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In an act of at least partial contrition, an officer in charge of the US military occupation of Babylon in 2003 and 2004 has offered to make a formal apology for the destruction his troops wrought on the ancient site.
Colonel John Coleman, former chief of staff for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq, said yesterday that if the head of the Iraqi antiquities board wanted an apology, "if it makes him feel good, we can certainly give him one".
For more than a millennium, Babylon was one of the great cities of antiquity. It reached its greatest glory in the early 6th century BC, as the capital of Nebuchadnezzar II, builder of the celebrated Hanging Gardens.
Babylon declined and fell into ruin after it was conquered by the Persians under Cyrus the Great in around 538BC. But no devastation seems to have matched that inflicted by US troops and their Polish allies after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
Archaeological Cost of Invasion:
- US Marines from the First Expeditionary Force first set up camp in Babylon in April 2003
- Soldiers filled protective sandbags with sand containing ancient artefacts
- 2,600-year-old pavements were crushed by heavy military vehicles
- Landing helicopters caused structural damage to some of the city's ancient buildings and sandblasted fragile bricks in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar
- Archaeologists say gravel brought in to build car parks and helipads has contaminated key sites
- US troops have also been accused of causing damage to the 5,000-year-old city of Kish by the Iraqi Ministry for Tourism and Antiquities