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U.S. Begins Airstrikes Against Islamic State Militants in Iraqi City of Tikrit

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Americans say move reflects failure of Iranian-backed forces to retake area from insurgents

Julian E. Barnes in Washington, Raja Abdulrahim in Samarra, Iraq, and Matt Bradley in Erbil, Iraq, report: U.S. warplanes began airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Tikrit in what American officials said was a sign of the failure of Iranian-backed forces to retake the city.

The offensive to retake the city has been stalled for more than a week and American officials on Wednesday said they began the strikes after the Iraqi government formally requested help. The U.S. in recent days began providing video feeds and other intelligence to Iraqi forces, drawing the Americans into closer coordination with Iranian-allied Shiite militias spearheading the campaign.

[Read the full text here, at WSJ.com]

The U.S. intervention is a blow to Iran, which has played a major role in commanding the Shiite militias and has also supplied weapons. Those militias account for about 20,000 of the 30,000-strong force involved in the operation.

U.S. officials said the difficulty in Tikrit exposed the weakness of Iranian support for Iraq’s government, adding that they hope to use those difficulties to drive a wedge between Iraq and Iran.

“Tikrit shows the complete failure by Iran to produce results on the ground,” said a senior U.S. official.

An Iraqi Shiite militiaman with the so-called Imam Ali Brigades in Tikrit on Wednesday, as the U.S. said it had begun airstrikes against Islamic State militants there because of the failure of Iran-backed Shiite fighters to retake the city. Photo: Khalid Mohammed/Associated Press

An Iraqi Shiite militiaman with the so-called Imam Ali Brigades in Tikrit on Wednesday, as the U.S. said it had begun airstrikes against Islamic State militants there because of the failure of Iran-backed Shiite fighters to retake the city. Photo: Khalid Mohammed/Associated Press

Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has been assisting the Iraqi force, including planning help, artillery fire and other combat support. But Pentagon officials said the IRGC effort has produced little in the way of results for Iraqi forces.

The U.S. and allied warplanes struck between six and 10 targets in Tikrit, according to Pentagon officials, including the palace that Islamic State militants have been using as their headquarters. The buildings struck were all preselected targets that U.S. surveillance planes have been tracking for several days, officials said.

American officials held open the option that moving targets could be targeted in future strikes. Defense officials said they were working only with the Iraqi government and Iraqi security forces, not Shiite militias or Iranian forces. Read the rest of this entry »

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Defacing History with Jackhammers: ISIS ‘Bulldozed’ Ancient Assyrian City of Nimrud

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In the jihadists’ extreme interpretation of Islam, statues, idols, and shrines amount to recognizing other objects of worship than God and must be destroyed

Karim Abou Merhi and Jean Marc MojonAFP: The Islamic State group began bulldozing the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud in Iraq, the government said, in the jihadists’ latest attack on the country’s historical heritage.

The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, “assaulted the historic city of Nimrud and bulldozed it with heavy vehicles,” the tourism and antiquities ministry said on an official Facebook page.

“These artifacts behind me are idols for people from ancient times who worshipped them instead of God.”

— Bearded militant appearing in the video

An Iraqi antiquities official confirmed the news, saying the destruction began after noon prayers on Thursday and that trucks that may have been used to haul away artifacts had also been spotted at the site.

“Until now, we do not know to what extent it was destroyed,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Nimrud, one of the jewels of the Assyrian era, was founded in the 13th century B.C. and lies on the Tigris River about 30 kilometers (18 miles) southeast of Mosul, Iraq‘s second-biggest city and the main hub of ISIS in the country.screen shot 2015-03-06 at 10.09.31 am.png

“I’m sorry to say everybody was expecting this. Their plan is to destroy Iraqi heritage, one site at a time.”

— Abdulamir Hamdani, an Iraqi archaeologist from Stony Brook University

Hatra of course will be next,” he said, referring to a beautifully preserved city in Nineveh province that is more than 2,000 years old and is a Unesco world heritage site.

“I’m really devastated. But it was just a matter of time.”

Nimrud is the site of what was described as one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century when a team unearthed a collection of jewels and precious stones in 1988.

The jewels were briefly displayed at the Iraqi national museum before disappearing from public view, but they survived the looting that followed the 2003 US invasion and were eventually found in a Central Bank building.

Most of Nimrud’s priceless artifacts have long been moved to museums, in Mosul, Baghdad, Paris, London, and elsewhere, but giant “lamassu” statues — winged bulls with human heads — and reliefs were still on site.

YouTube screenshot General view of the Nimrud archaeological site.

YouTube screenshot General view of the Nimrud archaeological site.

The destruction at Nimrud on Thursday came a week after the jihadist group released a video showing militants armed with sledgehammers and jackhammers smashing priceless ancient artifacts at the Mosul museum.

That attack sparked widespread consternation and alarm, with some archaeologists and heritage experts comparing it with the 2001 demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan by the Taliban.

In the jihadists’ extreme interpretation of Islam, statues, idols, and shrines amount to recognizing other objects of worship than God and must be destroyed.

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YouTube screenshotUS troops at Nimrud in 2003.

The video released by ISIS last week showed militants knocking statues off their plinths and rampaging through the Mosul museum’s collection.

It also shows jihadists using a jackhammer to deface an imposing granite Assyrian winged bull at the Nergal Gate in Mosul. Read the rest of this entry »