The ancient Aramaic city of Palmyra in the Syrian desert, now controlled by IS. File Photo by Linda Marie Caldwell/UPI
LONDON, July 7 (UPI) -- The Islamic State is looting ancient archeological sites across Iraq and Syria on an extraordinary scale, the head of the United Nations agency UNESCO said.
Earlier this week Irina Bokova told the Royal United Services Institute of antiquities experts in London that one-fifth or Iraq's 10,000 internationally recognized heritage sites are under Islamic state (IS) control, and are being looted "on an industrial scale," the sale of centuries-old artifacts bringing in cash to the IS. She added some sites have been plundered so severely they are no longer of any use to historians or archaeologists, and sites in Libya could be next.
Bokova said it was "safe to assume the trade in conflict antiquities from Syria and Iraq represents millions of dollars for violent extremist groups."
IS controls territory in Iraq and Syria, the location of ancient Assyrian, Greek, Roman, Christian, Jewish, Yazidi and Muslim ruins, artifacts and other archeological treasures. The group has also destroyed dozens of historically significant sites, Bokova told NBC News. The 3,000 year-old city of Nimrud, Iraq, was demolished, as were artifacts in a Mosul, Iraq, museum. IS currently controls Palymra, Syria, and has systematically blown up buildings and destroyed stone carvings it considers antithetical to its brand of Islam.
"Cultural cleansing, in my view, is exactly what's happening in Iraq. These extremists want to impose a different vision on the world. They want to tell us that there is no memory (of these sites), that there is no culture, that there is no heritage," Bokova told NBC News.