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Raiders of the lost Iraq: A priceless cultural heritage is lost to looters

June 2003: Under the noses of the Anglo-American occupying forces, the priceless heritage of ancient Sumeria is being pillaged to order. Robert Fisk reports on the desecration of the birthplace of civilisation

Saturday 30 April 2022 21:30
<p>An armed Iraqi guard keeps an eye on a newly-discovered ancient Sumerian site in Um Alkarab</p>

An armed Iraqi guard keeps an eye on a newly-discovered ancient Sumerian site in Um Alkarab

It looks as though a B-52 has carpet-bombed the city called Mother of Scorpions. I clamber around 20ft craters and try to recognise one of the greatest cities of civilisation. But the thieves have done their work. They have broken or stolen everything. For 10 square miles, they have dug and smashed and gouged into the ancient earth, and destroyed the priceless heritage of Mesopotamia. The Sumerian palaces, the temple walls, the great pillars, oil lamps and giant pots and delicately patterned plates and dishes, all have been smashed to bits.

After three hours walking ankle-deep through the shards and fragments of dishes and handmade bricks, I found a tall, slender pot of green clay. One of our ancestors – one of my ancestors, I couldn’t help thinking – had worked on this pot more than 4,000 years ago. There was a slight indent on the bottom where his hand might have slipped, a long graceful neck up which his fingers must have passed many times, and then a thin lip at the top, sufficiently narrow that the potter must have brought his two hands so close that they might have been in prayer. It was then that I realised that the top of this beautiful thing was cracked, and only when I lifted it gently in my own hands did I realise the obscenity of the looter’s work.

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