Baghdad, June 24 (IANS) In a desert in northern Iraq, the imposing remains of Hatra city stand forlorn in the midst of wild grass, faintly attesting to the remote glory of the Parthian Empire that flourished about 2,000 years ago.
Well-known for its high walls full of inscriptions and watch-towers dotted around the fortified city, Hatra was inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage List in 1985, the first such site in Iraq.
However, for the past decade of unrest following the 2003 US-led war, Hatra has been suffering from inadequate excavation and maintenance and few tourists have ventured into the historic site, Xinhua reported.
A country enriched in archaeological resources, Iraq has only three sites on the Unesco World Heritage List. Besides Hatra, the ancient cities of Ashur and Samarra joined the list in 2003 and 2007 respectively. Due to protection concerns, both of them were also put on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
"Hatra has been neglected by the Iraqi department of antiquities since 2003. Now the site lacks funds needed for excavations and maintenance and there are very few archaeological teams coming to work on the site," said Iraqi archaeological researcher Mohammed Subhi al-Dulaimi.
"Tourists stopped visiting the site years ago because of the insecure situation in the area, even foreign archaeological teams' safety cannot be ensured," a local security official told Xinhua.
There are also fears of attacks by the Al Qaeda, which says antiquities are prohibited in Islamic law, the official said.
Iraq is home to one of the earliest civilisations. In over 5,000 years, the country was bestowed with numerous historic treasures, which, as a result of the unrest in the past decade, have been afflicted by a cultural catastrophe.
In the chaos following the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, the Iraqi national museum was ransacked by looters.
An estimated 15,000 priceless antiquities were lost and only about half of them have been recovered so far.
The museum, which houses some of the world's most precious artifacts of ancient Mesopotamia, is still not open to the public due to slow renovation.
Chaos and fragile security have left many historic sites in the hands of looters who carried out random excavations and stole thousands of antiquities, said Huda Hussein, an Iraqi woman archaeologist.
"The links of the antiquities to their places are evidences for the civilizations that once prevailed there, so moving them will cut the links. But of course they (the looters) don't know or they don't care, and they only care about money," she said.
At least 32,000 items were estimated to have been looted from 12,000 archaeological sites across Iraq since 2003. Yet for the potentially more than 100,000 sites which are undiscovered, it is impossible to reckon the actual number of stolen artifacts.
Unesco Director-General Irina Bokova and the Iraqi authorities have now signed three agreements to ensure the long-term conservation and sustainability of the architectural heritage in Samarra.