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July 23, 2017

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Oil and politics are ancient Babylon's new curse

BABYLON, Iraq--Nowadays it seems that Babylon just can't catch a break.

Once the center of the ancient world, it has been despoiled in modern times by Saddam Hussein's fantasies of grandeur, invading armies and village sprawl.

Now come two more setbacks for the city famous for its Hanging Gardens and Tower of Babel: Parts of its grounds have been torn up for an oil pipeline, and a diplomatic spat is hampering its bid for coveted UNESCO heritage status.

The pipeline was laid in March by Iraq's Oil Ministry, overriding outraged Iraqi archaeologists and drawing a rebuke from UNESCO, the global guardian of cultural heritage.

Then Iraq's tourism minister blocked official visits to the site by the World Monuments Fund, a New York-based group that is helping Babylon secure a World Heritage site designation after three rejections.

It's payback for an unrelated dispute with the U.S. over the fate of Iraq's Jewish archives, rescued from a waterlogged basement after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and taken to the U.S.

"I will make Babylon a desolate place of owls, filled with swamps and marshes. I will sweep the land with the broom of destruction," God warns in Isaiah 14:22-23.

Today desolation and destruction are all too evident.

Uncontrolled digging, paving and building have resulted from Saddam Hussein's heavy-handed attempt to replicate the splendor of a city dating back nearly 4,000 years.

Since his downfall foreign troops have camped in parts of Babylon's 10 square kilometers (four square miles). Growing villages are spilling onto its grounds and rising groundwater threatens the ancient mud brick ruins in the roughly 20 percent of its area that has been excavated over the past century.

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