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Iraq Setting Up Special Forces To Guard Historical Sites

BAGHDAD -- The Iraqi Interior Ministry is creating a special force to guard archaeological and historical sites, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.

Tourism and Antiquities Ministry spokesman Abdul-Zahra al-Talaqani told RFI that the ministry has 1,400 guards deployed at thousands of archaeological sites, a number he says is extremely inadequate.

He added that the Interior Ministry has decided to help provide more effective protection.

Al-Talaqani said improved security in the country has enabled Iraq to divert assets to guarding historical sites, yet the current forces available are still insufficient.

Scholar Rasha Omran told RFI that no force will be large enough to secure all archaeological sites "because Iraq is simply one big museum" with some 12,000 archaeological and historical sites.

She said international cooperation is imperative to make it difficult to trade in stolen artifacts. Public awareness must also be raised, she said, so that people will help protect their heritage.