"Inside the Abandoned Babylon That Saddam Hussein Built" Discussion Thread

Welcome to the discussion thread for the story, Inside the Abandoned Babylon That Saddam Hussein Built. You can share your comments and thoughts about the story in the conversation below.

The story of Saddam’s efforts to transform the ruins of Babylon into a shrine to his ambitions is an important one. Unfortunately, the author gets most of the facts wrong here. I know, because I was there from 2003-2004. In the immediate aftermath of the 2003 Coalition invasion of Iraq, the grounds of Saddam’s former palace in Babylon became the headquarters for U.S. Marine elements there, and the tracked vehicles did indeed cause damage to the ruins. However, those Coalition forces (which included troops from 40 nations plus NATO headquarters) also prevented much of the looting of ancient historical sites, as happened in many other areas of Iraq. The Coalition also brought in archaeologists from Iraq and throughout the world to stabilize the ruins, and to preserve the original items, many of which were overbuilt by Saddam’s self-aggrandizing recreations. Babylon is much like America’s Williamsburg, Virginia: an imagined recreation built on the bones of a historic foundation.

Cant any sites be reused for B&B?? Id be awesome for a stay aside tours & re enactments?

I concur with nearly everything you posted Diogenes and I’m glad you wrote so I didn’t have to. When I read the article I was sorely tempted to comment immediately but stifled myself knowing I would stomp on a lot of blue suede shoes if I voiced my thoughts frankly. And I knew once I started I’d wind up writing a War and Peace length post that would alienate a few hundred Atlas Obscura members I’d otherwise have amicable informative dialogue with.
While trying to be as apolitical as possible I will hit some high points that have chapped my hide since I first read an account of the looting of the museum in Baghdad and I wrote a scathing newspaper article critical of the US role in the destruction of one of the most important world heritage sites on the planet. A Marine detachment was keeping the main mobs at bay until they received orders to withdraw and guard a bank which apparently took precedence over guarding the Cradle of Civilization’s irreplaceable artifacts. Semi-tractor trailers rushed in to haul off parts of the Ishtar Gate already damaged by the Marines and tons of smaller world treasures. Some of them are yet to be recovered and no doubt adorn the inner sanctums of wealthy international art collectors to be viewed only by a select and extremely limited audience today. Rumsfeld dismissed this as a trivial loss saying something to the effect of:“You see one ancient pot, you’ve seen 'em all.”
As you mentioned incredible archaeological excavations all but ceased with the US invasion. However, an archaeological team heavily guarded by the US Army discovered a tremendous library of cuneiform tablets at Nineveh and carted them off to be studied in safer locations abroad. I have yet to see a comprehensive list of translations of those tablets aside from some teasers in pop sci publications. The excavations at Anau in Turkmenistan were abruptly halted when the US decided to use Turkmenistan for an air strike base on Afghanistan. It took me nearly a decade to obtain the last report written by an international team of archaeologists before they were summarily ejected from the country. Anau was contemporary with Sumer and perhaps even a bit older. The first attempts at a systemized writing system were found there along with huge stashes of ephedra and other psychoactive plants that may have played a pivotal role in the earliest Neolithic religious cults. Another German team constructing a dam on the Euphrates for Saddam discovered a meteorite impact site that many believe played a major role in the collapse of Mediterranean civilizations including Ancient Egypt around 1500 BCE. I guess we’ll never know, at least not very soon.
In the never ending demonization of Saddam, much is made of his megalomania, brutal neo-Babylonian artworks, and belief that he was the reincarnation of Nebuchadnezzar. Patton and Mussolini both believed they were reincarnations of Ancient Romans come back to settle old scores. Among prominent world figures they were far from unique. One of the ancient Assyrian kings describes how after conquering a fortified city he stacked the inhabitants up like cord wood outside the gate and burned them alive. When word spread many other cities opened their gates without a fight when his armies loomed in sight. Thus his rep outpaced his actual accomplishments. Look at the palette of King Narmer, unifier of Upper and Lower Egypt (3200-3000BCE), depicting the Great Unifier in the act of cracking the skull of a bound captive enemy with his famous Scorpion Mace while below two wannabe resistance members beat feet for far locations. Then tell us how Saddam was such a innovator of official art. Shelley’s Ozymandias pretty well sums up the syndrome. Okay, end of rant. Guess I got Triggered like ol’ Snowflake Roy. LOL!

Sounds like this tour guide needs to worship the one true living God instead of the land he lives in.

Indeed the military during the coalition of the willing did damage to Saddam’s palace. I refer specifically to the U.S. Army because as a mailhandler for the USPS, I saw the contents of the trunks that came back from overseas. They would spill open and contained Iraqi dinar, Saddam’s cigars, cologne, booze, and other items. Other branches were involved, too, because I saw letters of commendation and dolphin wings. So the U.S. Navy must have been involved. My guess is that the stolen items were the spoils of war. Have no idea what the Marines may have done. My job was make sure the gorilla on wheels and military trunks made it to Norfolk, VA, AAFB, BAFB, and the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD.

Yes, Nineveh is in northern Iraq or so they tell me. It’s the place that the prophet Jonah did not want to go to because he knew what kind of people were there. Impalers, they were. But eventually, Jonah went there, preached, and there was a massive revival and repentance of sin, from the king on down.

I cannot say that of Saddam or his sons Uday or Qusay or the grandson.

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Do you really think you’d enjoy a restful night’s sleep and hearty breakfast in a place that’s far from “pacified”? If so, dinner and night on the town in Caracas might appeal to you.

I thought some were pacified, thus use those for tourism or other, IF not dont bother

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I’d been under the same impression a various times in the past, Stephen, but places announced to be pacified don’t tend to stay pacified. Nineveh is a good example. ISIS/ISIL or whatever its nom de jour, took over in 2010 and destroyed countless rare artifacts at museums there, that some claim were merely staging points for amassed loot bound for the international black market. Iraq’s national defense forces retook it but in 2014 the cat came back and fundamentalist Islamic iconoclasm reasserted itself resuming destruction. This ebb and flow of opposing factions is hardly unique to Iraq. As observed in other discussions here Libya, Mexico and much of Africa are subject to the same instant instabilities, and it seems to me they occur in countries that have the most fascinating sites to visit. Due to a recent trip through the desert Southwest I felt a need to return and visit Casas Grandes just below the Arizona border with Mexico. My sister and I were discussing tentative plans to do so, when I read warnings from some Mexican archaeologists currently working at Casas Grandes discouraging others from visiting there for a while due to increased political unrest in the immediate area. Even they were considering taking a brief sabbatical until things cooled down a bit. Due to the time lag and local spin, it’s next to impossible to get up to dates sit reps unless you have some onsite contacts. Even so I had one Venezuelan contact abruptly drop off the radar for a few months until he resurfaced recently explaining there had been a severe disruption in telecommunications. Many of us presumed he’d been killed along with many others in the recent conflicts there.

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So alas we cant reuse due to warring factions, Understand.

nice touch with the gentleman wearing the KBR hat. KBR is a former subsidiary of Halliburton. you know the rest…

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The Marines are part of the Navy and there is no doubt in my mind they exceeded the swabbies’ efforts in “liberating” loot. “Midnight requisitioning” was encouraged when I went through boot camp, as a necessary means of resupply that seldom came. It comes to be SOP during active service and it’s a hard habit to break when you return to the block.