In Iraq, a clash of treasures past, present and future

Wed May 23, 2012 12:39pm EDT
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By Aseel Kami

BABYLON, Iraq (Reuters) - In the ancient city of Babylon, once home to the fabled Hanging Gardens, an extended oil pipeline has churned through the dirt and dug up a conundrum: which takes precedence, preserving Iraq's heritage or developing its oil wealth?

The definitive answer will probably be decades coming. But for the moment, oil appears to have the edge.

The site of ancient Mesopotamia, said by some to be the birthplace of writing, agriculture and written law, Iraq holds many keys to the history of civilization. It's a point of pride for Iraqis, but so are the riches it earns from oil.

Mariam Omran Musa, who manages the Babylon site for the State Board of Heritage and Antiquities, lobbied hard for the Babylon pipeline to be redirected, but failed and is now suing the ministry.

The oil ministry insists it worked at a painstakingly slow pace so as to protect any undiscovered treasures, and kept to the area between the outer and inner fences of the site.

It has since promised to shift the pipeline's route away from Babylon once it finds a new route, which even oil experts find hard to believe now the pipe has been laid.

"Oil and antiquities are both national wealth, but I have an opinion: when the oil is gone, we will still have antiquities," Musa told Reuters as she stood near the buried pipeline, the tracks of construction vehicles still visible.

"This is a violation against antiquities because even a heavy vehicle driving here is considered a breach, let alone extending a pipeline."   Continued...

Visitors gather in front of a replica of the Ishtar Gate of Ancient Babylon near Hilla, 100 km (62 miles) south of Baghdad April 5, 2012. REUTERS/Saad Shalash