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"Cradle of Civilization" plundered by war

Iraq's archaeological record is one of the richest in the world. Along with Egypt and the Indus Valley, southern Iraq was home to one of the earliest civilizations which emerged around 4000 BCE and was built by the Sumerians — as the Akkadians, the later inhabitants, called their predecessors.

The restored remains of the great ziggurat of ancient Ur, in southern Iraq.

The Sumerians were among the first people to build cities. By circa 3000 BCE, Sumer was divided into independent city-states. Each city had a temple dedicated to its god or goddess at its center and was ruled by royal, priestly, and political elites.

At their peak, the Sumerians commanded a formidable agricultural and trading economy, centered on the great Euphrates and Tigris rivers and surrounding irrigation systems and canals. Regular tribute, either of labor or money, was paid to the city's temples by the local farming population. This gave the city-states real stability and wealth; allowing them to thrive for over a thousand years. In fact, they were rich enough to raise professional armies and wage war on one another.

It is the archaeological remains of Sumerian cities, as well as those of subsequent civilizations, that have been systematically pillaged since 2003 as the result of our own present-day wars. In the words of UK journalist Simon Jenkins, "Under Saddam you were likely to be tortured and shot if you let someone steal an antiquity; in today's Iraq you are likely to be tortured and shot if you don't."

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