Ancient site divides Iraqis

The New York TimesMay 3, 2009 

  • A gunman wearing an Iraqi army uniform fired on a U.S. military team Saturday, killing two American soldiers and wounding three others at a combat outpost in northern Iraq, the military said.

    A military statement said the attacker was killed after the ambush-style assault 12 miles south of Mosul -- one of the last urban strongholds for Sunni insurgents.

  • Identifications reported last week by the military:

    Army Sgt. Leroy O. Webster, 28, of Sioux Falls, S.D., was fatally shot April 25 near Kirkuk, Iraq, while on a dismounted patrol; assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.

    Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Tyler J. Trahan, 22, of East Freetown, Mass., died Thursday while conducting combat operations in Fallujah, Iraq; assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit 12 in Norfolk, Va., and deployed with an East Coast-based Navy SEAL team.

    Marine Sgt. James R. McIlvaine, 26, of Olney, Md., died Thursday while supporting combat operations in Anbar province, Iraq; assigned to 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Twentynine Palms, Calif.

    Marine Staff Sgt. Mark A. Wojciechowski, 25, of Cincinnati, died Thursday while supporting combat operations in Anbar province; assigned to 7th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif.

    The Associated Press

— After decades of dictatorship and disrepair, Iraq is celebrating its renewed sovereignty over the Babylon archaeological site -- the "liberation" of it and other archaeological sites, one official said -- by fighting over the place, over its past and future and, of course, its spoils.

Time has eroded the sun-dried bricks that shaped ancient Babylon, the city of Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar, where Daniel read the writing on the wall and Alexander the Great died.

Colonial archaeologists packed off its treasures to Europe a century ago. Saddam Hussein rebuilt the site in his own megalomaniacal image. American and Polish troops turned it into a military camp, digging trenches and filling barricades with soil peppered with fragments of a biblical-era civilization.

Now the provincial government in Babil has seized control of much of Babylon -- unlawfully, according to the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage -- and opened a park beside a branch of the Euphrates River, a place that draws visitors by the busload each day.

It has begun to charge a fee to visit the looted, grandiose palace that Saddam built in the 1980s, along with the hill it stands on. And it has refurbished a collection of buildings from the Saddam era and rented their rooms out as suites. For $175 a night, Iraqis can honeymoon in a room advertised as one of Saddam's bedrooms -- in truth, almost certainly a mere guest room.

"Our problem, in terms of archaeology, is that we actually deal with ignorant people, whether in the Saddam era or the current era," said Qais Hussein Rashid, acting director of the Board of Antiquities, which has legal authority over Babylon but apparently not very much power. "Most of the people and some officials have no respect for heritage. They think archaeological sites are just a bunch of bricks that have no value at all."

Now, with the support of some officials in Baghdad, the local government has reopened the excavated ruins of Babylon's ancient core, shuttered since the U.S. invasion in 2003. It has done so despite warnings by archaeologists that the reopening threatens to damage further what remains of one of the world's first great cities before the site can be adequately protected.

Rashid's board, part of the Ministry of Culture, is at odds with the newly created State Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki's government made control of ancient sites a provision in the security pact with the United States that took effect in January.

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service