US, Iraq Renovating Looted Baghdad Amusement Park

BAGHDAD (AP) - American and Iraqi officials began the renovation
of a popular amusement park Monday on an island north of Baghdad
that was looted after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

The 150-acre (60-hectare) Tigris River complex, which was based
on a design by Frank Lloyd Wright, was a popular site for weddings
and other celebrations. It was devastated by looting after the
invasion.

It was built by two Finnish companies in the early 1980s and has
a manmade lake.

Iraqis flocked to the vast park on weekends holidays, enjoying
an amphitheater, an outdoor cinema, a swimming pool, a 165-foot
(50-meter) observation tower and even a bowling alley.

Iraqis paid only a symbolic sum of about 250 dinars (10 cents)
to enter.

But all that ended with the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion and the
subsequent violence that made it to hard to reach the island, which
was surrounded by former insurgent strongholds.

"U.S. troops were based near the island and had the area
blocked off," said Abdul-Zahra al-Talaqani, a spokesman for Iraq's
ministry of tourism and antiquities. "Moreover it was very hard to
reach the island because it was surrounded by volatile areas."

He said the Americans were contributing to fixing the
electricity and water pumps, and Iraqi workers were removing
garbage and cleaning the lake as part of the first phase.

Iraqi officials are hoping to restore the area to its previous
status as part of a push to restore a sense of normalcy amid
security gains. The effort also reflects a U.S. focus on civil
affairs projects before next week's deadline for combat troops to
withdraw from cities.

Iraqis still face bombings, shootings and other attacks on a
daily basis, but a U.S. troop buildup in 2007, a Shiite militia
cease-fire and a Sunni revolt against al-Qaida in Iraq have caused
a sharp drop in violence over the past two years.

The Iraqi minister in charge of tourism, Qahtan al-Jubouri, said
at a groundbreaking ceremony on Monday that he hoped the project
would be completed by the end of the year.

"This island was and God willing will be again one of the big
and important amusement parks in the capital Baghdad," he said.


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