Wednesday, February 11, 2009

US to Help Restore Babylon

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The United States has pledged money to help restore the ancient Mesopotamian city of Babylon, the U.S. embassy in Iraq said on Friday, after years of damage by Saddam Hussein, foreign forces and plunder by looters.

Fabled home to the Hanging Gardens, a wonder of the ancient world, and lying in a region historians call the cradle of civilisation, Babylon was damaged during the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam.

Looters ransacked the ancient site about 85 miles (135 km) south of Baghdad in and after 2003. Before the invasion, Saddam had made ham-fisted attempts at reconstruction using new bricks bearing his name, and he built a kitsch palace overlooking it.

The United States has pledged nearly $700,000 (461,692 pounds) for the site.

“Babylon stands out among Iraq’s rich contributions to humanity and “The Future of Babylon” project exemplifies the American people’s commitment to the preservation of human heritage,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement.

The U.S. military occupied Babylon as a base for five months before handing it to a Polish-led division, which left in 2005.

The British Museum said in a report then that U.S. and Polish military vehicles had crushed 2,600-year-old pavements in the city and used archaeological fragments to fill sandbags.

The World Monuments Fund said Babylon was “deteriorating from neglect, insensitive reconstructions and the use of the site as a military base,” but the reconstruction work it would undertake with Iraq would “address all of these issues.”

Archaeologists plan to map the site and suggest guidelines for its future use, it said in a statement.

Babylon, where King Nebuchadnezzar II built the Gardens, was capital of Babylonia, which existed from about 1800 to 600 BC.

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