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Civilization under Occupation

By Ghali Hassan

01/18/05 "Information Clearing House"
-- In 2001,“[t]he world reacted in horror and outrage as Afghanistan's Taliban rulers defaced and demolished ancient statues that they considered heretic. United Nations (UN) officials jetted to Kabul to plead for a halt to the destruction, other Islamic nations denounced the actions as barbaric, and U.S. museums made desperate offers to buy the threatened objects”, reported US Science magazine. By contrast in Iraq, the international community has ignored the US destructive assault on the birthplace of civilization with barely a murmur of protest.

A new report prepared by the British Museum in London shows that the setting up of US military camp in the heart of Babylon, the world’s most ancient archaeological site, has caused irreparable damage to the site.

It was here at the cradle of urban civilization that the world first cities emerged around 4000 B.C. with monumental architecture and the beginning of writing. The first codes of laws, epic literature and scientific study in astronomy and mathematics followed in succeeding millennia.

Babylon gained ascendancy under king Hammurabi (1792-1595 B.C.), who introduced the first law code, with commerce, astrology and the arts flourished. Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 B.C.), who built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, raised Babylon to a new glory. Persians and Greeks also left their marks in Babylon. For more than 1,000 years, Babylon was one of the world's premier cities.

During the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq by US forces in March 2003, the UNESCO has urged the US authorities to observe The Hague Convention and do everything to protect the country’s cultural heritage. Of course, this fell on deaf ears, as the US have no respect for civilisation in its pursuit of “pre-emptive” barbarism. Despite strong objections and warnings from scholars and archaeologists worldwide, Babylon was chosen as the site for a US military base in April 2003. “This is tantamount to establishing a military camp around the Great Pyramid in Egypt or around Stonehenge in Britain”, said John Curtis of the Department of the Ancient Near East in the British Museum and the main author of the report.

Iraqi archaeologists have accused the US occupation authorities of perpetrating the cultural “crime of the century” by failing to protect priceless Iraqi artefacts from looters and trampling archaeological sites during the invasion of the country. “Vast amounts of earth containing tens of thousands of archaeological fragments have been bulldozed into piles to fill up sandbags. Defensive trenches have been dug right through remains. Military vehicles had crushed 2,600-year-old pavements in the city”, said the report. Looting and theft of artefacts were also very common among soldiers and officials from the “coalition of the willing”.

The report reveals that, “There is evidence of environmental pollution (fuel seepage) in the area of the Fuel Farm. This is likely to have a deleterious effect on the archaeological deposits beneath. There is damage to 9 of the moulded brick figures of dragons in the Ishtar Gate”. It further adds that, “The brick pavement in the south part of the 6th century BC Processional Way has been broken by driving a heavy vehicle along it, and parts of the roof of the (reconstructed) Ninmah Temple have collapsed”.

As Paul McCarthy of The Guardian writes, “Babylon, a city renowned for its beauty and its splendour 1,000 years before Europe built anything comparable”. However, the “damage wrought by the US-led occupation troops was unnecessary and could have been avoided. It must rank as one of the most reckless acts of cultural vandalism in recent memory”.

Like the Mongol conqueror Hülegü Genghis Khan who left his footprints of barbarism on Baghdad in 1258, US president George W. Bush is leaving his large footprints on Babylon and other parts of Iraq.

“The aggravated ruins of the city stand as a metaphor for the war itself which has left modern Iraq as well as ancient Babylon in a much worse state than they were before the saviors arrived”, notes Paul McCarthy rightly. The US must accept legal responsibility for damage resulting from its illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the destruction of Iraq’s cultural heritage. 

Ghali Hassan lives in Perth, Western Australia. He can be contacted on:
G.Hassan@exchange.curtin.edu.au

Further reading: 
Report: http://www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk/newsroom/current2005/Babylon_Report04.doc

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