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It might, on the face of it, be good news that British architects have been appointed to redesign the historic city of Najaf in Iraq (AJ 02.02.06) and that there is over £11 billion worth of work 'up for grabs' for the profession in that unfortunate country.

It might also seem reassuring that the architects will work with a local expert; are keen not to repeat the mistakes of the past; and say they will find it 'interesting' to draw on over a 1,000 years of urban and architectural tradition.

Of course we all know designing cities and making connections with culture is not as simple as that. Besides, whatever might have been learnt from the past seems not to have made an iota of difference to what is now being built internationally.

Striving to encourage freedom and democracy in Iraq must also mean enabling their architects, planners and people to shape their own cities. This is the only lesson from past mistakes.

Otherwise we leave ourselves open to the accusation of bombing and destroying their cities, then visiting our architects upon them.

Ayyub Malik, Brentford,

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