The construction of a large police barracks close to the Great Mosque of Samarra and its famed spiral minaret is imperiling another of Iraq's precious historical sites, UNESCO and senior archeologists have warned.
Work on the building and a training center for 1,500 Iraqi policemen is continuing in Samarra, north of Baghdad, despite the addition this summer of the ninth-century remains of the capital of the Abbasid dynasty to UNESCO's list of endangered world heritage sites.
There are fears that the police compound will prove an irresistible target for insurgents and that the construction and operation of the barracks will damage the Samarra Archeological City, one of the country's largest and most valuable historical areas, the Art Newspaper reported in its current issue.
UNESCO officials said the dire security situation in Samarra had prevented them from taking any measures to protect the site. Neither UNESCO's office for Iraq, which is based in Amman, Jordan, nor Iraq's board of state antiquities and heritage, had been consulted about the location of the new barracks.
There were similar protests after reports of damage to ancient sites by US forces in Babylon and Nineveh and international experts say the future looks bleak for Iraq's ancient heritage. Conservation projects in Iraq have stalled and many archeologists have left the country.
Samarra's department of antiquities was looted and burned in May.
Nearly 50,000 packs of playing cards meant to help US troops avoid unnecessary damage to ancient sites and curb the illegal trade of stolen artifacts are to be shipped to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as training sites in the US. Each card displays an artifact or site and gives a tip on how to avoid damaging historic treasures.