HNN Poll: Was Iraq Looted?





Increasingly it appears that the initial media reports of massive looting at the Iraqi National Museum may have been misleading. Did the media err? Did historians overreact?

From the Washington Post (June 9, 2003):

The world was appalled. One archaeologist described the looting of Iraq's National Museum of Antiquities as "a rape of civilization." Iraqi scholars standing in the sacked galleries of the exhibit halls in April wept on camera as they stood on shards of cuneiform tablets dating back thousands of years.

In the first days after Baghdad fell to U.S. forces, condemnation rained down on U.S. military commanders and officials in Washington for failing to stop the pillage of priceless art, while tanks stood guard at the Ministry of Oil. It was as if the coalition forces had won the war, but lost an important part of the peace and history.

Apparently, it was not that bad.

The museum was indeed heavily looted, but its Iraqi directors confirmed today that the losses at the institute did not number 170,000 artifacts as originally reported in news accounts.

Actually, about 33 priceless vases, statues and jewels were missing.

"I said there were 170,000 pieces in the entire museum collection," said Donny George as he stood with beads of sweat glistening on his forehead in his barren office at the museum. "Not 170,000 pieces stolen."

George, the director general of research and study of the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and the source for the original number, said the theft of 170,000 pieces would have been almost impossible: "No, no, no. That would be every single object we have!"

On Saturday, a team of U.S. investigators from the Customs Service and State Department released a summary of a preliminary report that concluded that 3,000 pieces were missing. And more importantly, of the 8,000 or so exhibit-quality, world-class pieces of jewelry, statues and cuneiform clay tablets, only 47 were unaccounted for.

Today, Iraqi officials at the museum confirmed the U.S. numbers, with a slight adjustment.

"There are only 33 pieces from the main collections that are unaccounted for," George said. "Not 47. Some more pieces have been returned." Museum staff members had taken some of the more valuable items home and are now returning them.

Then there's this from David Aaronovitch, writing in the Guardian (June 9, 2003):

There was some looting and damage to a small number of galleries and storerooms, and that is grievous enough. But over the past six weeks it has gradually become clear that most of the objects which had been on display in the museum galleries were removed before the war. Some of the most valuable went into bank vaults, where they were discovered last week. Eight thousand more have been found in 179 boxes hidden "in a secret vault". And several of the larger and most remarked items seem to have been spirited away long before the Americans arrived in Baghdad.

George is now quoted as saying that that items lost could represent "a small percentage" of the collection and blamed shoddy reporting for the exaggeration.

"There was a mistake," he said. "Someone asked us what is the number of pieces in the whole collection. We said over 170,000, and they took that as the number lost. Reporters came in and saw empty shelves and reached the conclusion that all was gone. But before the war we evacuated all of the small pieces and emptied the showcases except for fragile or heavy material that was difficult to move."

This indictment of world journalism has caused some surprise to those who listened to George and others speak at the British Museum meeting. One art historian, Dr Tom Flynn, now speaks of his "great bewilderment". "Donny George himself had ample opportunity to clarify to the best of "his" knowledge the extent of the looting and the likely number of missing objects," says Flynn. "Is it not a little strange that quite so many journalists went away with the wrong impression, while Mr George made little or not attempt to clarify the context of the figure of 170,000 which he repeated with such regularity and gusto before, during, and after that meeting." To Flynn it is also odd that George didn't seem to know that pieces had been taken into hiding or evacuated. "There is a queasy subtext here if you bother to seek it out," he suggests.

On Sunday night, in a remarkable programme on BBC2, the architectural historian Dan Cruikshank both sought and found. Cruikshank had been to the museum in Baghdad, had inspected the collection, the storerooms, the outbuildings, and had interviewed people who had been present around the time of the looting, including George and some US troops. And Cruikshank was present when, for the first time, US personnel along with Iraqi museum staff broke into the storerooms.

One, which had clearly been used as a sniper point by Ba'ath forces, had also been looted of its best items, although they had been stacked in a far corner. The room had been opened with a key. Another storeroom looked as though the looters had just departed with broken artefacts all over the floor. But this, Cruikshank learned, was the way it had been left by the museum staff. No wonder, he told the viewers - the staff hadn't wanted anyone inside this room. Overall, he concluded, most of the serious looting "was an inside job".

