Seeking to Preserve the Past, but Stumbling on the Present in Iraq





MOSUL, Iraq — On land where Assyrian kings once reigned, an Iraqi farmer named Araf Khalaf surveyed the scrap of earth that has nurtured three generations of his family. It is little more than a mud hut and a scraggly vegetable patch, yet his land has become a battleground, one pitting efforts to preserve Iraq’s ancient treasures against the nation’s modern-day poor....

It is a familiar issue for other nations with troves of unrecovered antiquities, like Egypt. And to Iraqi authorities, the residents are nothing more than illegal squatters who need to be moved. Officials say they pose the latest threat to an archaeological patrimony that has been plundered by looters, pummeled by decades of war and disfigured by Saddam Hussein’s egotistical additions and renovations. They want to relocate the families and seal off the areas, much as Kurdish officials in northern Iraq did to clear away squatters from an ancient citadel overlooking the city of Erbil.

But so far, officials in Baghdad and other provinces have done almost nothing. Local politicians and archaeologists say they have no control over land designated as part of Iraq’s national heritage. Members of the national antiquities board say they do not have the resources to protect the sites. And Iraqi security officers say it is not their job to evict people....



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