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Iraq using sacred sites to protect its military

Australian military chiefs accused Iraq on Wednesday of using sacred historical and religious sites to shield its army and military vehicles from attack.

india Updated: Apr 02, 2003 10:58 IST

Australian military chiefs accused Iraq on Wednesday of using sacred historical and religious sites to shield its army and military vehicles from attack.

Defence spokesman Brigadier Mike Hannan cited the example of Ctesiphon, an important third century site on the Tigris River about 35 kilometres (22 miles) south of the besieged capital Baghdad, which he said the Iraqi military had used to shelter its vehicles.

Ctesiphon, founded by the Parthians, was the capital of the Parthian and the Sassanid empires, sacked by the Muslims in 637.

But Hannan said coalition forces had pulled back from attacking the site because of its historical significance.

He released aerial photographs showing lines of Iraqi military vehicles between a museum complex and an ancient Ctesiphon arch clearly designated by a blue and white sign as being important cultural sites under the 1954 Hague Convestion.

The United States, Britain, Australia and Iraq are all signatories to the convention, which aims to protect important cultural sites in wartime.

Iraq has many sites considered sacred or historically significant under Judeo-Christian and Islamic religious traditions.

Hannan said Iraq was using antiquities in the same way that it used human shields and civilian centres like hospitals to inhibit coalition attacks.

He said the Ctesiphon arch was so fragile that the after-shock from a surgical strike on the vehicles could bring it down, but the coalition had not attacked it and the vehicles had since moved on.

"In past wars significant cultural sites have been destroyed and lost forever through military actions," Hannan said.

"The cultural heritage of Iraq is important to the whole world ... and it's incumbent on Australian forces to protect that heritage.

"This task is made more difficult when Iraqis use important and protected sites to protect military targets."

First Published: Apr 02, 2003 10:58 IST