The World Monuments Fund (WMF) on Wednesday released a list of 100 sites it says are at risk and included the whole of Iraq as an "endangered site".

WMF president Bonnie Burnham said she hoped Iraq's inclusion in the list would help raise the funds needed to protect and preserve world heritage.

"Decades of political isolation, a protracted war with Iran, and, more recently, the conflict begun in 2003 have put this (Iraq's) extraordinary heritage at grave risk," Burnham said.

"Widespread looting, military occupation, artillery fire, vandalism and other acts of violence are devastating Iraq, long considered the 'cradle of human civilisation'.

"Widespread looting, military occupation, artillery fire, vandalism and other acts of violence are devastating Iraq, long considered the 'cradle of human civilisation'"

WMF president Bonnie Burnham

"By focusing attention on imperilled sites, the World Monuments Watch helps bring local communities, governments and preservation professionals together," she added.

The WMF also named specific sites within Iraq as at major risk, including the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh, the ziggurat in Ur, the temple precinct in Babylon, and a ninth-century spiral minaret in Samarra.

Islamic world sites

More cause for concern was particularly prevalent among the southern Iraqi provinces, which WMF says are being ravaged by looters who work day and night to fuel an international art market hungry for antiquities.

War in Iraq has taken a heavy toll
on its wealth of cultural heritage

The organisation has already begun working with the Iraq State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH) to assess and document what has survived and plan for its long-term preservation.

The 2006 Watch list features sites from 55 countries on seven continents, and focuses attention on many other sites around the Islamic world.

In addition to Iraq, the ninth-century Haji Piyada mosque in Afghanistan has also been prescribed for the first time.

Other sites listed as endangered include two complexes in Cairo, the Chinguetti mosque in Mauritania, a cemetery in Pakistan and Crusader citadels in Lebanon.