An Iraqi paramilitary force says it has recaptured the ancient city of Hatra, which is believed to have been destroyed by Islamic State militants.
The Popular Mobilisation announced that its fighters had “liberated” the Unesco World Heritage-listed site “after fierce clashes with the enemy”.
The full extent of the damage to Hatra was not immediately clear from a grainy photograph published by the force.
IS has bulldozed, blown up and looted pre-Islamic sites it deems idolatrous.
Unesco has said the deliberate destruction of Iraq’s cultural heritage constitutes a war crime.
Shia-led Popular Mobilisation militiamen launched the offensive on Hatra at dawn on Tuesday.
By Wednesday afternoon, they had retaken the archaeological site and had advanced to the edge of the adjacent modern town of Hatra, according to an AFP news agency journalist.
Hatra, located 290 km (180 miles) north-west of Baghdad and 110km south-west of Mosul, was one of the best-preserved of Iraq’s archaeological sites before it was seized by IS in 2014.
Possibly founded in the 3rd or 2nd Century BC, it was a religious and trading centre of the Parthian Empire and capital of the first Arab Kingdom.
The city’s numerous temples, where Hellenistic and Roman architecture were blended with Eastern decorative features, led to it becoming known as the “House of God”.
Its high, thick walls, which were built in a circle and fortified by towers, meanwhile helped it withstand invasions by the Romans in AD116 and 198. It eventually fell to the Persian Sasanian dynasty in AD241.
More recently, the site was used in the opening scene of the 1973 horror film, The Exorcist.
In March 2015, Iraqi officials said they had received reports from locals that IS had destroyed Hatra.
The following month, IS itself released a video showing militants using picks, sledgehammers and assault rifles to destroy Hatra’s walls and statues.
In November, a month after launching a major operation to drive IS out of Mosul, Iraqi forces recaptured the ancient city of Nimrud. Much of the site was reduced to rubble, with shattered statues and a ziggurat reduced to a fraction of its size.
IS conflict: Iraqi force ‘retakes ancient city of Hatra’}