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Cultural Property Protection
Types of Cultural Property
Approved Markings for Cultural Property
Recommendations when bedding down
Recommendations for engineering units
Iraq Cultural Property Law, 2002
The Impact of War on Iraq's Cultural Heritage

Applying the principles of cultural property protection during armed conflict requires that we: 

(1) recognize the types of cultural property that are most likely encountered
      in theater;

(2) understand the correct use of approved markings for cultural property
      to minimize the risk of damage; and

(3) follow the basic "Dos" and "Don'ts"; and

(4) follow a few simple bed-down recommendations in the event that your
      unit is required to bed-down, or take up a temporary position at, or near,
      an archaeological or cultural heritage site, or follow the recommendations
      for engineering and construction units
for those operating in these
      sensitive areas. 

Everyone serving in a region with cultural property subject to protection under The 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict should familiarize themselves with the following:

Recommendations for Units that Bed Down or Take Up Temporary Positions at, or near, an Archaeological or a Cultural Heritage Site

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1. Don't bed down, or take up temporary position, or establish a camp at a known archaeological or cultural heritage site without first consulting your OIC, or Civil Affairs officer and/or the host country's cultural ministry or state antiquities authorities who are familiar with the area and can determine whether any archaeological cultural heritage sites are in the area.

The 120 most significant archaeological and cultural heritage sites in Iraq are listed (alphabetically and by province) in the "Iraq Significant Sites" section of the Iraq Cultural Heritage Training module reserved for officers and senior staff. The officers and senior staff module is password protected.

2. If you do temporarily bed down, don't treat an archaeological or cultural heritage site as "just another piece of ground". Minimize your footprint and avoid unnecesary disturbance. All archaeological sites have been damaged to some degree by environmental conditions, human interference or neglect, and any military presence or activity at an archaeologial site that disturbs the surface any further could result in incalculable damage. The only exceptions to this "Do Not Disturb" rule are:

• situations that require demining or removal of booby traps or unexploded
   explosive ordnance;

• the presence of an imperative military necessity with no logical or feasible

Occupation or activity at an historic or religious site may not damage those sites. But this kind of activity may offend or incite the indigenous population and thus undermine the mission.

Best management practice calls for battlefield commanders and troops to operate in less sensitive areas in the immediate vicinity.


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3. Don't deliberately dig at an archaeological site. This is true even if you think you have the permission of, or the cooperation of, local or state archaeological authorities or local government officials.

Verify that your unit has the requisite permission [for example, check with an interpreter if you are working from a translated version of an original (Arabic, Dari, Egyptian, etc.) permission document].

If you do have written permission to dig, and if in the process of digging you uncover artifacts or other archaeological features,
stop digging immediately. Unearthing and removing artifacts found during the course of some other legitimate activity is a violation of the cultural property laws of Iraq and similar laws enacted by most nations (including the United States, when the artifacts and sites in question are located on federal lands).


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4. Don't dig unnecessary trenches or berms; do use HESCO barriers instead, whenever possible.

A significant life-saving and labor saving tool when properly used in the field, the HESCO barrier is a collapsible wire mesh aboveground container with a heavy-duty plastic liner. Open it up, fill it with sand or any clean fill (not surface dirt extracted from, or near, an archaeological site), and HESCO provides a protective barrier that shields personnel and equipment from enemy fire, even bombs (24 inches of barrier thickness will stop an AK47 round; 5 feet of barrier thickness will stop an RPG).

Originally designed for erosion and flood control at beaches and marshes, the "HESCO Bastion", as it is officially known, is available in various heights and sizes, including a special "bunker kit", which can be filled and set up much faster than traditional sandbags and has become a popular security device among U.S. forces in Iraq.


  5. When filling sandbags or HESCO barriers for use at an archaeological site, do use only clean fill gathered from another non-archaeological zone and don't use surface soil gathered at or near the archaeological site itself.

Even pottery fragments in surface soil can be high significant to an archaeologist or historian. State antiquities laws protect such artifacts no less than intact pieces. For this reason, never collect surface soil at, or near, an archaeological site for filling sand bags or HESCO barriers.


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6. Don't resurface or disturb the terrain, or install helipads, landing strips or non-essential roads, or drop / spread gravel or store toxic or hazardous/flammable or explosive materials or ordnance at, or in the immediate vicinity of, an archaeological site during bed-down unless an imperative military necessity exists with no logical or feasible alternative.

• Runways, landing strips and helipads damage ancient
Helicopter rotor wash generates significant wind force
   that can dislodge the surface of an archaeological site
   and/or sandblast exposed surfaces, prematurely eroding
   ancient structures. The damage resulting from accidents
   during takeoff or landing is multiplied when the accident
   occurs on or near an archaeological or cultural heritage site.

Driving or parking heavy vehicles, or storing heavy
   cargo on trailers or pallets, or parking/using earth
equipment will damage ancient structures due
   to excessive vibration and will crush artifacts or other    
   archaeological features that lie below ground.

• Dropping gravel or soil onto an archaeological site seriously
   damages, and may even destroy, the site from an
   archaeological or cultural property perspective.

• Toxic materials, petroleum based materials, flammable or
   hazardous materials or explosive ordnance should be stored
   no less than 1000 meters from the outer boundary of a
   documented or known archaeological or cultural heritage site.



7. Be observant. Not every archaeological feature is located on a map or known to archaeologists. You may discover that strategic locations today were also considered strategic locations in ancient times. Examples include promontories or any inherently defensible position or high ground with a view of the surrounding terrain. Such locations are far more likely to have archaeological evidence waiting to be discovered.

8. If a logical and feasible alternative exists, avoid making first military use of any archaeological or cultural heritage site — such as setting up snipers nests or lookouts or establishing artillery implacements or tank formations or parking aircraft or military vehicles or storing any ordnance or munitions — unless an imperative military necessity requires such usage.

The 1954 Hague Convention does permit an adversary, under pre-defined circumstances, to attack an archaeological or cultural heritage site if U.S. forces make first use of that site for military purposes. Setting up a sniper's nest or lookout atop a mosque or minaret or ziggurat, or setting up an artillery implacement, or parking aircraft, tanks or military vehicles near an historic structure or archaeological site may well constitute "first use," thus making U.S. assets and the site itself open to attack.

As noted elsewhere in this resource, if circumstances demand that you make first use of a cultural monument, religious structure or archaeological site for military purposes, do not assume that a claim of "imperative military necessity" will be invariably accepted. According to the Office of the Judge Advocate General (International and Operational Law Division, U.S. Army), there is no "general military necessity based exception" in making first use of a cultural property for offensive or defensive military purposes.* Such an exception, applied in blanket fashion, could potentially violate the 1954 Hague Convention, which has achieved the status of customary international law, and which the U.S. has signed and agreed to respect. "First use" of a cultural property for military purposes often turns that cultural property into a valid military objective, thereby increasing the odds that the cultural property will be destroyed.

* For details, see Geoffrey S. Corn, International Law Advisor at the Office of the Judge Advocate General (International and Operational Law Division, U.S. Army), "Sniper in the Minaret - What is the Rule?" in The Army Lawyer, July 2005, page 40.


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Recommendations for Engineering and Construction Units Operating
at, or near, Archaeological or Cultural Heritage Sites

Appendix K from "CENTCOM Contingency Environmental
Guidance Environmental Quality Regulation R200-2
(August, 2009)