1.         Babylon (Iraq) (C 278rev)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  2019

Criteria  (iii)(vi)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/278/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved: USD 0
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/278/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

N/A

Previous monitoring missions

Two missions to Babylon for the preparation of the “Final Report on Damage Assessment in Babylon”, by the International Coordination Committee for the Safeguarding of Cultural Heritage in Iraq – Sub-Committee on Babylon (2008-2009)

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Factors identified at the time of inscription:

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/278/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2021

On 3 February 2020, the State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation of the property, an updated version of which was submitted on 28 January 2021. These reports are  available at http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/278/documents/ and cover the World Heritage properties of Hatra, Ashur (Qal’at Sherqat), Samarra Archaeological City, information about the cultural components of The Ahwar of Southern Iraq: Refuge of Biodiversity and the Relict Landscape of the Mesopotamian Cities (2021 report only), and Babylon. The reports address recommendations made at the time of the inscription of the property in 2019 (Decision 43 COM 8B.13) as follows:

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS and ICCROM

The State Party’s report indicates an awareness of the key issues, and it is recommended that the Committee note the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. There has been limited progress in relation to the World Heritage Committee’s recommendations made at the time of inscription. It is clear that the State Party faces major challenges and is committed to maintaining the OUV of its World Heritage properties, including Babylon.

At the time of inscription, the World Heritage Committee emphasized that the state of conservation of the property was very concerning and constituted an ascertained danger in the absence of a coordinated, programmed conservation approach with urgent priority interventions. This was the context in which the Committee recommended the development and finalization of a comprehensive conservation plan. While there has been some recent conservation activity, led by the SBAH and with the participation of WMF, there is no indication of the development of a comprehensive conservation plan.

The ICOMOS evaluation notes that a Management Plan was approved in September 2018, which identifies and details risks, issues and conservation challenges. However, its policies and aims are abstract and it has no structured actions or clear methodologies. In its decision, the Committee stated that it is essential that the overall principles laid out in the Plan are transferred to concrete actions on the ground.

It is recommended that the Committee reiterate its request to the State Party to submit such a comprehensive conservation plan as part of an augmented Management Plan to the World Heritage Centre for review by the Advisory Bodies prior to its adoption.

The rationale set out in the ICOMOS evaluation for the recommendation of further research on the relationships between the Neo-Babylonian capital and its wider landscape was that, while the current 100m-wide buffer zone provides an added layer of protection to the archaeological city, because of its limited extent it cannot contribute to the protection of the visual setting of the city.

In this context, it is recommended that the Committee reiterate its request to the State Party to carry out this research as the basis for consideration of further extending the buffer zone to address actual and potential future challenges in the wider setting of the archaeological city.

As part of the nomination process, the State Party had submitted a new three-dimensional boundary concept in February 2019. A number of 20th century constructions in the property have been excluded, thereby becoming islands of buffer zone, while known or potential archaeological resources below these are included within the property. Retained within the property are the reconstructed walls on archaeological remains as well as 20th century artificial landscaping interventions. At the time of inscription, the Committee emphasized that the future management of these excluded 20th century constructions within the property would be critical to the preservation of the fragile condition of integrity. It is recommended that the Committee also reiterate its request to the State Party to communicate to visitors the three-dimensional boundary concept and the explicit exclusion of 20th century additions from the property.




9. General Decision on the World Heritage properties of Iraq

Current conservation issues

The conflict in Iraq between 2014 and 2017 led to a massive humanitarian crisis and resulted in significant damage to Iraq’s cultural heritage through deliberate destruction, illegal excavation and looting, as well as collateral damage. Three of Iraq's World Heritage properties have suffered as a result of this conflict, namely Samarra Archaeological City, Ashur (Qal'at Sherqat) and Hatra. In addition, the archaeological sites of Nimrud and the Ancient City of Nineveh, which are on Iraq’s Tentative List, have also been greatly damaged through acts of deliberate destruction. In the Old City of Mosul, included in the Tentative List since August 2018, significant sites, monuments and buildings were systematically targeted, including historical and religious heritage sites such as al-Nouri Mosque and its iconic al-Hadba Minaret.

On 3 February 2020 and 28 January 2021, the State Party submitted state of conservation reports, available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/sessions/44com/documents/#state_of_conservation_reports. The reports provide an overview of the state of conservation of Samarra Archaeological City, Ashur (Qal'at Sherqat) and Hatra, and the damage inflicted as a result of the conflict, but no detailed assessment. The reports express the need for financial support to improve the state of conservation of World Heritage properties, and the wish of the State Party to work closely with the international community in this regard. The 2021 report mentions that the spread of COVID-19 has contributed to limiting conservation and management activities. The proposed construction of the Makhool Dam in Ashur (Qal’at Sherqat) has been re-activated and the State Party has requested support in preserving the property and the archaeological sites located in the dam’s basin.

