Thursday, April 24, 2003

There is a possibility that the American military is behind some of the looting that took place at the National Museum of Antiquities in Baghdad:

  1. A coalition of antiquities collectors and arts lawyers, calling itself the American Council for Cultural Policy, met with U. S. Defense and State Department officials prior to the start of the attack to lobby for an easing of export restrictions on Iraqi antiquities. Why would such an organization meet with the Pentagon unless they anticipated that the attack on Iraq would 'liberate' antiquities under the jurisdiction of the United States as occupying power of Iraq? This meeting might have put Pentagon officials in touch with those who could choose the right things to steal and could market them. British archaeologists have actually claimed that the U. S. government had given in to pressure from private collectors to allow stolen Iraqi antiquities to be traded on the open market. It is also possible that gossip in the trade indicated that antiquities would be available after the attack.

  2. Archeologists met in the Pentagon in January to give warning of the problem of protecting the Museum, and were led to believe that the Pentagon would secure the Museum. The Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), an American agency set up to supervise the reconstruction of postwar Iraq, sent a memo to the Pentagon noting that the Museum should be the second priority after the national bank for securing by 'coalition' troops. An ORHA official said:

    "We asked for just a few soldiers at each building or, if they feared snipers, then just one or two tanks. The tanks were doing nothing once they got inside the city, yet the generals refused to deploy them, and look what happened."

    Despite warnings as recently as the day before the looting, nothing appears to have been done to stop the looters.

  3. While many of the looters appeared to be poor people from the slums of Baghdad, museum officials said that some appeared to know exactly what they were looking for, and were obviously not poor (they may have used glass cutters of a kind not available in Iraq). Replicas were left untouched in their display cases while the genuine artifacts in the vaults were missing, but poor looters wouldn't have known the difference. The collection of Egyptian antiquities, which consisted of articles that were not unique, was left untouched. McGuire Gibson, president of the American Association for Research in Baghdad, said:

    "They were able to obtain keys from somewhere for the vaults and were able to take out the very important, the very best material. I have a suspicion it was organized outside the country. In fact, I'm pretty sure it was."

    Koichiro Matsuura, director general of UNESCO, said:

    "Most of it was well-planned looting by professionals. They stole these cultural goods to make profits."

    The concensus appears to be that the thefts of the most important items were the work of professional art thieves. The important thefts occurred with the first wave of looters, with the second wave made up of the local poor. It is likely that the looting by the poor was allowed in order to cover the professional thieving that had already occurred at the Museum, thieving which was allowed by the occupiers to take place in the first few days of the occupation.

  4. The organized theft of antiquities is not uncommon in wartime, and this certainly wouldn't be the first time that an army has taken the opportunity presented by war to line its own pockets. Those who object to the idea should have to explain the completely inexplicable failure of the Pentagon, which received multiple and detailed warnings, to make even the slightest attempt to protect the museum. If we assume that this was an internationally planned theft, how did the thieves know that the American military wouldn't be taking the obvious step of immediately guarding the doors when they took possession of the city? How did they know they would be allowed to continue the theft without being arrested by the American military? How did they know they would be allowed to get away with the trucks they must have used to move the heavy artifacts which they stole? How did they know that the Americans would do nothing to stop the looting that later covered evidence of their crimes? There had to be official American involvement in this crime.

  5. The thefts may just be part of the process of 'privatization' favored by the neocon loonies who consider public museums to be just another form of socialism.

  6. The Americans are taking the rumors seriously enough that the disgusting controlled American press is already suggesting that the looting was actually the work of Baathist functionaries, a story for which they can have no proof and thus is clearly disinformation. Since the government buildings and palaces had been long cleaned out when the Americans arrived, betraying the fact that the leaders of the regime had plenty of foreknowledge that the Americans were to be allowed in to Baghdad without a fight, why wouldn't they clean out the Museum at the same time, instead of waiting until after the Americans arrived? The latest excuse is that the Americans couldn't stop the looting as they were taking fire from the Museum building, fire which apparently didn't bother the looters, wasn't until now mentioned by the Americans, and wasn't mentioned by any of the people in the Museum! The continuing stream of lies from the Pentagon displays knowledge of guilt.

  7. Why would poor looters take the time to destroy the card catalogue and records of the collection? They would have no reason to, but it makes perfect sense for professional looters who wish for there to be no record of the stolen goods which were to appear in the international antiquities trade.

  8. The arson in the National Library and the library of rare Korans was probably intended to destroy evidence and to make the valuable books stolen more easily saleable, as everyone would assume they had been destroyed. Robert Fisk points out that the arsonists active in Baghdad appear to be organized, often arriving in the same type of blue-and-white bus, but that they are unlikely acting for Saddam as he is no longer in control.

  9. For a general site on the issue of the looting, see here. For a list of some of what was lost, see here. For a list of articles on the subject, see here.

If nothing else, shame over the American failure to stop the looting should require the Americans to finally ratify the Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (their not having yet ratified it does not mean that they are not morally and legally responsible for the looting as a result of other legal obligations they have as the result of being an occupying power).