By Army Capt. Stephen C. Short
Special to American Forces Press Service
June 30, 2009 - Soldiers with the 172nd Infantry Brigade are helping documentarians, historians and preservationists as they work to ensure that ancient Iraqi history is preserved and documented in Babil province. The brigade provides these experts transportation and security as part of their ongoing mission in support of the Babil Provincial Reconstruction Team.
The Babil team hosted the World Monuments Fund to conduct site surveys of Babylon, an ancient city near here. The surveys were conducted to determine the possibility of making the Babylon ruins a sustainable historic and tourism site while protecting the ruins.
The World Monuments Fund is a New York-based nonprofit group dedicated to preserving historic architecture and cultural heritage sites worldwide through field work, education and training. The fund is launching a project with Iraq to preserve the ancient city of Babylon, where King Nebuchadnezzar II -- whose life spanned 630-562 B.C. -- built his hanging gardens, known as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
"We are involving the local populace in the solutions to create a sustainable situation," said Jeff Allen, the project team leader. "What you don't want to do is develop something that outsiders are just going to profit from. You want something where the local populace benefits from it."
"Future tourism will be one of the tools for economic development in Iraq, and we fear that Babylon could be eaten up by unmanaged development like the paving of roads," World Monuments President Bonnie Burnham said at the beginning of the project. "The city has never been mapped, and there have been very dramatic changes to it."
Soldiers with 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 172nd Infantry Brigade, make it possible for civilians working with the team and the U.S. State Department to go to sites throughout Babil province and do their work safely.
Gwendolen Cates, an independent filmmaker, is making a documentary called "Mourning in the Garden of Eden" to illustrate Babylon's historical significance.
"I am making a documentary of the cultural heritage of Iraq and connecting the past to the present and how that relates to us," said Cates, of New York, who started the project in 2003 when she served as an embedded photojournalist with U.S. Army military intelligence in Iraq. "Iraq has a lot of diversity and many Americans do not know about Babylon and where it is. Bringing tourism back to Iraq is one of the main purposes of this project."
Samir Sumaidaie, Iraq's ambassador to the United States, said Iraqis welcome outside help in preserving their history.
"Iraqi heritage belongs to all humanity,", he said in a statement. "In the immense task of caring for its world heritage, Iraq welcomes help from and collaborations with the international preservation community."
(Army Capt. Stephen C. Short serves with the 172nd Infantry Brigade's public affairs office.)