US security measures threaten Samarra’s heritage

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American counter-insurgency measures in Samarra in western Iraq have, once again, led to concerns over possible damage to the rich archaeological heritage of the city. On 19 September, the news agency UPI reported that the American battalion stationed in Samarra had begun the construction of a berm or temporary embankment around the city, setting up checkpoints on all the roads to control access. According to Major John Holcomb, the intelligence officer for the First Brigade Combat Team of the Third Division, this has reduced attacks on coalition troops by one third since August. However, concerns about the effect of the berm on some of the city’s most important archaeological sites have been raised by Alastair Northedge, the Professor of Islamic art and archaeology at the Sorbonne in Paris.

He says that the Inspector of Antiquities at Samarra has confirmed that the berm, created by bulldozing earth into a giant embankment, is complete on the north and east sides of the city, crossing the archaeological area somewhere north of the palace of Sur Isa.

Although he says that it has become increasingly difficult to get accurate reports on the situation in Samarra, Professor Northedge has calculated that, while it may not yet encircle the entire city, the section of berm constructed so far must cut through the Cloverleaf Racecourse, “a unique monument, of which there is no like in the world”, one of three horse-racing courses established in the ninth-century caliphal capital.

He estimates that, depending on its path, the berm has almost certainly cut across the sites of at least two ninth-century palaces, and possibly also a Chalcolithic cemetery.

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Vernon Clayson - 11/17/2005

Speaking of heritage, many of us thought the Twin Towers would be there for many years longer than they were. The sites in Samarra could exist undefiled for another 8 or 900 years if the populace merely acted cicilized.