The Guardian yesterday had interesting news from Iraq:
Babylon, a city renowned for its beauty and its splendour 1,000 years before Europe built anything comparable, was chosen as the site for a US military base in April 2003, just after the invasion of Iraq.
Military commanders set up their camp in the heart of one of the world’s most important archaeological sites and surrounded the enclosed part of the ancient city. At least 2,000 troops were installed, daily passing relics such as the enormous basalt Lion of Babylon sculpture.
In September 2003 the base was passed to a Polish-led force, which held it until today’s formal handover of the site to the Iraqi culture ministry.
Can you guess how it turned out? I think you can.
John Curtis, keeper of [The British Museum’s] Ancient Near East department and an authority on Iraq’s many archaeological sites, found “substantial damage” on an investigative visit to Babylon last month.
Among the damage found by Mr Curtis, who was invited to Babylon by Iraqi antiquities experts, were cracks and gaps where somebody had tried to gouge out the decorated bricks forming the famous dragons of the Ishtar Gate.
He saw a 2,600-year-old brick pavement crushed by military vehicles, archaeological fragments scattered across the site, and including broken bricks stamped with the vainglorious boasts of king Nebuchadnezzar.
Vast amounts of sand and earth, visibly mixed with archaeological fragments, were gouged from the site to fill thousands of sandbags and metal mesh baskets. When this practice was stopped, large quantities of sand and earth were brought in from elsewhere, contaminating the site for future generations of archaeologists.
The paper has photos of some of the damage, including “UT TEXAS” graffiti.
Still, at least we’ve achieved the goal of preventing Afghanistan from being the center of terrorism:
Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the training ground for the next generation of “professionalized” terrorists, according to a report released Thursday by the National Intelligence Council, the CIA director’s think tank.
Iraq provides terrorists “a training ground, a recruitment ground, the opportunity for enhancing technical skills,” said David Low, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats. “There is even, under the best scenario, over time, the likelihood that some of the jihadists who are not killed there will, in a sense, go home, wherever home is, and will therefore disperse to various other countries.”