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Plunderers strip Babylon palace

Babylon, April 21: American troops seized control of Saddam Hussein’s grandiose palace at Babylon on the Euphrates yesterday but archaeologists and guides said they had done nothing to stop the pillaging of one of the world’s most famous ancient cities. The cradle of civilisation has been ransacked by looters in the past two weeks.

Ahmed Al-Ibrahim, archaeologist and guide, said: “After the Americans arrived, looters moved in the same day and took everything they could.” He added that much of the loot was in a nearby village but he could not name the place out of fear that the villagers would seek revenge. Iraqi museum managers and archaeologists had moved many of the cherished heirlooms of Babylon into the vaults of Baghdad’s National Museum to protect them, only to see them looted the day US marines stormed the capital. Although outraged at the massive looting of Iraq’s heritage, guides have continued to give tours of Babylon. Al-Ibrahim said: “Saving this city is not just my patriotic duty, it is an international duty.” He led visitors through the walls of the Southern Palace where splendid mosaics of the animal god Marduk remained untouched.

Saddam imprint

At the reconstructed palace of King Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon, a cradle of civilisation and one of the jewels in Iraq’s rich archaeological crown, Saddam Hussein has also left his imprint.

Saddam’s name is inscribed in flowing script on row after row of sand-coloured bricks that are built into the walls of the palace’s imposing courtyards, arched gates, and angular towers.

“Saddam Hussein, the protector of Iraq, rebuilt civilisation and rebuilt Babylon,” proclaim hundreds and hundreds of bricks placed at eye-level for the edification of tourists. “Putting his own name on these bricks just shows Saddam is crazy. He is only interested in himself,” a local farmer, said.

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