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World Monument Fund Names All of Iraq as an Endangered Cultural Site


Mufeed Muhammad Jawad Al Jazairee holds the "Warka Mask," a 3100 BC Sumerian artifact which was looted from the Iraq national Museum in the final days of Saddam Hussein's regime (later returned by police)
For the first time ever, the World Monument Fund has named an entire country, Iraq, to its watch list of the world's most endangered architectural and cultural sites.

The preservation group says every significant cultural site in Iraq is at risk today and there are no ways to effectively mobilize protection. As a result, World Monument Fund president Bonnie Burnham says the group decided that listing the entire nation seemed a reasonable response.

"It represents a range of sites and situations that we are concerned about today,” she said. “Looting at the archeological sites around the country, direct conflict as with the minaret of Samara that was bombed because of snipers using the site, recovery from years of isolation and jeopardy for the monuments and sites such as Babylon, which has also been occupied recently by military forces and looting of the monumental remains at Nineveh, the great Assyrian capital."

Iraq's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Feisal Amin al-Istrabadi, says Iraqis take the issue of cultural heritage seriously.

"We have been subject to decades of mismanagement and wars and repeated instances of looting,” he noted. “So the efforts of organizations such as the World Monument Fund are imperative to us to preserve not only our heritage, but truly the heritage of the world."

Many of the sites listed on the 2006 watch list encompass entire areas instead of particular structures, including Egypt's Valley of the Kings, the historic town of Massawa in Eritrea, a terraced town on the banks of the Yellow River in China, and the historic center of Mexico City. Ms. Burhham says the 2006 list also includes the oldest mosque in Afghanistan and traditional houses on stilts in Indonesia that survived the tsunami in spite of being located close to the earthquake epicenter.

"We hope that the fact that these buildings came through the earthquake will help to encourage the local community to take a greater interest in replicating and preserving these buildings," she added.

The 2006 Watch List also puts an uncommon emphasis on preserving 20th century structures that Ms. Burnham says deserve better recognition. Included are a controversial museum in New York designed by the architect Edward Durrell Stone and the studio and home of Russian architect Constantine Melnikov.

"With the escalating real estate values in Moscow and the lack of regard by the city administration even to protect some of the city's older monuments, there has been a great deal of destruction of what we consider to be primary architectural sites," he said.

The World Monument Fund was set up in 1965 in response to floods that threatened Venice, Italy. The group began its Watch List, which it issues every other year ago, 10 years ago to call attention to architectural and cultural sites in peril and help attract financial and technical support.