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Introducing Iraq

The Ziggurat of Ur © hardnfast

*Warning: Ongoing violence persists in Iraq. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against all but essential travel to the country.

Iraq remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world. When the smoke does eventually clear from this war-torn nation though, it might (depending on what survives the aftermath of ongoing conflict) have many a wonder to reveal.

Iraq is a veritable gold mine of archaeological wealth. It was once the home of Ancient Mesopotamia, the capital of which, Babylon, was situated on the modern site of Al-Hillah on the east of the Euphrates River. The ruins of this ancient city, where the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon once existed, were treated as sacred palaces by Saddam Hussein during his reign and today are host to coalition forces and their often tasteless graffiti. In Baghdad, the remains of the Ishtar temple, the Ancient Theatre and the Babylon Tower (all precious Mesopotamian sites) are slowly being eroded by bombing and fighting in the city, much to the chagrin of archaeologists the world over.

The capital of Baghdad was a learning centre and focal point of the Middle East silk trade. The history of the three Mesopotamian civilisations that conquered the land; the Assyrians, the Babylonians and the Achaemenids is captured in the Baghdad Museum, which suffered some looting at the onset of the 2003 invasion but is now under the protection of the US military. To the south of Baghdad, near Nasiriyah, is one of the few landmarks left untouched by the invasion so far, the Great Ziggurat of Ur. Built over 4,000 years ago as a platform onto which the gods could descend from the heavens, the strange stone temple is built on a trapezoid base and overlooks the ancient tombs of long gone Mesopotamian leaders.

Currently the only way to travel with a modicum of safety in Iraq is with an armoured army convoy. Again, it is emphatically advised that you don't travel there at all.

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