Iraq: US base has caused "shocking" damage to Babylon
The American contractor that built the infrastructure for a base adjacent to the ancient site is responsible for much of the destruction, says an independent report
A regular visitor to Babylon since the 1970s, Dr Curtis categorises the recent damage as "substantial". He comments: "It is regrettable that a military camp of this size should have been established on one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. This is tantamount to establishing a military camp around the Great Pyramid or Stonehenge." Babylon, meaning "Gate of the Gods", was the capital of a kingdom that flourished between 1792 and 539 BC.
American forces established Camp Alpha at Babylon in April 2003, within days of the coalition invasion. It was sited primarily for strategic reasons, but the presence of troops did at least ensure that there has been very little looting. The camp encompassed 150 hectares of the 900 hectare site, centred around the north-east central area within the ancient inner walls. Originally the camp housed 2,000 soldiers, although the number later fell to 400. Command of the camp was officially handed over from American to Polish forces in September 2003.
Halliburton Destroys Babylon
By Katrina van den Heuvel
March 28, 2005
The sterile term "collateral damage" justifiably brings to mind the human tragedy of war. But the devastating and wanton damage inflicted on the ancient city of Babylon by U.S.-led military forces gives another meaning to the term. In this case, we are witnessing violence against one of the world's greatest cultural treasures. Babylon's destruction, according to The Guardian, "must rank as one of the most reckless acts of cultural vandalism in recent memory." When Camp Babylon was established by U.S.-led international forces in April 2003, leading archeologists and international experts on ancient civilizations warned of potential peril and damage. It was "tantamount to establishing a military camp around the Great Pyramid in Egypt or around Stonehenge in Britain," according to a damning report issued in January by the British Museum.
The report, drafted by Dr. John Curtis - one of the world's leading archeologists - documents that the military base, built and overseen by Kellog, Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, jeopardized what is often referred to as the "mother of all archeological sites." Helicopter landing places and parking lots for heavy vehicles caused substantial damage to the Ishtar Gate, one of the most famous monuments from antiquity. U.S. military vehicles crushed 2,600 year old brick pavement, archeological fragments were scattered across the site, trenches were driven into ancient deposits and military earth-moving projects contaminated the site for future generations of scientists. As several eminent archeologists have pointed out, while the looting of the Iraqi Museum in the first days of the war was horrifying, the destruction of ancient sites has even more dire consequences for those trying to piece together the history of civilization. Making matters worse, the base has created a tempting target for insurgent attacks in recent months. As Yaseen Madhloom al-Rubai reports in the valuable Iraq Crisis Report (No. 117), "It was one of the seven wonders of the world, but ancient Babylon attracts more insurgents than tourists these days."
"Turning Babylon into a military site was a fatal mistake," the Iraqi culture minister told Iraq Crisis Report. "It has witnessed much destruction and many terrorist attacks since it was occupied by Coalition Forces. We cannot determine the scale of destruction now. As a first step, we have completely closed the sites, before calling in international experts to evaluate the damage done to the [ancient] city and the compensation the ministry should ask Coalition forces to pay. We will run a campaign to save the city."
That campaign is finding allies among a growing network of archeologists outraged by the unnecessary destruction of an irreplaceable site. John Curtis, author of the British Museum's report, has called for an international investigation by archeologists chosen by the Iraqis to survey and record all the damage done.
The overall situation in Iraq is overwhelmingly a human tragedy but that does not exempt the U.S. authorities, who set up Camp Babylon, from the consequences of what The Guardian called an act of "cultural barbarism" - carried out in their name by a subsidiary of Halliburton. There must be a full investigation of the damage caused, and Halliburton should be made to offer whatever compensation is possible for the wanton destruction of the world's cultural treasure.
Ancient minaret damaged in Iraq
Iraqi police say an explosion has damaged one of the most important Islamic architectural monuments.
The spiral minaret, in the town of Samarra, is more than 1,000 years old.
The distinctive spiral minaret is one of Iraq's main tourist attractions
Police say insurgents blew up the top section of the 52m (162ft) Malwiya tower, which had been used by US soldiers as a lookout position.
The minaret was built by Caliph al-Mutawakil in 852 when Samarra, a city on the Tigris north of Baghdad, was capital of the Abbasid Empire.
The blast left crumbled brick and clay on the minaret's winding ramps.
The explosion left debris scattered on the minaret's external steps
Iraq's antiquities officials had expressed concern that US soldiers had also caused significant damage to historic sites in Samarra, including the walls of an ancient palace.
Samarra has been a focal point of the insurgency over the past two years.
The spiral minaret is one of Iraq's main tourist attractions and features on Iraqi banknotes.
US troops pulled out of the site last month.
A senior government official told the BBC the Americans should have ensured it was properly protected.
Iraqi antiquities officials have asked for compensation after the walls of an ancient palace in Samarra occupied by the Americans were cracked.
Coalition troops have been heavily criticised for earlier damage done to the ancient site of Babylon which was taken over as a military base.
BBC Baghdad correspondent Caroline Hawley says extensive looting of archaeological sites, particularly in southern Iraq, has also raised serious concerns about the effects of the war on the country's heritage.
UNESCO’s “Final Report on Damage Assessment in Babylon”, released 9 July, provides an exhaustive technical evaluation of present conditions at the renowned archaeological site in Iraq and lists recommendations for its future protection, restoration and management.