PARIS: The U.N.’s cultural organization Tuesday urged Iraqis to protect the country’s heritage amid heavy fighting, warning that destroying religious sites would amount to war crimes.
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova was concerned at “renewed human suffering and loss of life in Iraq” and fears that the country’s heritage will be looted or destroyed.
“I call on all actors to refrain from any form of destruction of cultural heritage, including religious sites,” Bokova said in a statement.
“Their intentional destruction are war crimes and a blow against the Iraqi people’s identity and history.”
Iraq has descended into the worst violence in years as militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) have overrun swathes of the country.
ISIS, rooted in Iraq’s Sunni community, are battling the Shiite-run government which has ruled since Saddam Hussein was ousted in 2003 by a U.S.-led coalition.
They are said to have killed scores of captured Iraqi soldiers, as well as targeting civilians, and thousands have been forced from their homes.
After U.S. forces invaded in 2003, at least 32,000 items were looted from 12,000 archeological sites across Iraq and 15,000 other items stolen from the National Museum.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 18, 2014, on page 9.