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Iraq antiquities law central to preventing more damage to Babylon: UNESCO

[JURIST] The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) [official website] has urged adherence to Iraqi antiquities law in a report on damage to the ancient city of Babylon before and since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. A committee composed of Iraqi and international archaeologists said in a report [text, PDF] issued Thursday that adherence to the law regarding the excavation, transportation, and sale of Iraqi artifacts is necessary to preventing further damage to the site, use of which as a coalition military base had caused direct and indirect damage. Although UNESCO called the military use a "grave encroachment" on the site, Mohamed Djelid, director of UNESCO’s Office for Iraq [official website] said that the committee's goal was to catalog the damage, not to assign blame [press release]. The report also noted damage done to the site prior to the invasion, including the construction of palaces and restaurants by Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive], looting of the site after Multi-National Force-Iraq [official website] turned the site over to Iraqi control, and the moving of significant artifacts to European museums by early archaeologists.

Control and use of the site and its artifacts has been controversial. The Iraqi central antiquities office's focus on preserving and excavating ancient Babylon has been at odds [AP report] with the local provincial government's desire to bolster tourism. Many of the city's most recognizable artifacts have long been removed, including the stone tablets on which Hammurabi's Code [museum website, in French] is inscribed, and the Ishtar Gate [backgrounder] of King Nebuchadnezzar II, installed in European museums since the early twentieth century.

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