Cruikshank also tackled George directly on events leading up to the looting. The Americans had said that the museum was a substantial point of Iraqi resistance, and this explained their reticence in occupying it. Not true, said George, a few militia-men had fired from the grounds and that was all. This, as Cruikshank heavily implied, was a lie. Not only were there firing positions in the grounds, but at the back of the museum there was a room that seemed to have been used as a military command post. And it was hardly credible that senior staff at the museum would not have known that. Cruikshank's closing thought was to wonder whether the museum's senior staff - all Ba'ath party appointees - could safely be left in post.

 

Related Links

  • HNN Index: The Looting of Iraq's Heritage
  • Bruce Craig, Update on the Looting of Iraq (It's the Field Sites that Are in Jeopardy)
  • Iraqi Looting of Ancient Sites Goes on Under the Nose of US Soldiers
  • Did Peter Jennings Mislead Viewers About the Looting of the Iraqi National Museum?
  • NYT: Looting May Have Been Less Severe
  • Martin Kramer, Will the Real Dr. George Please Stand Up
  • Roger Kimball, The Hyped Reports of Looting at the Iraqi Museum Reflected Anti-Americanism

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    More Comments:


    DRJ - 1/5/2004

    One of the things i find interesting about the Iraqi looting story is that it was Iraqis who did the looting and U.S. forces who stopped them. In other wars it is the conquerors who do the looting and raping and pillaging. We in the U.S. sure are brutes when it comes to conquering an enemy. We build schools and hospitals and roads and aqueducts and infrastructure...and stop the natives from looting. Somehow we still look like bad guys...go figure.


    TK - 6/14/2003

    Doesn't it sound as though the whole world is singing off GWB hymnal? Over blow it as much as you can in order to make a eye/ear-catching story, then blame someone else if you get caught, finally, blow it all off with some form of "the ends justify the means!"

    TK


    cassandra - 6/14/2003


    The correct name is actually the Iraq National Museum of Antiquities.
    The rest of your screed is circular. Your link refers readers to earlier newspaper stories, including an article posted on this site in April, which already have been roundly discredited by the discovery of the "lost" items and "burned" books.


    Jonathan Dresner - 6/13/2003

    "According to McGuire Gibson, a professor at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, the entire country is an historical site." -- True, perhaps, but the looting is taking place at already existing excavation and study sites, a finite number of sites which could be identified (reporters seem to be able to find them easily enough) and prioritized quickly enough. Advance planning would have indicated the need to allocate resources to cultural site protection, and the war plans could have included bringing in more troops and organizing local protective forces.

    "I read that particular convention as covering the "occupying powers" and so the occupation part of a war. So when does a "war" cease, and "occupation" begin?" -- As I read it, nations at war have a responsibility to take cultural properties into account and make efforts to protect them both during active hostilities as well as under conditions of occupation, so it is irrelevant whether an occupation had been declared; what is relevant is that US forces were in a position to do something and did not. Article 18 refers to "partial occupation" as well, which might well describe the situation in Baghdad at the time.

    Moreover, the convention explicitly requires signatories to include cultural property protection in their war plans (e.g. Article 7, paragraph 2), so the failure of the US/UK planners to make proper provisions and inform troops of their obligations consistutes a breach.

    Again, the full text is available at http://www.unesco.org/culture/laws/hague/html_eng/page1.shtml#Preamble


    NYGuy - 6/13/2003

    Many irresponsible comments by historians and scholars about Iraq's antiquities were made at a time our troops were still fighting to secure Bagdhad. Even thought they knew this they still put their political views above the lifes of our troops knowing their false claims were putting our troops in danger.

    Not only did they blame GW, but Cheney, Rumsfeld, the DOD and the troops themselves. They made up lies and spread them throughtout the world with their statements to the press and HNN was filled with these outrageous claims.

    When the dust had settled many of these lies were exposed.

