The Baghdad Museum Project

Archaeological Issues Could Impact Construction
By John Simmons

WASHINGTON, DC -- Added to the myriad issues facing companies involved in the rebuilding of Iraq -- political, logistical, security -- is another area of growing concern: the impact of reconstruction on the cultural property of Iraq.

At a recent forum at the Smithsonian Institution, the newly-appointed Director of the Iraq National Museum, Dr. Donny George Youkhanna, identified two airport construction projects that have destroyed archaeological sites. He is afraid this will become commonplace unless companies are required to work closely with the existing archaeological infrastructure, giving the State Board of Antiquities enough time to organize salvage digs to rescue endangered sites. There are an estimated 10,000 registered archaeological sites in Iraq.

Responding to these concerns, Maria Kouroupas of the Cultural Property Office of the U.S. Department of State says that USAID requires impact studies as part of its reconstruction contracts. The agency's RFP No. M/OP-04-004 Iraq Infrastructure Reconstruction Phase II, issued earlier this month, contains a special contract requirement on the preservation of historical, archaeological and cultural resources. The language reads in part, "Contractor and its subcontractors shall immediately stop work in any work area where cultural resources or artifacts with archaeological or historical value are discovered and immediately notify USAID. The Contractor/subcontractors shall not disturb or take any artifacts, items, or materials from the area of discovery."

Dr. John Russell, Professor of Art History and Archaeology at the Massachusetts College of Art, has been appointed to work with the Coalition Provisional Authority in monitoring the archaeological impact of construction projects.

In what might help facilitate this goal, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it is putting together a comprehensive GIS on Iraq. Michael Mele, USACE Iraq Program Manager, said that the unclassified version of this system would be made available to reconstruction companies. A separate GIS that can be continually updated by the archaeological community will be linked with the USACE GIS -- a system that will contain up-to-date reconstruction data.

The system will use ArcIMS, software that will make data and interactive maps accessible over the Internet. The Institute for the Visualization of History has developed a system to merge high-resolution aerial imagery with 3D visualizations of sites as they existed thousands of years ago. Delivered over the Net, these displays would help archaeologists in the field determine the location of high priority artifacts.

For reconstruction companies, the program would hopefully minimize construction delays.

John Simmons is Chairman of the Baghdad Museum Project.

Color photos in conference announcements by Max Hirmer.
Courtesy The Oriental Institute of The University of Chicago.
©1962 by Hirmer Verlag, Munich.

NOTE: This article appears in the current issue of the IRAQ RECONSTRUCTION REPORT, published by WorldTrade Executive in association with Dow Jones Newsletters. You are invited to request a copy of the full report at today.

Your comments on this topic are most welcome. They may be submitted online at or to directly. Comments will be included in a special report on Culture and Reconstruction in Iraq for the REBUILDING IRAQ CONFERENCE, December 3-4, 2003, in Washington, DC.

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"Societies and buildings are living things..."

After watching all the events immediately after the war, I felt the world needed to know that their cultural heritage began there in Mesopotamia and that that culture was universal and belonged to every one of us living today. It is very good to see the growth of awareness and the sympathetic point of view beginning to make its way in our society.

One of the main concerns I have is that societies and buildings are living things and after 12 or more years of lack of support, neglect and pure war, the Iraqi culture has disintegrated to a point where there has been major damage. We need to work hand in hand from all angles to revive the cultural qualities and beauty of that society. I am fortunate that I can work as a professional architect with such awareness to make sure that we preserve and restore the local character and let people feel that we are there working for them and that they can trust us.

The National Iraqi Museum has a special place in my memory as I spent countless hours during my schooling in Baghdad University drawing some of the ancient walls and artifacts for my class work. I loved that building as I always felt there was connection between its displays and my existence as a human being.

I will be honored to join all of you who are working on the restoration of that part of Iraq. I will continue on my end to design and help rebuild the country by building new and innovative buildings to make room for the local population to experience life and happiness. The main thought here is that we all benefit and money is not the only mode of reward, but something more substantial. It is the inner satisfaction of being a loving and caring architect, doctor, or any thing that we are trained to be.

Again, in talking to you, I think that I am building onto a potential relationship that can join various cultural, religious and economic backgrounds into a movement that unites us all.

With my best regards!

Dr. Hisham N Ashkouri, AIA

Dr. Ashkouri graduated with honors in 1970 with a Bachelor of Architecture Degree from the University of Baghdad and continued his studies at the University of Pennsylvania under the late Louis I. Kahn in 1973, Harvard University, M.I.T. and Tufts University. In Iraq, he won the design competitions for the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Oil and Minerals, and the College of Agriculture. He also led the effort to design the master plan for the expansion of the University of Baghdad. In addition to his many international projects, he is currently heading the Abbasid Preservation Project in Baghdad.

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Question and Answer: On Education

"Faith and reason are not incompatible."

Question: Can there be an Islamic liberal arts education, and how might it impact the reconstruction landscape of Iraq?

Answer: All the West is indebted to Arab and Islamic culture for preserving the core Greek texts of the liberal arts when, here, they had fallen more or less out of memory. And not only preserve them, but add to them, comment on them, re-understand them. So there has been, historically, "Islamic Liberal Arts" of the highest quality and seriousness.

Moreover, the easy answer to your question is "Of course there can be an Islamic liberal arts, just as there can be the liberal arts in the Catholic tradition -- vid., Georgetown, Boston College, etc., etc., as well as all the great liberal arts colleges founded by very sincere and devout Protestants."

But that answer skirts the question a bit. Note that both religion and the liberal arts seek the same thing -- knowledge of the truth about the most important things. But the liberal arts approach this end though reason and reflection and religions through teachings, faith, authority, etc. Both are compatible IF the liberal arts allow religion to make its case without dismissiveness (which we see far too often) and IF religion holds to the belief that the truth can be found through reason and reflection and not simply through its own ways. That is, that faith and reason are not incompatible.

This is, I know, a hard thing for many of the devout to buy. I have found this especially difficult for the most fundamental of evangelical sects in this country to appreciate. And unless there is at least the faith that the truths of knowledge will not contradict the truths of faith, then the liberal arts in a religious context are in trouble.

Dr. John Agresto
Senior Adviser
Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research

John Agresto, former president of St. John's College, Santa Fe, NM, also held several senior posts, including deputy chairman, at the National Endowment for the Humanities under President Ronald Reagan. He has a Ph.D. in government from Cornell University and has written several political-science books. He is currently president of John Agresto and Associates, an educational consulting firm.

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