May 16, 2009

Three in Convoy Killed Near Al-Hillah

Below is an AFP report on a May 14 attack on a convoy that sadly resulted in the loss of three persons working as USG contractors. Fortunately, several colleagues in the convoy escaped injury.

Briton, two Iraqis killed in bomb blast (AFP, May 15)

HILLA, May 15, 2009 (AFP) - A British employee of a private security firm and two Iraqi guards were killed by a roadside bomb that hit their convoy south of Baghdad, US and Iraqi officials said on Friday.

The convoy was struck just outside the city of Hilla on Thursday night, a statement from the US military said.

"The car was completely destroyed in the attack in the Nile district, north of Hilla," Lieutenant Karim Qasim of the Iraqi army said.

Neither military provided details of the convoy or the name of the company employing the guards.

Nearly 100,000 guards work for private security firms in Iraq, many of them British.

May 3, 2009

Babil Province reconstruction projects.

This is from the MNF-I website and is a project supported by our PRT.

Renovated Vocational Center Increases Job Training in Babil Province
Saturday, 02 May 2009

BABIL — Community leaders, media and Coalition representatives recently gathered here for the grand opening of the newly renovated $5.4 million Iskandariyah Vocational Technology Center.

Dr. Reyad Hassan, executive general manager of the Iraqi Ministry of Labor, officiated the grand opening with the assistance of newly-elected Babil provincial leaders.

The Vocational Center and Industrial Complex, located 25 miles south of Baghdad, was once the industrial jewel of north Babil province, boasting such facilities as the State Company for Automotive Industries (SCAI), the State Company for Mechanical Industries (SCMI) and Hateen munitions.

During April 2003 all these facilities were ransacked and torched by looters, leaving behind burned out shells of what had been home to 25,000 employees.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers oversaw the Center’s upgrade, utilizing Iraqi contractors. The three-phase project included renovating seven dorms, a classroom building, an auditorium and mechanical shop. The Iraqi crew, consisting of 200 local workers, finished the project three months ahead of schedule. Of those workers, 50 were recent graduates of the center.

When the Center’s renovations began in 2007, the school was offering a limited curriculum for an enrollment of 30 students. This year the center is expected to train and house 4,000 students in a variety of occupational specialties including hair dressing, sewing, administration, clerical, computer maintenance, masonry, electrical, carpentry, welding, computers, and auto mechanics.

“The renovation project became a reality because of the partnership between city and provincial government leaders, Coalition forces, the Babil PRT, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Iraqi construction crews, along with unwavering support from the local community,” said Col. Jack Drolet, district commander of USACE’s Gulf Region South district, at the grand opening. “The young men and women who come to this Vocational Center will learn skills, laying a foundation for future prosperity. We’re honored to be part of this effort.”

Many look to the Center’s renovation as the first step to improving the local economy. According to Pradeep Patnaik, Babil PRT’s senior economic advisor, the Center “is critical in our efforts to attract foreign investment to Babil province.”
Because the center is able to provide needed training, more than five international firms are considering manufacturing contracts with SCAI and SCMI industries, Patnaik added.

Currently SCAI is building prefabricated housing units, oil refineries, buses, construction equipment, greenhouses, and much more. “We are working with local and international businesses so that there will be enough work for everyone,” Patnaik said. (By Alicia Embrey, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

“I feel our history is coming back”

The New York Times has a good article that captures the challenges -- political and bureaucratic -- of how to handle the reopening of the Babylon Ruins. Excerpts:

After decades of dictatorship and disrepair, Iraq is celebrating its renewed sovereignty over the Babylon archaeological site — by fighting over the place, over its past and future and, of course, over its spoils.

Time long ago eroded the sun-dried bricks that shaped ancient Babylon, the city of Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar, where Daniel read the writing on the wall and Alexander the Great died.

Colonial archaeologists packed off its treasures to Europe a century ago. Saddam Hussein rebuilt the site in his own megalomaniacal image. American and Polish troops turned it into a military camp, digging trenches and filling barricades with soil peppered with fragments of a biblical-era civilization.

