I've been studying Akkadian at my university for 5 semesters now, and dare to say I'm not too bad at it. I unfortunately don't know about any online sources for Akkadian, by which I mean "sources that can actually be used and are not made up by people who had one glimpse at a text and claim to be experts". A friend of mine, who's doing Akkadian with me, told me of an online-dictionary, although she said it's not that great. I'll ask her for the link, if you want to.
Generally, I'd suggest that you stick with the "traditional" grammar. The best one I can recommend is the GAG (Grundriss der Akkadischen Grammatik, by Wolfram von Soden, 3rd edition). Other than that, I have a PDF version of "Introduction to Akkadian" by Richard Caplice, as well as a PDF of the AHW (Akkadisches Handwörterbuch) and several Akkadian cuneiform texts. If you're interested, just mail me (is my mail somewhere available here?! *confused*
- if not, because I can't see it... cynsanity at gmx.at). You should either be able to read German, or have access to a really good German dictionary though, as most of the stuff on Akkadian grammar and the dictionaries are in German.
If you are earnest about learning Akkadian, I suggest you get yourself an edition of the "Concise Dictionary of Akkadian" (CAD) by Black, George and Postgate (2nd corrected printing). As for the grammar, I'd stick with von Soden, but the Caplice-book is not too bad - although, if you want to become an Assyriologist, I'd rather recommend von Soden. Then again, not everyone aspires to becoming a weird person
As for the artifacts of Sumer... Meh. I had the pleasure of talking to the guy who's responsible for the Museum of Baghdad at the last RAI ( http://www.uni-muenster.de/Altoriental/RAI52/RAI52.html
), and he held a surprise-lecture on the state of the museum and the (remaining) relics... Thousands of cylinder seals have been stolen, and at the moment, the museum is surrounded by a thick wall of concrete in order to stop the tanks and suicide-bombers. Most of the artifacts have been severely damaged, though...
As for the difference between the Babylonian and the Assyrian dialects of Akkadian...
At our university, we start with Old Babylonian (around the time of Hammurapi of the 1st dynasty of Babylon); as far as I gathered (I am more into Sumerology than into Assyriology), the Assyrian dialect has been influenced more by west- and northwest-semitic languages, such as Amorite. As it's quite late now, and I am practically celebrating the end of the semester at the moment, I am too lazy to look up the exact differences at the moment (although I can do so later), so don't quote me - but as far as I remember, in Assyrian there has been a shift from /sh/ to /s/ in a lot of the roots. Anyways, I'll look it up (I can imagine the comment of my Akkadian prof... "YOU ARE NOT ABLE TO PINPOINT THE DIFFERENCES AT NIGHT, SLIGHTLY DRUNK? FOR SHAAAAAAAAME! Here, translate this astronomical text.")...
As for Erol's points in this discussion...
Ancient Semitic Philosophy and Oriental Archaeology (yes, I still try to figure out where Sumerian fits into that name of the institute... then again, the name is long enough already)- as it's called here in Vienna - tries to avoid the "traditional" names of the lands of Greater Mesopotamia (like those you mentioned). Attempts to introduce students with the endemic names of "ki'engir" and ki'urim" have yielded desastrous results, though. To my utter horror, I witnessed a 9th semester student being unable to remember the word "Sumerians", instead saying "Hommerans"... Alas, that's just me actually listening to my colleagues.
Still, I agree with you completely that Mesopotamia gave birth to Western civilization ("ex oriente lux"). I really recommend articles by G.J. Selz in that regard - if you can access them somehow, it is really interesting how he, rather convincingly, shows how ancient Sumero-Akkadian roots lead to today's "religious terminology" and imagery. For a view on religious theory of Mesopotamia I'd recommend the writings of van Dijk. If you want to read something controversial, try Moortgat's "The Image of Tammuz" (if it wasn't Moortgat, I apologise - as mentioned, slightly drunk).
I hope I made some