Hatra, Iraq ruins
One of the most memorable and exciting travel experiences I’ve ever had was the hour I spent walking among the ruins of Hatra, an ancient city in the desert of northwest Iraq, about 200 miles northwest of Baghdad.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the 2,000 year old Hatra was a major city in the Parthian Kingdom. If you recognize the scene in the pictures, you’ve probably seen the movie The Exorcist, which used the city as a backdrop for the opening scene.
I visited this little-known site during my deployment in 2003, shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Why was a soldier sightseeing in war zone, you might ask? Well, 2003 Iraq post-Saddam was a relatively safe place. The country had not yet been struck with the rampant violence it would see in 2004-2006; in fact, the country felt safe enough in the spring and summer of 2003 that we felt safe driving around the roads north of Baghdad in unarmored Humvees without doors.
And safe enough to suggest to my battalion commander that we do a quick side trip to Hatra on the way back from a supply run to one of our communications units in the region. She agreed, and told me to plan the route and lead the way off the highway to the ruins.
In retrospect, this was a crazy idea: touring around unnecessarily in a war zone. But an infantry platoon was stationed at the ruins, and northern Iraq was even safer than the area around Baghdad, where we were stationed. So we went after one of our supply runs to a team we had stationed near there, and it all went off without a hitch.
Our convoy of six green Humvees pulled up to the ruins. I gave a quick overview of the city to the soldiers in our convoy and let everyone walk around exploring the place for an hour. I split off with a couple of my fellow officers, walking through the temples and on the rooftops of these ancient structures. From our vantage point high above the site, we could see the ruins of the city spread about the desert floor to the horizon.
Most of the site was still buried under almost 2000 years of sand and dirt; it was amazing to think that this site was barely unearthed by archaeologists. From where I was standing, the outer city walls, now a long ridge of sand in the distance, were clearly visible.
I am not going to give a history lesson of the site. I just wanted to post some of the pictures I took on that memorable day. I think they might be of particular interest to archaeologists and historians who find themselves cut off from exploring Hatra. The ruins are now under the control of ISIS, who have reportedly begun bulldozing the site.
ISIS barbarians destroyed this particular mask and showed off their deed on a video they made. They also took drone footage of the site, which I would rather not see.
Who knows what they are doing to the site now. If they are not destroying the ruins in their vile jihad, they are looting them for more earthly reasons. Maybe it’s good that the city is largely un-excavated. At least that way the looters will have a harder time of it.
We saw what happened to Palmyra in Syria. The atrocities committed there, both to captives and to the ruins themselves, were sickening. I really don’t know why the U.S., with all its drone might, couldn’t have prevented that from happening.