Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group have desecrated another ancient Iraqi capital, the government said, razing parts of the 2,700-year-old city of Khorsabad, which is famed for its colossal statues of human-headed winged bulls.
Officials have said for several days they were checking reports of damage at Khorsabad following attacks on the cities of Nineveh, Nimrud and Hatra by ISIL, which controls much of northern Iraq.
On Wednesday, the head of Iraq's antiquities board and the country's antiquities minister both confirmed that damage had been inflicted in recent days at Khorsabad.
"The city walls were razed, and some elements of the temples, but we don't know the exact extent [of the damage]," antiquities director Qais Rasheed told Reuters. "Looting took place and then the razing."
Adel Shirshab, the country's tourism and antiquities minister, told the Associated Press there are concerns ISIL will remove artefacts and damage the site, located 15km northeast of Mosul.
Saeed Mamuzini, a Kurdish official from Mosul, told the AP that ISIL had already begun demolishing the Khorsabad site on Sunday, citing multiple witnesses.
On Friday, the group razed 3,000-year old Nimrod and on Saturday, they bulldozed 2,000-year old Hatra - both UNESCO world heritage sites. The move was described by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as a "war crime".
ISIL controls parts of Iraq and Syria, which contain some of the richest archaeological treasures on Earth. It is also where ancient Assyrian empires built their capitals, Graeco-Roman civilisation flourished and Muslim and Christian sects co-existed for centuries.
ISIL, which rejects all but its own interpretation of early Sunni Muslim theology as heresy, has systematically destroyed historic temples, shrines, manuscripts statues and carvings. Officials say it has also looted and sold artefacts to help fund its rule.
The United Nations has condemned ISIL's actions as a war crime and an attack on humanity's common heritage, but the global outrage has not slowed the destruction.
Iraq has asked a US-led coalition which is supporting Baghdad's fightback against ISIL with air strikes to deploy its aerial power to defend the country's heritage.
US General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said in Baghdad on Monday that the military priority was focused on populated areas ruled by ISIL, as opposed to some of the remote antiquities sites.
Khorsabad was constructed as a new capital of Assyria by King Sargon II shortly after he came to power in 721BC and abandoned after his death in 705BC. It features a 24-metre thick wall with a stone foundation and seven gates.
Since it was a single-era capital, few objects linked to Sargon II himself were found. However, the site is renowned for shedding light on Assyrian art and architecture.