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Iraq Architects Warn of Neglected Heritage Sites

BAGHDAD (AFP) -- Iraqi architects and historians have decried official neglect of historical buildings nationwide, many of which have fallen into disrepair and disuse, and called for greater attention to be paid to them.

"For many years, we have talked about the importance of maintaining historical centres and buildings spread across Iraqi cities ... but unfortunately, the government did not respond to these calls," Iraqi architect Hisham al-Medfai said at a conference of local historians and architects over the weekend.

"Architectural heritage in urban centres now requires an important step to maintain it," Medfai said.

He pointed out that only 200 old houses remain in the eastern half of Baghdad, after hundreds were replaced by new shopping centres, which Medfai described as a big loss and a result of the absence of planning.

Medfai called for the government to invest in preserving heritage buildings.

"There are historical centres and a huge heritage culture that Baghdad inherited, and they are now 1,250 years old," said Iraqi historian Salim al-Alusi.

"And there are historical centres belonging to the pre-Islamic period, especially in Agerguf (west Baghdad), but there is no interest in maintaining them," he said.

"The best period Baghdad passed through was during the monarchy, but there are no institutions for keeping the heritage like officials did in that era," Alusi continued.

During the rule of now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein, Iraq enforced laws protecting historical sites.

But since the 2003 US-led invasion that overthrew his regime, such laws have seen lax enforcement and the government has prioritised reconstruction of the war-battered country over preservation of heritage buildings.

More recently, however, Baghdad's local authority has begun prohibiting locals from renovating their houses or buildings if they are classed as historical sites.

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