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18 September 2014
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The Lost Palaces of Iraq

By Dan Cruickshank
A desecrated cemetery

On the edge of Mosul stands a cemetery that contains the bodies of soldiers - Christians, Muslims and Sikhs - of the British army, killed mostly during World War One in a series of battles fought with the Turks. My Iraqi minders discouraged me from visiting the cemetery. They were right to. What I saw shocked me. It also shocked them. The cemetery had been ruthlessly desecrated. Each headstone uprooted and smashed - with their fragments used to build a hermit's hut in one corner of the cemetery compound - and the lawns reduced to beaten and bare earth.

'My Iraqi minders discouraged me from visiting the cemetery.'

Exactly when this happened is not clear, although the cemetery is recorded as being in reasonable order in 1989 and it seems likely that this orgy of vandalism took place soon after the Gulf War of 1991. This extraordinary and shocking attack on the dead - an act especially repugnant to Muslims, who traditionally show great respect for burial sites - is likely to be an expression of the intensity of the rage that some Iraqis felt in 1991, when British armed forces participated in the attack on their country. It must be assumed that such terrifying passions will be unleashed once more, if Anglo-American forces invade Iraq again.

Published: 2003-02-16

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