IRAQâS archaeological riches face a dangerous new threat following the appointment of a minister from a radical Islamic party to run the department responsible for antiquities.
Within months qualified staff have been purged from their posts, archaeologists have been threatened by gunmen and some of Mesopotamiaâs ancient sites have been left open to looters. There are fears that Iraq may lose many of its Sumerian and Babylonian treasures for ever.
âWe are really worried that Iraqâs history is going to be destroyed and vandalised because of a group of lunatics,â one former member of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage told The Times. He was referring to followers of the Shia Muslim militia leader Hojatoleslam Moqtadr al-Sadr, whose movement has secured a number of Cabinet posts in government, including the Ministry of Tourism, responsible for antiquities.
Liwa Sumaysim, the new Minister of Tourism, is a dentist whose wife is a member of parliament and a relative of al-Sadr. He has been accused of squeezing out experts and appointing religious fundamentalists to key posts. He denies these allegations.
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