Monday, April 14, 2003

Looters appear to have completely ransacked the National Museum of Antiquities in Baghdad. They have destroyed one of the most important collections of art and archeology in the world, and the destruction appears to be entirely the fault of the American occupiers, who did nothing to stop it:

  1. Prior to the beginning of the attack on Iraq, scholars specifically urged the U. S. Defense Department to protect Iraq's archaeological heritage from looters, and pointed directly to the National Museum of Antiquities as the most important single site to protect. In January, scholars, museum directors, art collectors and antiquities dealers actually met in the Pentagon to discuss this issue, and felt that they had been given assurances that the sites would be protected.

  2. The looters probably consist of three groups: 1) poor Shia Muslims from the slums of Baghdad who are looting in part as revenge against their Sunni rulers; 2) informed people, possibly professional smugglers, who knew exactly what to take; and 3) insiders from the Museum itself, who assisted in opening the vaults.

  3. The poorest looters simply destroyed what they couldn't take. This may reflect in part their revenge against the institutions of their society. What is more troublesome is that it may represent fundamentalist Islamic iconoclasm, and the return of fundamentalist religious control to Iraq. One of the good things that Saddam did was make Iraq a secular society, and the American attack may have ended secularism in Iraq.

  4. The Americans had specific warnings about the danger to this museum since Wednesday (the majority of the looting appears to have taken place on Thursday and Friday).

  5. The Americans were asked by Museum officials to help in removing the looters when looting started on Thursday. The Americans intervened for about half an hour at lunchtime on Thursday, and temporarily stopped the looting. Despite the pleas of an Iraqi archeologist, the Americans left and did not return, allowing the looting to continue for the rest of Thursday and Friday.

  6. Despite pleas from Museum officials, U. S. army commanders still have done nothing to protect Iraq's archeological treasures from looters. It is almost as if they want the treasures to be looted.

  7. The only building American forces seemed interested in protecting was the Ministry of Oil.

  8. Given the fact that prior to the war the Pentagon was whining that Saddam was likely to use the shelter of archeological sites to protect his troops and military equipment, allowing this looting to occur is highly ironic.

  9. See Articles 2, 4, 5, and 7 of the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. The United States has not ratified this Convention in the over forty years it has been in force (Iraq has ratified it; for the protection of cultural property generally, see here).

  10. Abdul Ridhar Muhammad, the archeologist who tried in vain to have the Americans protect the Museum, said:

    "A country's identity, its value and civilization resides in its history. If a country's civilization is looted, as ours has been here, its history ends. Please tell this to President Bush. Please remind him that he promised to liberate the Iraqi people, but that this is not a liberation, this is a humiliation."

Of course, coming from the American crony capitalist culture, thugs like Rumsfeld and Bush look upon this type of looting as normal activity. It is just the beginnings of entrepreneurism in Iraqi society. Some of the friends of the Bush Administration will probably collect the best of the looted materials as a kind of trophy, but the general concept of protecting the heritage of the Iraqi people or the evidence of the beginnings of civilization is completely foreign to those plotting the end of civilization.