Gone with the Fire -- Destruction of Civilization in War-tortured Iraq

Iraq was once a land of fascinating tales -- a land where the beautiful heroine Sheherazade in Arabian Nights prayed for love to return to her lover's heart and happiness to befall her people by telling endless stories to the king.

On the bank of the Tigris River facing Baghdad, the sculpture "Sheherazade and the King" now sits alone, keeping watch over the ancient city that was once the destination of pilgrims across the world.

But people observing the events of today can hardly connect the now war-tortured Iraq with the peaceful paradise of the past.

"Please be relenting enough to leave alone one of the last traces of history," prayed Gu Qiaoqiao, an associate professor of Beijing University who has devoted 30 years to the study of Arabian culture. She could not help but feel deep sorrow over the massive destruction of an ancient civilization by the bombings of the US and British coalition forces.

The historical region of Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates, which contained what is now Iraq, has nurtured the ancient civilization, she said, listing its achievements as including the world's earliest characters -- the cuneiform characters, as well as city-states, the world's first epic, the first medical book, and the first lunar calendar.

"With destroyed buildings all over Iraq, how can people imagine it used to be a nation with several hundred thousand cultural relics, including the Golden Palace in Baghdad and one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon?" Gu said.

The Golden Palace, whose construction consumed four years' hard work of 100,000 craftsmen, was burned into ashes 700 years ago, and the Hanging Gardens is now only a pile of sand, she sighed, adding that some mosques have been removed by modern wars.

Modern wars have been still more unmerciful to Iraq, she said, mentioning the Gulf War in 1991, during which a 4,500-year-old royal mausoleum in Iraq was bombed by US fighters, leaving four huge craters on the ground and 400 bullet holes in the walls.

The war also claimed 2,264 cultural relics and 20,000 precious original manuscripts of Iraq, according to Iraqi statistics quotedby Gu.

When she was in Baghdad, a paradise in her imagination, in July2001, Gu witnessed scorched human body forms, burned by US precision-guided missiles, on the walls of air-defense shelters built by the cultural relics.

"My heart was filled with bitterness," she said, lamenting the disappearance of a civilization from which the ancient Greeks learned mathematics and philosophy, the Jews learned theology, the Arabians learned architecture, and the brilliant Arabian Islamic culture came into being.

Gu ardently urged an immediate halt to the war on the site of the ancient culture, and to the spread of hatred among peoples.

"Destruction of cultural relics will cut people's connection with their history and glory, and bereave them of their aspiration for respecting and keeping alive civilization," she said.

Now the cradle of human civilization is likely to be submerged by blood, and the loss for future generations will be even more inestimable, she said.

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