Desecration of the cradle of civilization

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Ed. note: The looting and destruction of some of the world's most precious archaeological sites, first reported by [The Independent], have continued unabated despite a British pledge to protect them from armed gangs stealing to order for antiquities dealers.

Looters using mechanical diggers and protected by their own private armies are destroying Iraq's ancient archeological sites -- shattering priceless artefacts from the dawn of civilisation -- despite a pledge by Britain to protect them.

Leading historians say the British Government has backtracked on a promise made four years ago to prevent 5,000-year-old cities such as Umma from being turned into"lunar landscapes" by thieves.

Satellite images show that archaeological sites equivalent in size to 3,000 football pitches have been dug up and plundered by teams of Iraqi looters bussed in by antiquities dealers.

"A country's past is disappearing while we stand and watch," said Professor Roger Matthews, chairman of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq."Archaeological sites including entire ancient cities are being destroyed by illicit digging."...

Professor Elizabeth Stone, professor of anthropology at Stony Brook University, New York, has analysed satellite images of 2,000 sites in Iraq. She found looting over an area of six square miles -- ranging from small areas to entire buried ancient cities.

"In the big sites there is organised looting where people are bussed by the antiquities dealers," she said."Police who tried to sort out the looters at Umma were outgunned. The looters came with their own guards...There are major cities being totally destroyed."

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