Saturday, April 26, 2003

A bit more on the looting of the Museum of Antiquities in Baghdad:

  1. On April 5, U. S. Major Christopher Varhola, a civil affairs reservist and cultural anthropologist, at a press briefing in Kuwait said (or here or here):

    "Another concern is looting - especially in the absence of law and order and the economic uncertainty that is inherent to any military operation of this magnitude. All around Iraq, there are a number of museums, in particularly the National Museum of Baghdad, that hold priceless materials. The U.S. Military is eager to coordinate with any organization dedicated to the task of preservation, which transcends military and operational necessity."

  2. In the Gulf War, nine of Iraq's thirteen regional museums were looted, putting the lie to the tiresome American official statements that no one could have anticipated this looting.

  3. From Stan Goff's excellent new article on the attack on Iraq:

    "Iraq is the geographic and cultural cradle of Western civilization. The US military was sent to attack this cradle of civilization, and the US military initiated the looting of the Museum of Archeology, where 7,000 years worth of priceless artifacts were kept to posterity. Eyewitnesses report that before the looting began, Americans had been keeping the streets clear with gunfire. Then they pulled up in front of the Museum and started firing into it. I saw a tank round's hole in the front on a CNN report, far too high for a looter to have made it. They murdered the two Sudanese guards in front of the administrative building, then directed the looters, through the US military's Arabic translators, to enter the building and gut it. By April 15th, the National Archives as well, where millions of pages of historical documents, some centuries old, were stored, was looted, and the precious records burned by a street mob while US military looked complacently on."

    There have been other reports that American soldiers encouraged the looters, but I have not seen a report that they specifically encouraged looting of the Museum.

  4. Perhaps the single most amazing thing about the looting is the fact that the American Army has a cultural-protection unit which was not permitted to follow the troops into Baghdad but was only allowed into the city four days after the looting ended. According to a source at the British School of Archeology in Baghdad, some of the members of this unit privately contacted the school to say they were 'infuriated and ashamed' at being sidelined.

  5. McGuire Gibson, an archeologist at the University of Chicago, said:

    "The fact there . . . were soldiers about 100 yards away while the looting was taking place for two days was shocking and was just indescribable and maddening."

  6. Robert Fisk, from a recent interview with Amy Goodman:

    "Do I have evidence that they knew what they were coming for, yes!
    Do I have evidence that this was premeditated, yes! Do I believe that the
    arsonists were trained and organized from outside who knew whether or not
    the Americans would be present or whether the American military would
    defend certain buildings, yes! They undoubtedly did know the Americans
    would not confront them. And the Americans did not confront them. I
    actually got to a point where I was going around Baghdad a few days ago,
    and every time I saw a tongue of flame or smoke I'd race off in my car to
    the area, and the last place I went to that was burning was the Department
    of Higher Education/Computer Science and as I approached it I saw a marine
    sitting on the wall.

    I bounded out of the car and raced back and thought I had better
    see this guy and I took his name down. His name was Ted Nyhom and he was a
    member of the Third Marine Fourth Regiment or Fourth Marine Third
    Regiment . . . and I said how the hell is this happening next door and he said
    'well, we're guarding a hospital' and I said 'there's a fire next door, a
    whole bloody government ministry is burning.' And he said, 'yeah we can't
    look everywhere at the same time.' I said, 'Ted, what happened?' and he
    said 'I don't know.' . . . something happened there. There was a fire, an entire government ministry was burning down next to him and he did nothing. It didn't seem strange to him that he wasn't asked to do anything. Now there's something strange about that. It's not a question of whether American academic said, you know, is there something wrong with the moral property of an army that doesn't stop looting and arson. There's something terribly wrong there."

  7. The Saddam Center for the Arts, a museum of contemporary Iraqi painters and sculptors, has also been looted and burned, with as many as 5,000 of its 6,000 pieces gone.

The progress of American lies on the looting:

  • it didn't happen

  • it happened but wasn't as bad as it was depicted on television (Rumsfeld: "The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over and over and over. And it's the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase. And you see it 20 times. And you think, my goodness, were there that many vases? Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?")

  • the priority of the troops, stretched thin, was to secure the city

  • no one could have anticipated that such a thing could have happened

  • it couldn't have happened, as that would be a defect in the perfect war plan (Rumsfeld: "To try to pass off the fact of that unfortunate activity to a deficit in the war plan strikes me as a stretch.")

  • it is no fault of the Americans, as the Iraqis were doing all the looting (Rumsfeld: "We didn't allow it to happen. It happened.")

  • they weren't about to kill peasants to repel looters

  • they were under fire from the museum itself, and couldn't protect it ( Captain Jason Conroy: "For four days we were taking machinegun-fire and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) from these buildings around here. They had a bunker around the back of the museum with a cache of RPGs. Guys were running out of that alley, firing Kalashnikovs at us. When we shot them, they threw out hooks, dragged the bodies and guns back and came at us again.").

You have to know that promises of reconstruction money for Iraq are as hollow as the failed promises of reconstruction money for Afghanistan. In the absence of money, it must be comforting for the Iraqis to know that Americans are still very generous with lies.