PARIS (AFP).- The UN's cultural organisation on 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 expressed concern at "renewed human suffering and loss of life in Iraq" and fears that the country's cultural 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 the Levant (ISIL) have overrun swathes of the country.
The ISIL militants, rooted in Iraq's Sunni Muslim community, are battling the Shiite-run central government which has ruled since dictator Saddam Hussein was ousted by a US-led coalition in 2003.
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 US 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.
© 1994-2014 Agence France-Presse