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US troops claim that they “Saved” Babylon from looting

In an interesting subversion of their normal roles in the arguments over cultural property the British Museum is taking the part of the Greeks by becoming the accuser temporarily & the US government / Army are playing the part of the British Museum. They are still using the old scripts though.
First of all, the British museum accuses the US of “Cultural Vandalism” because of their blatant disregard for preserving the heritage on the ancient site of Babylon in Iraq, a phrase that has often been used in reference to the marbles & is pretty much the definition of the French word Elginism.
Now in response the US are claiming that by occupying the site they were actually saving it & if they had not been their driving vehicles through it etc, then it would have been looted by the Iraqis themselves.
The argument that they were not destroying, but saving doesn’t sound any more convincing when the US says it.

Khaleej Times [1] (Poland)

US, Polish troops ‘saved Babylon from looting’
17 January 2005

WARSAW – Polish Defence Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski said on Monday that contrary to a report by the British Museum, the presence of foreign troops in Babylon had saved the famous archaeological site for civilisation.

A British Museum report published at the weekend said US troops had caused “substantial damage” to the ancient city by setting up a military base amid the ruins in April 2003 after invading Iraq and toppling President Saddam Hussein.

The Americans occupied the base for five months before handing it over to a Polish-led international division, which moved out at the weekend after about 16 months there.

The British Museum report said US and Polish military vehicles had crushed 2,600-year-old pavements in the city, a cradle of civilisation and home to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Archaeological fragments were used to fill sand bags, it said.

“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, invited to visit Babylon by Iraqi antiquities experts, said he had found cracks and gaps made by people who had apparently tried to gouge out the decorated bricks forming the famous dragons of the city’s Ishtar Gate.

“Babylon is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world and the damage caused by the military camp is a further blow for the cultural heritage of Iraq,” he said.

Gravel brought in to cover large parts of the site was compacted and sometimes chemically treated, and would contaminate previously undisturbed archaeological deposits, the report added.


Szmajdzinski, challenging the museum expert, said that ”Any report on Babylon should start by saying that the Americans and the Poles saved Babylon for our civilisation, because that is the truth.”

“If it wasn’t for the Americans, Babylon would have been looted like all other museums in Iraq … and we would now be buying back Babylon artifacts on bazaars and markets,” Szmajdzinski told public radio Jedynka in an interview.

The US occupation authorities disbanded Iraq’s security forces after the invasion, opening the way to widespread looting of Iraqi museums.

Szmajdzinski said local authorities and archaeologists had been consulted over all decisions affecting ancient sites in the base at Babylon.

“Surely mistakes were made at the beginning, but nobody knows what Babylon was like before the Americans took over. Since arriving, we have carried out full documentation of the site,” Szmajdzinski said.

The Polish Culture Ministry will soon issue a 500-page report on Babylon, he added.

On Saturday, the day the Poles handed Babylon back to the Iraqi Culture Ministry, a spokesman for the Polish-led forces in Iraq said “We realised the existence of a military base there was not beneficial to that site and when an opportunity of moving to a new camp arose we decided to move.”

Once known for its splendid Hanging Gardens, Babylon was the capital of Babylonia, an advanced ancient civilisation that existed from about 1800 to 600 BC.

Major archaeological work was carried out at Babylon in the 19th and 20th centuries, and Saddam reconstructed parts of the site in an attempt to associate himself with his country’s past glories.