British Museum trains Iraqi archaeologists to rebuild post-Daesh

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Photos shows destruction caused by the Daesh group at the archaeological site of Nimrud, some 30 kilometers south of Mosul in the Nineveh province, a few days after Iraqi forces retook the ancient city from Daesh jihadists. (AFP)
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Updated 20 February 2017

British Museum trains Iraqi archaeologists to rebuild post-Daesh

LONDON: Standing in front of two ancient Assyrian statues, eight Iraqi archaeologists discuss not only the homes some have fled, but also how to avoid explosives when they finally go back to work.
They’re in London as part of a British Museum scheme aimed at equipping Iraq with the digital and excavation skills necessary to salvage artifacts and rebuild ancient sites Daesh fighters have attempted to destroy.
Jonathan Tubb, head of the British Museum’s Iraq Emergency Heritage Management Training Scheme, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation the project began as an attempt to do something positive when nothing was possible on the ground.
“We could actually prepare people... for the day when these sites would be released again, liberated, and ensure that those people have all the necessary skills and tools to cope with the most appalling destruction,” he said.
The archaeologists each undergo three months of theoretical training at the British Museum and three more months of practical work at sites at Tello and Darband-i Rania in Iraq.
Zaid Sadallah, an archaeologist from Mosul in northern Iraq, fled his home when Daesh fighters captured the city in 2014. An employee of the Mosul Museum, he headed with his family to nearby city Erbil.
In February 2015, he watched in horror as Daesh videos were posted online showing men attacking the artifacts in the museum — some antiquities from the 7th century BC — using sledgehammers and drills.
“We have destruction all over the city. They killed more people and damaged more antiquities,” said Sadallah, in London for training. “(Now) we want to rebuild the city, remake Mosul.”
The archaeologists are being taught to spot booby traps while excavating, as well as learning digital techniques like geophysical surveys, remote sensing, and how to use a multi-station — equipment that helps with mapping and measurements.
So far, Tubb said evaluations had started only in the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, a 3,000-year-old site on the banks of the Tigris River which Daesh fighters bulldozed and looted in early 2015.
The site was recaptured in November 2016, shortly after the on-going offensive to retake Mosul began. Local archaeologists who returned found shattered stone carvings littered across the ground and bombs planted in the road leading to the site.
“We’re constantly in touch with them now... That process of assessment is now in hand and they’re discovering all the horrors,” Tubb said.
As each new site is recaptured by the Iraqi army, Tubb said the first step should be to photograph everything that’s left behind. “Look at every fragment you can find. Record it and number it before you take it away,” he said.
“What we’re hoping is that all the bits are there.”
The importance of rebuilding these sites in the cradle of Mesopotamian civilization cannot be overestimated, Tubb said.
“People in Iraq identify so much with their ancient past that if you obliterate that and try to eradicate it then you’re effectively wiping out their identity,” he said.
The training scheme is funded by the British government, which is giving 2.9 million pounds ($3.62 million) over five years.

New evidence of Qatar’s $1 billion ransom that funds terror

In this April 21, 2017 file photo, the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Al-Thani, second left in front row, welcomes released kidnapped members of Qatar’s ruling family at the Doha airport, Qatar. (AP)
Updated 25 min 13 sec ago

New evidence of Qatar’s $1 billion ransom that funds terror

  • 28 Qataris were taken hostage on Dec 16, 2015, while hunting with falcons in southern Iraq, having ignored all warnings about not traveling to the area
  • Qatar paid the biggest ransom in history: $1 billion plus $125 million in “side payments” to terrorist groups such as the Al-Nusra and Kataib Hezbollah

LONDON: Damning new evidence has emerged to suggest that a $1 billion ransom paid by Qatar for the release of 28 Qataris kidnapped in Iraq has been used to fund terror. 

Text messages and voicemails obtained by the BBC reveal communications between Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, Qatar’s newly appointed foreign minister, and Zayed Al-Khayareen, its ambassador to Iraq, as talks to release the hostages dragged on for 16 months. 

In the end Qatar paid the biggest ransom in history: $1 billion plus $125 million in “side payments,” all paid to groups such as Al Nusra Front, the Al-Qaeda affiliate now known as Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, and the Iran-backed Iraqi Shiite paramilitary group Kataib Hezbollah. 

The ransom payment was a key factor in driving the Anti-Terror Quartet — Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt — to close borders and sever diplomatic ties with Qatar.

The 28 Qataris were taken hostage on Dec 16, 2015, while hunting with falcons in southern Iraq, having ignored all warnings about not traveling to the area. The party included members of the ruling family.

The kidnappers were identified as members of Kataib Hezbollah but nothing was heard from them until three months later, when they offered to release three hostages in return for “a gesture of goodwill”  — money. 

Ambassador Al-Khayareen wrote in a text to the foreign minister: “This is a good sign for us, which indicates that they are in a hurry and want to end everything soon.”

As the months passed, however, the kidnappers kept upping their demands. As well as money they wanted Qatar to leave the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen, and demanded the release of Iranian soldiers held in Syria.

One Kataib Hezbollah negotiator, Abu Mohammed, wanted $10 million for himself. “All of them are thieves,” the ambassador wrote to the minister.

Two Iraqi mediators recruited by the ambassador asked in advance for $150,000 in cash and five Rolex watches when they visited Sheikh Mohammed. Who the “gifts” were for was not clear. Qatari officials admit the texts and voicemails are genuine but say they have been edited in a misleading fashion.