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Ex-head of Iraq's board of antiquities estimates 10 years of restoration for Babylon

The integrity of the historic site did not factor into US strategy, proven by the construction of an adjacent military base

The restoration of Babylon will take a decade, according to Professor Abbas al-Husseini, former head of Iraq’s state board of antiquities, reflecting the extent of the damage caused by US forces during their occupation in 2003-4.

Professor Abbas was until August 2007 the chairman of the state board of antiquities. He now lives in Diwaniya (between Baghdad and Basra) and talked to The Art Newspaper on a trip to London last month. Professor Abbas, who visited Babylon several times last year, confirms earlier reports that the damage is mainly the result of the establishment of an American military base next to the site.

A helicopter landing pad was built close to the Ninmah temple, and the ground was treated with a petroleum product. Defensive sandbags were initially filled with earth from the area and later from elsewhere, which has contaminated the archaeological remains. Professor Abbas also says that many of the reconstructed temples have suffered from years of neglect.

“It will take ten years to restore the site,” he told us. He stressed that he was speaking as an archaeologist, not an official.

It is hoped that money for the restoration work will be raised by the New York-based World Monuments Fund (the organisation has secured $700,000 from the US State Department) which will cover part of the costs.

Although a report on the restoration of Babylon by a group of international experts was approved by a Unesco subcommittee on 25 June, it will not be published until March 2009. The report will then go to the International Coordination Committee for the Safeguarding of the Cultural Heritage of Iraq, which is due to meet in summer 2009.