The State Party reiterates its request for missions to be undertaken in order to conduct damage assessments and conservation works, and requests the support of the World Heritage Centre in the development of corrective measures for the eventual removal of the three properties from the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Activities undertaken by UNESCO

Activities undertaken by the Advisory Bodies


Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS and ICCROM

The conflict situation in Iraq has directly affected its three properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger, and some of its Tentative List sites to varying degrees. The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage during the conflict period between 2014 and 2017 is of particular concern. Owing to the security situation in several parts of the country and the very limited resources, Iraq’s other World Heritage properties and Tentative List sites have been indirectly affected. In addition, the illegal excavation and looting of archeological sites have caused extensive loss and irreversible damage – although there have been several incidents of restitution of cultural property in recent years.

Since the liberation of substantial parts of the country in 2017, Iraq has been facing the challenges of recovery while addressing the unprecedented humanitarian crisis. This is particularly evident at the Old City of Mosul, where UNESCO is currently engaged within the framework of its flagship initiative “Revive the Spirit of Mosul”.

The lack of detailed damage assessments for the three World Heritage properties that are on the List of World Heritage in Danger remains a concern, despite the more recent reported documentation work for Hatra carried out by a team of experts in February 2020, through the support of the International Alliance for the Protection of Cultural Heritage in Conflict Areas (ALIPH), as well as the submission of an additional ‘Damage Assessment Report Status Study’, available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/277/documents/. This report includes general information on the intended process for recovery and brief descriptions and photographs of damage to individual components, as well as high-level recommendations, including reiteration of the request for a mission. Detailed damage assessments are necessary to evaluate the situation and to plan for stabilization and conservation works, including repair, rehabilitation and reconstruction of important monuments, before interventions can take place. It is recommended that the Committee remind the State Party of its previous request in Decision 43 COM 7A.21, that remedial and repair works should be guided by a comprehensive conservation plan prepared in full consultation with the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies. It is also necessary to evaluate potential risks other than those specifically related to conflict, such as those concerning natural deterioration and potential flooding, and, to plan for the properties’ longer-term recovery and management. In this regard the re-activation of the proposed construction of the Makhool Dam is a major concern, giving rise to an additional potential danger to the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of Ashur (Qal’at Sherqat).

It is recommended that the Committee request the State Party to submit detailed documentation on all damage incurred at World Heritage properties, and to undertake protection and urgent stabilization work only in cases where collapse or further damage is imminent, according to the principle of minimal intervention. The required information includes systematic photographic surveys, drawings, graphics and quantitative data and identification of potential risks. Elements found at the property, and resulting from conflict-related damage, should be retrieved and gathered in a safe location. Boundaries of properties should be protected from illegal excavations and looting.

Moreover, it is recommended that the Committee remind the State Party to advise, through the World Heritage Centre, about any future plans for major restoration or new construction projects that may affect the OUV of World Heritage properties, in accordance with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines, before making any decisions that would be difficult to reverse.

The Committee should also reiterate its appeal to States Parties to cooperate in the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property coming from Iraq and to contribute towards the safeguarding of its cultural heritage.

Decision Adopted: 44 COM 7B.14

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/21/44.COM/7B,
  2. Recalling Decision 43 COM 8B.13, adopted at its 43rd session (Baku, 2019),
  3. Takes note of the progress accomplished by the State Party in continuing with some conservation activities and in the presentation of the property;
  4. Reiterates its request to the State Party to continue working on the issues noted by the Committee at the time of inscription of the property on the World Heritage List, including by:
    1. Developing and finalizing the comprehensive conservation plan for the property, and within this, addressing the various risk factors identified in the risk map provided (including through proposing concrete measures towards their effective reduction and mitigation as well as the establishment of a priority intervention scheme for the most urgent conservation measures needed),
    2. Augmenting the Management Plan to include the comprehensive conservation plan, to allow the management team to focus on priority, emergency interventions, and providing detailed implementation-oriented guidance as well as quality indicators for its successful implementation,
    3. Researching further the relationships between the Neo-Babylonian capital and its wider landscape, in particular towards the Euphrates River, and based on the outcomes of this research, considering further extending the buffer zone in order to address actual and potential future challenges, which can be identified in the wider setting of the archaeological city,
    4. Communicating to visitors the three-dimensional boundary concept and the explicit exclusion of 20th century additions from the property;
  5. Reminds the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, for evaluation by the Advisory Bodies, detailed information of any ongoing and future works at the property or its buffer zone, that may affect the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, in conformity with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines;
  6. Welcomes the willingness of the State Party to host as soon as possible a joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS Advisory mission to assist the State Party to develop a phased and costed action plan for the conservation of the property;
  7. Requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 December 2022, an updated report on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 46th session.