    1. The U. S. military had committed to protecting 4,000 excavation sites and not one was damaged although historians kept crying they were betrayed by the military.

    2. The responsible Iraqi historians said before the war started that they had learned from Gulf War 1 and were taking major steps to protect their antiquities, which they did.

    3. The historians claimed that the troops were protecting the Oil Ministry and not the museums. (Wink, Wink, GW and his oil friends). Other more responsible historians acknowledged this was the proper course of action since getting oil flowing would enable the Iraqi people to have water, lighting, food, sanitation, hospitals, etc. which were necessary for their survival.

    4. Many wanted to give the job of reconstruction to smaller foreign companies claiming a conflict of interest on Bush, Cheney, etc. Even thought this would have deprived the U. S. world leaders in these fields of the work and lose Amerian jobs, their hatred of America carried over to trying to ruin our economy.

    This was a sad day for scholorship when many historians put their own personal prejudices above the lives of our troops.

    Truly a shameful example for men and women who teach and should have know better to get the facts first.


    cassandra - 6/13/2003


    Aw, come now.
    According to McGuire Gibson, a professor at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, the entire country is an historical site.
    From Radio Free Europe:
    Does anyone know how many historical sites may be in Iraq?
    "There are hundreds of thousands of sites in Iraq," Gibson said. "I mean there is no way that we could ever discover them all. There are sites everywhere you look. Ninety-nine percent of all the hills that you see in southern Iraq are ancient sites. There are no natural hills in southern Iraq between the two rivers. So, any hill that you see is a site. And there are many, many sites that are very tiny or that are not hills at all, they are just flat."
    The United States Army currently has 3,271 M-1 tanks, not all of which were sent to Iraq. So how is it possible for U.S. troops to guard all of these cultural heritage sites against whoever with a shovel and a bag?
    Second question, asked respectfully, refers to a previous post you made about the Geneva conventions covering heritage sites. I read that particular convention as covering the "occupying powers" and so the occupation part of a war. So when does a "war" cease, and "occupation" begin? I think this is a question that has to be answered, since the alleged rapes of the Islamic library and museum occurred during the war phase of hostilities, not the occupation phase. I note the United Nations just got around only this month to recognizing the U.S. as an occupying power of Iraq.


    Herodotus - 6/12/2003

    well, its a damn good thing that the U.S. forces who passed by the Iraqi national museum elected to ignore the dug in Iraqi forces there rather than direct a guided munition onto it.

    That sounds like following the Geneva Convention to me.


    Jerry Sternstein - 6/12/2003

    Of course there was looting but 33 or 44 important pieces at the main Iraqi Museum is a far cry from the hundreds of thousands Donny George and his enablers in the media originally castigated the United States for not protecting.

    Also there is good reason to suspect that museum insiders -- read George and his Baathist colleagues -- may have those items, or if they don't, they know where they are. ABC's Nightline the other evening had a segment on the varying accounts of the purported looting and mentioned (I only saw part of the segment) that Iraqi museum officials told ABC's correspondent that they swore on the Koran not to reveal where some valuable items were until the US left Iraq. For all we know those missing 33 or so pieces are being hidden by George and his henchman.


    Herodotus - 6/12/2003

    Obvious planning failures? The Iraqi National Museum, according to the Guardian, was used as a firebase. The rules of engagement for U.S. forces relating to archeological or cultural sites that were being used as military sites was to bypass them until the fighting was over. That sounds like good planning--reduce casualties to U.S. forces and civilians, and minimize the damage to Iraq's cultural heritage. The last thing sought was a Monte Casino. What part of this isn't clear?


    dan - 6/12/2003

    Keep reading past the opening paragraph, and try some other sources.


    dan - 6/12/2003

    Considerably more than 25-33 items were looted.

    Get over it.


    Jerry Sternstein - 6/12/2003

    Thanks to Andrew Sullivan's blog, here is a site that is far better than the one offered above that keeps track of all of the relevant stories about this subject.

