British army to help protect Iraqi sites, museums

They’re not going to patrol the sites, but they are going to help facilitate a multi-step protection program.

Major Holloway explained: “The British Army’s role in the cultural project will be to facilitate specialists coming out from the UK to south-east Iraq, to liaise with Iraqi civil contacts, and to assist where possible with contracts for work required, underwritten with a degree of funding.”

The most urgent need is to conduct condition assessments on the major archaeological sites and to determine the extent of damage caused by looters. These places include the ancient Sumerian cities of Warka and Eridu. Satellite images show evidence of considerable illicit digging after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the remains are now badly pockmarked. The project will not involve British troops patrolling archaeological sites.

Now when they say sites are badly pockmarked by digging, they don’t mean some holes have been dug. They mean this:

That’s not the result of shelling or bombing you see there, despite the Flanders ca 1917 look of it. Looters did it all.

Hopefully the British program will turn out to be a solid foundation for long-term protection of Iraqi antiquities. Soldiers patrolling wouldn’t be more than a very short term solution, so it’s probably a good thing they’re looking to use the military to set up a civilian operation instead of making a few soldiers play watchman for the time being.