After an enforced absence of more than 12 years, staff from the Commission have made a historic return to Iraq.
The CWGC commemorates more than 54,000 Commonwealth war dead of the two world wars who lie buried or are commemorated at 19 locations throughout Iraq. Only in France, the United Kingdom, Belgium and India does the CWGC have a larger commitment.
Maintenance of the cemeteries and memorials first became difficult during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, but subsequent conflict and the security situation, enforced the Commission’s absence for many years.
CWGC officials visited the country last month to assess the condition of our sites in the south and to determine the likely maintenance regime for these cemeteries and memorials in the short and long term. The lack of regular maintenance during this period and the harsh climate has had a detrimental impact on our sites, but plans are in development to restore the cemeteries to a standard befitting the sacrifice of those buried and commemorated in Iraq.
Richard Hills, the CWGC’s Director responsible for operations in Iraq, said: “It was very satisfying to be able to take our first steps back into the country since 2006.
“The purpose of our visit was to inspect a number of our sites in the area around Basra so that we can better understand the technical nature of the task we face and develop our long term strategy to address those issues.”
“We are under no illusions that the project facing us in Iraq will be challenging, and these are just the first steps in what will be a long road, but we are optimistic that real progress is at last possible.”
Only weeks before, the Commission returned to the Republic of Chad in Africa after 45 years of unrest.
The Commission commemorates four airmen of the Second World War who are buried in N’Djamena (Farcha) Cemetery in Chad.
Richard Hills, who is also responsible for operations in Africa, explained: “Our four graves are located in the safe and well maintained confines of a French Military Cemetery. Their care is assured thanks to a reciprocal arrangement we have with the French and although we had not set foot in Chad since 1973, we had always kept a firm eye on our commitment there.
“With the improving conditions on the ground we have established a regular maintenance cycle going forward and a visit will take place every two years or yearly depending on operational requirements.”