PRESS RELEASE January 6, 2004
Hilary F. White
Archeological site protection discussed in Al-Hilla
Al Hilla, Iraq. On Monday, January 6, archaeologists, representatives from the Ministry of Culture, and Coalition Partners gathered in Al Hilla for an Archaeology Summit. They discussed the Archaeological Sites Protection Project (ASP Project), which holds responsibility for helping to safeguard more than 7,000 identified archaeological sites in Iraq.
Ambassador Mario Bondioloi Osio, the Senior Advisor to the Minister of Culture, presented slides of archaeological sites already ransacked by looters. He said, “You can see the disaster taking place. Five thousand years of Iraqi history is being lost to the looters.”
The ASP Project intends to organize all the archaeological sites, so that each site is guarded by multiple guards who have radio communications with a nearby police department. The ASP Project will first be implemented in Dhi Qar Province. Once the Dhi Qar province is functioning properly, the plan will be implemented throughout all of Iraq. Italian Cabinnari will assist in training the guards, since they have successfully protected archaeological sites in Italy.
Currently, there are 3,232 sites being watched by 1,272 guards throughout Iraq. The ASP Project changes the status of these guards to members of the Facilities Protection Service (FPS) status. This will allow them to carry weapons and detain suspected looters for up to 12 hours. Additionally, their task will change from defenders of the sites to a strong security force that works closely with the Iraqi Police, alerting the police when looters are discovered at the archaeological sites.
Dr. Mariam U’Mran, from the Babil Archaeological Office, thanked the Coalition for their efforts in providing more than 350 guards to protect 432 archaeological sites in Babil Province. “Babil Province is better off than most provinces. But my desire is that all of Iraq will benefit from this project.”
Mr. Mike Gfoeller, CPA's South Central Regional Coordinator promised $1M (1.8 Billion Iraqi Dinars) in additional funding for the ASP Project. “We can also begin a special unit within the Iraqi Police departments to track down antiquities and put a stop to the looting,” said Mr. Gfoeller.
Together, the Ministry of Culture, the Iraqi Board of Antiquities, Coalition Partners, and CPA will continue working on ways to better protect Iraq's archaeological sites. With artifacts dating to the beginning of civilization, Iraq represents a country with immense history and future potential as it continues moving toward democracy and a sovereign, free government.
* Assuming $1 equal 1,800 Iraqi Dinars.