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Sunday, January 16, 2005

Poland says multinational force did not damage ancient Iraqi city of Babylon

By Monika Scislowska, Associated Press, 1/16/2005 15:32

WARSAW, Poland (AP) Polish troops used no tanks or other tracked vehicles in the ancient city of Babylon, but the presence of foreign troops had a ''negative influence'' on the site, a spokesman for the Polish-led force in Iraq said Sunday.

Lt. Col. Artur Domanski's comments came after a British Museum report said U.S.-led troops using Babylon as a base have damaged and contaminated artifacts dating back thousands of years in one of the world's most important archaeological sites.

A Polish-led force moved out of Babylon last month in response to a request by Iraq's culture minister and handed the site to Iraqis.

''A military presence, by its nature, must have had a negative influence on the site,'' Domanski said in a telephone interview from Iraq. ''We have pictures showing that some element is missing, or has been dug out, or moved.''

Domanski stopped short of saying the soldiers had caused damage.

He said a Polish report documented the situation as of mid-December and did not give the time when ''changes'' to the site took place.

Domanski refused to assign blame, saying ''we do not point our finger at anyone'' in the unpublished Polish report, which has been given to the Iraqis. Iraqi officials were consulted on all work done in the camp and ''any work was immediately stopped if they requested it,'' Domanski said.

The officer stressed that the Polish-led force, accompanied by three archaeologists, took care to preserve the site and protect it from looters while based there between September 2003 and Dec. 20.

Polish troops used no tanks or other tracked vehicles in Babylon, Domanski said.

The British Museum said forces from the U.S.-led coalition crushed part of the ancient Iraqi city's 2,600-year-old brick paved street with their tanks and used soil containing archaeological fragments to fill sand bags.

Dragons on the famous Ishtar Gate were marred by cracks and gaps where someone tried to remove them, the British report said.

Trenches were dug into ancient deposits and archaeological fragments were scattered across the site, including broken bricks stamped by King Nebuchadnezzar, said report author John Curtis, curator of the museum's Near East department.

Polish Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Piotr Pertek insisted in earlier comments to the PAP news agency that no soldier in the multinational force ''performed any tasks that would ruin the monuments, cause devastation or any other harm.''

Domanski said the force did good things for Babylon, installing a camera monitoring system, cleaning soil contaminated by fuel and equipping Iraqi guards for the site.

''Future generations visiting Babylon will assess what would have been worse,'' Domanski said.

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