Polish military deny damaging Babylon


Poland's Defence Ministry has denied charges that Polish troops in Iraq had damaged the site of ancient Babylon, one of the world's most famous archaeological treasures, while using it as a military base.

"Neither Polish troops, nor any other troops under Polish command, ever carried out any projects violating historical monuments or causing their devastation," Defence Ministry spokesman Colonel Piotr Pertek said on Sunday.

"Our soldiers never engaged in any efforts to strengthen the security of Camp Babylon without consulting Iraq's monument preservation authorities."

The statement followed a British Museum report alleging that US and Polish troops had caused "substantial damage" to the ancient city during their combined 21-month occupation of the site.

US military commanders set up a base in Babylon in April 2003, shortly after toppling Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and handed it over to a 2,500-strong Polish military contingent five months later.

The Polish-led force occupied the base for about 16 months until handing it over to Iraqi authorities at the weekend.

The British Museum report said US and Polish military vehicles had crushed 2,600-year-old pavements in the city, a cradle of civilisation. Archaeological fragments had been used to fill sand bags, and people had apparently tried to gouge out the decorated bricks forming the famous dragons of the Ishtar Gate.