Iraq's ancient city of Babylon, home of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, is being damaged by foreign forces, according to Iraq's culture minister.
Heavy equipment, helicopters and other machinery used by Polish-led forces based at Babylon are causing irreparable harm, Mofeed al-Jazaeri said, adding that the forces should leave the area as soon as possible.
"Just their presence, with their heavy equipment, is harmful in and of itself," the minister said, adding that helicopters landing and taking off were a particular problem.
"We don't know how much damage the military presence has done because our experts are not permitted to enter the site.
"But we have received information that damage has been done to several archaeological sites," he said, mentioning the temples of Nenma and Naboo, and the famed palace of Nebuchadnezzar.
Babylon was the capital of ancient Babylonia, an early civilisation that existed from around 1800 BC until 600 BC.
The site, 100 kilometres south of Baghdad, is most famous for the hanging gardens built by Nebuchadnezzar. Large parts of it were reconstructed by Saddam Husssein in an attempt to associate himself with his country's former glories.
Describing anecdotal accounts of the damage, Jazaeri said ancient roofs and walls had collapsed and buildings had decayed.
He also said that workers employed by U.S. contracting firm Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) had been digging and building in the area around Babylon, causing further damage. Jazaeri said he didn't know what the digging was for.
Polish commanders and representatives of KBR were not immediately available for comment.
Iraqi officials raised the issue of damage to Babylon in June with the former U.S. governor in Iraq, Paul Bremer, and the former coalition commander, Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez, who said they were aware of the complaints.
"We already asked Bremer in June to request that an immediate end be put to these activities, but nothing happened," Jazaeri said.
"We again ask multinational forces to put an immediate end to such activities. We can't ignore any more what's going on at the site and the harm that has been done."
The Polish military commands a force of about 8000 multinational troops operating in the southern-central region of Iraq, with many of them based around Babylon.