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The Conflict in Iraq

Damage to Babylon Assessed

January 16, 2005|From Times Wire Services

LONDON — U.S. and Polish forces who used Iraq's ancient city of Babylon as a military base caused "substantial damage" to the area, a British Museum report said.

The report said U.S. and Polish military vehicles had crushed 2,600-year-old pavement in the city, a cradle of civilization and home to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Archeological fragments were used to fill sandbags, it added.

"This is tantamount to establishing a military camp around the Great Pyramid in Egypt or around Stonehenge in Britain," John Curtis, keeper of the museum's Ancient and Near East department, said in the report. Curtis was invited to visit Babylon by Iraqi antiquities experts.

U.S. military commanders set up a base in Babylon in April 2003, just after the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, and handed it over to a Polish-led force five months later.

Poland said it decided to remove troops from the area when Warsaw realized having a military base there was not "beneficial to the site." The camp was to be handed over to the Iraqi Culture Ministry on Saturday.

"We have moved our operations from Camp Babylon and returned that site to the Iraqi people and to scientists because of its importance, not only to Iraq, but to the world's cultural heritage," said a spokesman for Polish-led forces in Iraq.

Babylon was the capital of ancient Babylonia, a kingdom that flourished between 1,800 and 540 BC. Its Hanging Gardens were one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

The main features -- the site of the Ishtar Gate, the ruins of Babylon and the Nebuchadnezzar Palace -- are run by Iraqi officials as an archeological park.

Lt. Col. Steven Boylan, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said all engineering works were discussed with the head of the Babylon museum. "An archeologist examined every construction initiative for its impact on historical ruins," he said.

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