September 10, 2009 / 5:07 PM / 10 years ago

REFILE-Iraq cries for help to restore ancient sites

* Iraq needs help to save Babylon, other treasures

* Restoring sites to cost millions of dollars

(Refiles to fix typo in al-Jubouri, paragraph 6)

By Aseel Kami

BAGHDAD, Sept 10 (Reuters) - Iraq appealed to other nations on Thursday to help save its archaeological treasures from ruin, saying ancient Babylonian and Assyrian artifacts and priceless medieval Islamic monuments were at risk without more funds.

Iraq, which the ancient Greeks called Mesopotamia or ‘land between two rivers’ because of its Tigris and Euphrates, is regarded by archaeologists as the cradle of civilisation.

Many believe it gave birth to such milestones of human development as agriculture, codified law and the wheel.

But historic sites have been woefully neglected and damaged by decades of war, sanctions and looting. Iraqi officials say they need to spend millions of dollars to reverse the damage.

Iraqi officials are hoping a sharp improvement in security will draw Western tourists to ancient sites like the biblical city of Babylon, home to King Nebuchadnezzar’s Hanging Gardens.

"International support is badly needed to complete works of maintenance, rehabilitation and training," said Qahtan al-Jubouri, Iraq’s Minister of Tourism and Antiquities.

High on the list is the national museum in Baghdad, once a trove of ancient artefacts which was plundered after the 2003 invasion while U.S. troops stood by.

Around 6,000 items out of the approximately 15,000 which were stolen when order collapsed after the fall of Saddam Hussein were back on display in February.

Officials from Greece, Egypt and Italy, each of which have much experience managing their own antiquities, attended a meeting in Baghdad to launch Iraq’s appeal for help.

There has already been some international assistance. Italy rehabilitated two museum exhibition halls from the Assyrian and Islamic periods.

The United States has donated cash to the museum and to help restore Babylon, which was looted, rebuilt by Saddam in a cavalier fashion and used as military base since 2003.

The head of Iraq’s tourism and antiquities board, Qais Hussein, said target sites included the al-Hadba minaret and ancient city of Namroud in Mosul, the medieval Islamic city of Samarra and an historic minaret in western Anbar province.

He estimated each site would cost almost a million dollars. (Editing by Tim Cocks and Sonya Hepinstall)

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