16 (Reuters) - In a field outside an ancient palace in the Assyrian city of Nimrud, shattered remains of intricate carvings lie broken in the dust.

Remnants of elaborate wall panels and colossal statues of winged bulls, they stood at the site for nearly three millennia, reminders of a mighty empire which stretched across the Middle East.

At the northern edge of the old city, a ziggurat - or terraced pyramid - towered over the palace and nearby temples.

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Until two years ago, when Islamic State militants swept through northern Iraq, ransacking ancient cities, religious sites and palaces which the ultra-hardline Sunni Muslim zealots deem idolatrous.

The ziggurat has been reduced to a pile of dirt, with tire tracks all over it, apparently flattened by bulldozers in the last two months before Islamic State fighters were driven out of the site by Iraqi forces on Sunday.

Palace walls have been stripped of the carved facades which adorned them. Just a few pieces remain in place, while fragments of the winged bulls - or lamassus - which stood at one of the palace entrances lie in a pile outside.

Carefully engraved feathers can still be seen on one of them, lying close to what appears to be a foot of one of the mythical carved creatures. Several tablet fragments seem to contain symbols from cuneiform, an ancient Semitic language.

"There were about 200 ancient panels. Daesh (Islamic State) stole some of them and destroyed the rest," Major-General Dhiya Kadhim al-Saidi told Reuters on a visit to the site on Wednesday, three days after it was recaptured.

A tribal fighter from the area said the ziggurat had been destroyed by the militants in the last two months as the Iraqi army advanced towards Nimrud, confirming evidence from satellite pictures which showed its steady destruction since September.

Video released by Islamic State supporters in 2014, purporting to show them at work in Nimrud, included footage of the militants using bulldozers and electric drills to tear down murals and statues. They also rigged up barrels full of explosives which they appeared to detonate at the site.

Saidi said Islamic State had been driven about 3.5 km (two miles) northwest of Nimrud, but the area had not yet been cleared of possible bombs and booby traps.

PATH OF DESTRUCTION

Nimrud lies on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, 30 km (20 miles) south of Mosul where Iraqi soldiers are battling to crush Islamic State. Mosul is the largest city under the militants' control in Iraq and neighboring Syria.

The campaign to retake it, which began on Oct. 17, is the biggest military operation in Iraq in more than a decade of turmoil unleashed by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Counter-terrorism forces breached Islamic State defenses in the east of Mosul two weeks ago but have faced resistance from the militants who have deployed suicide car bombs, snipers and waves of counter-attacks.