Now, the provincial government in Babil has seized control of much of Babylon — unlawfully, according to the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage — and opened a park beside a branch of the Euphrates River, a place that draws visitors by the busload.

April 23, 2009

The ruins of Babylon.

Babylon received USG funding to develop it for tourism, as I mentioned in an earlier post. Here’s an interesting video from MSNBC about the cradle of civilization.

March 31, 2009

Honeybees in Hillah.

This video shows what we are doing in Babil Province:

March 11, 2009

The Slain Soldier of Salah Ad-Din.

Here is a very moving email that Kenneth wrote on his way back home from Iraq this Sunday.

Wheelchairs for Babil Rehabilitation Center.

Since Kenneth has been unable to update his blog, check here for the latest information as to what has been going on in Hillah.

January 9, 2009

Babylon Gets US Funding

The Famous Lion of Babylon. It is not actually indigenous, but . . .

There are many such reliefs of dragons and lions on the ancient walls of the procession way which passed through the Ishtar Gate.

Below is the text of a Bloomberg News article by Patrick Cole, dated January 8. It concerns efforts by the State Department, working through the World Monuments Fund, to help Iraq preserve the ancient city of Babylon, located just two miles away from our PRT. We will be hosting visits in 2009 by officials from the World Monuments Fund and also from UNESCO, which is the entity that has the authority to designate a place a world heritage site. With that often comes UN funding for preservation.

All of this is important to many Iraqi officials who see toursim in the future as an important part of the areas economic development.

It is not hard, of course, to imagine how many people around the world would like to be able to visit one city and see the Tower of Babil, the ruins of Nebudchanezer's palace, including the hanging gardens, the famous procession which passed through Ishtar's Gate (now in a Berlin Museum) and other ancient venues, such as Abraham's home, and the tomb of the Prophet Ezekiel.

Babylon Is Targeted in Project of World Monuments Fund and Iraq

By Patrick Cole

Jan. 8 (Bloomberg) -- The World Monuments Fund is launching a project with Iraq to preserve the ancient city of Babylon, where King Nebuchadnezzar II (630-562 B.C.) built his hanging gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

The New York-based nonprofit group, which protects architectural and cultural sites, will work with Iraq’s State Board of Antiquities and Heritage to develop a master plan to promote conservation and tourism in the city, located about 55 miles (90 kilometers) south of Baghdad on the east bank of the Euphrates.

“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 in a phone interview. “The city has never been mapped, and there have been very dramatic changes to it.”

The U.S. Department of State has given the fund about $700,000 for the project, called “The Future of Babylon,” Holly Evarts, the fund’s spokeswoman, said in a phone interview. The organization is seeking more funding from other sources, she said.

“Iraqi heritage belongs to all humanity,” Samir Sumaida’ie, Iraq’s ambassador to the U.S., 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.”

The ancient city, founded around the 18th century B.C., has sustained damage in recent years from Saddam Hussein’s efforts to make it a tourist attraction, from looting after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and from being used as a military base during the Iraq War.

Second Initiative

The World Monuments Fund’s project marks the second initiative this decade to aid Babylon. In October 2003, the fund partnered with the Getty Conservation Institute to set up the Iraq Cultural Heritage Conservation Initiative to help preserve museums, archeological and historical sites in Iraq.

Founded in 1965, the fund has worked to preserve about 500 historical sites in some 90 countries around the world, ranging from St. Paul’s Cathedral in London to Route 66, an east-west highway in the U.S. The fund placed the nation of Iraq on its list of 100 most endangered sites in 2006 and 2008.

Others sites in Iraq targeted for restoration by the fund include the ancient region of Sumer and sites associated with the Babylonian, Assyrian and Parthian cultures.

This year the fund will begin teaching board of antiquities specialists in Iraq modern techniques of site evaluation and restoration. It also wants to develop a national database for mapping and managing thousands of cultural heritage sites in that nation.