35 PHOTOS
The battle to reclaim Mosul from ISIS
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The battle to reclaim Mosul from ISIS
A still image taken from an Islamic State (IS) video released through the group's Amaq news agency shows an unidentified militant addressing the camera. Video said to be shot in Mosul, Iraq, on October 18. 2016. REUTERS/Reuters TV via Amaq news agency TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Iraqi army members stand with thier weapons in Qayyarah, during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 19, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
Iraqi security forces gesture in Qayyarah, during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 19, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
A still image taken from an Islamic State (IS) video released through the group's Amaq news agency claims to show militants patrolling the streets of Mosul. Video said to be shot in Mosul, Iraq, on October 18. 2016. REUTERS/Reuters TV via Amaq news agency
Members of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) gather on the outskirts of Bartila east of Mosul during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 19, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
An aviation ordnanceman inspects a bomb on an F/A-18E Super Hornet just before take-off for Mosul, Iraq to provide air-support from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower CVN 69 carrier in Arabia Gulf, October 18, 2016. Picture taken October 18, 2016. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
A member of the Peshmerga forces inspects homes on the outskirts of Bartila, east of Mosul, during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 19, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Peshmerga forces stand around a tunnel used by Islamic State militants on the outskirts of Bartila, east of Mosul during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 19, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Iraqi army personnel ride on a military vehicle in Qayyarah, during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 19, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
Smoke rises from a bomb taken through the window of a military vehicle in Qayyarah during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 19, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
An F/A-18E Super Hornet takes off for Mosul, Iraq to provide air-support from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower CVN 69 carrier in Arabia Gulf, October 18, 2016. Picture taken October 18, 2016. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
A U.S army soldier stands with his weapon at a military base in the Makhmour area near Mosul during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 18, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
U.S army soldiers arrive at a military base in the Makhmour area near Mosul during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 18, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
Peshmerga forces sit in the back of a vehicle in the east of Mosul during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 18, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Christian volunteers, who have joined the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, take part in a training at a training base in the town of Alqosh, 50 km (30 miles) from Mosul, Iraq, October 11, 2016. Picture taken October 11, 2016. REUTERS/Ari Jalal
Peshmerga forces walk in the east of Mosul during operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Smoke rises from clashes at Bartila in the east of Mosul during clashes with Islamic State militants, Iraq, October 18, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Peshmerga forces advance in the east of Mosul to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 18, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Smoke rises from clashes in the east of Mosul during clashes with Islamic State militants, Iraq, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Peshmerga forces advance in the east of Mosul to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Peshmerga forces gather on the east of Mosul during preparations to attack Mosul, Iraq, October 16, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Peshmerga forces with western forces advance in the east of Mosul to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Smoke rises from clashes in the east of Mosul during clashes with Islamic State militants, Iraq, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
A member from western forces stands with his weapon in the east of Mosul, Iraq, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Peshmerga forces gather in the east of Mosul to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Peshmerga forces gather in the east of Mosul to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Peshmerga forces gather in the east of Mosul to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
A member of Peshmerga forces stands on a military vehicle in the east of Mosul, Iraq, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Peshmerga forces gather on the east of Mosul during preparations to attack Mosul, Iraq, October 16, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Peshmerga forces gather in the east of Mosul to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Peshmerga forces gather on the east of Mosul during preparations to attack Mosul, Iraq, early October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Peshmerga forces advance in the east of Mosul to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Smoke rises from clashes in the east of Mosul during clashes with Islamic State militants, Iraq, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Peshmerga forces advance in the east of Mosul to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
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Islamic State still controls other Assyrian landmarks including the ruins of Nineveh and Khorsabad, as well as the 2,000-year-old desert city of Hatra, famed for its pillared temple which blended Graeco-Roman and eastern architecture.

The United Nations cultural agency UNESCO has condemned the destruction at Nimrud as a war crime and an attack on the world's shared heritage, pointing to ancient Mesopotamia's role as a cradle of civilisation where early urban centers flourished and cuneiform writing on clay was developed.

In neighboring Syria, Islamic State was driven out of the city of Palmyra eight months ago, after dynamiting monuments including two temples and Palmyra's imposing triumphal arch.

The Iraqi army used drones earlier in the week to monitor the Nimrud site after retaking it from Islamic State.

The antiquities authority says it is still working to set up field teams to assess the damage, but says it hopes some of the ruins can be salvaged.

"Despite the massive destruction to the ancient city, and the loss of the architectural intricacies of the palaces and temples and the ziggurat, we trust that we can restore and renovate what was destroyed and bring back to life this outstanding archaeological site," deputy culture minister Qais Hussain Rasheed said.

Related: One of the heartbreaking effects the war is having on Iraq:

22 PHOTOS
Iraq's oldest cemetery growing quickly due to ISIS war
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Iraq's oldest cemetery growing quickly due to ISIS war
The Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", is seen in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq August 3, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
Tombs are seen at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq, August 3, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
Decayed dome is seen at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq, August 10, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
Mourners carry the coffin of their relative during a funeral in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq July 26, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
A boy digs a grave at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
Men bury a body at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
A woman holds containers which are used for washing the graves at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
People visit graves of their relative at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq August 5, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
A man holds empty containers that are used for washing graves at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq August 10, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
An undertaker smokes shisha at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq August 3, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
A woman prays inside the shrine of Imam Mahdi at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq August 1, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
A municipality worker pulls a trash container at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq August 5, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
A woman takes a selfie inside the shrine of Imam Mahdi at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq August 1, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
People line up to collect blessed water inside the shrine of Imam Mahdi at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq August 1, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
A woman washes the grave of her relative at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq August 5, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
A woman is seen at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq August 1, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
Residents visit the graves of their relatives at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
A man mourns on the grave of his relative at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
A man prays inside the shrine of Imam Mahdi at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq August 1, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
A man reads verses from the Koran at the grave of his relative at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
Tombs are seen at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq August 10, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
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