    Interested parties can then weigh the published evidence pro and con concerning the purported looting.

    http://www.cronaca.com/blogport/mt-search.cgi?%3BIncludeBlogs=2&search=baghdad+museum


    Josh Greenland - 6/12/2003

    "When you speak of "open archaeological sites" that are being looted, are you referring to the mass graves that Donny George's fellow Ba'athists filled with children and their toys as well?"

    Now that you mention it, the occupying forces should have secured the mass grave so that its contents couldn't be picked through, disturbed and disorganized, so it can be gone through by forensic professionals if that is what's called for in a situation like this, or so that people can be buried without having their bones scattered and stepped on by people trying to get to someone else's body. I don't know what the Hague Convention or anything else says about it but I think as the effective government of Iraq, the occupiers need to step up to the plate, actually take some responsibility and secure more than just the oil ministry.


    Manner of Speaking - 6/12/2003

    Over the last day or so there have been news reports that many items that were feared looted from the Iraq Museum of Antiquities (correct name) were found stashed in secret vaults around the city of Baghdad. The Yahoo! News website notes that the museum will open next month (http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/nm/20030608/wl_nm/iraq_museum_dc_1). Some commentators have suggested that the extent of damage and looting was deliberately exaggerated. According to one editorial:
    Quote:
    Remember all the hysteria back in April over the looting of Iraq's National Museum? It was a grotesque spectacle, as people who'd been eager to prolong Saddam Hussein's reign of murder, rape, terror, torture and genocide went into mourning over the fate of vases and statues. But now the Washington Post reports that U.S. officials have estimated the actual number of exhibition-quality artifacts that are gone at 47.


    The Iraq Museum of Antiquities is the largest museum in Iraq and the seventh largest museum in the world. It is not, however, the only museum in Iraq. Other museums, archives and libraries which were looted, burned, or bombed by coalition air attacks during the invasion include:

    - Mosul Museum,
    - Tikrit Museum,
    - Basra Museum of Natural History,
    - Al-Zohur Palace Museum in Baghdad, which housed treasures of the deposed Iraqi royal family,
    - the Iraq National Library (About 500,000 printed books and serials, including 5000 rare books, looted and burnt),
    - Iraq National Archives (shared the same building as the National Library),
    - the Al-Awqaf Library (Ministry of Religious Affairs), situated very close to the National Library (over 5,000 Islamic manuscripts -- Arabic, Persian, etc., looted and burnt),
    - the Central Library of the University of Baghdad (about 600K printed books, serials, maps, etc., burnt),
    - Library of Bayt al-Hikma: a centre for research in the social sciences, law, economics and strategic studies very active in the 1980s. (Situated in the same area as the National Library, believed to be completely destroyed),
    - Mosul University Library (about 900K printed books, serials, etc., looted and burnt).


    It is true that not all museums, major archives and libraries in Iraq were destroyed; many were safeguarded prior to the invasion, but the damage to cultural resources that was done is considerable and is certainly no myth. If it were possible for coalition forces to guard the Ministry of Oil -- a building which only contained paper -- then there is no reason why most, if not all, of these institutions had to be destroyed.

    For more information, see the following websites:
    http://users.ox.ac.uk/~wolf0126/bombed.html
    Assessment of Damage to Libraries and Archives in Iraq, International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, April 29, 2003.


    John Anderson - 6/12/2003

    I would have liked to see museums, libraries, and field sites protected better.

    But that is the job of "an occupying power" which the coalition was not until about mid-May, at the earliest. And note that agreements call for best efforts, and supporting the "conquered" protective forces.

    Were I, or people for whom I was responsible, coming under artillery/rocket/grenade/rifle attacks, I doubt that I would position them, statically, on an open plaza and tell them that their job was to stop looting. This, unfortunately, was the situation when the hospitals museums, and libraries were looted/burned/etc: the day after the museum-looting is supposed to have occured, troops at the Palestine Hotel came under fire - I watched it live on the webcam from the hotel. And the local protective forces, rather sensibly, made themselves scarce: the coalition is still trying to reconstitute police forces - hard enough in Basra and Baghdad, let be the back-of-beyond local sites.

    Could better have been done? Sure, always could. It was possinle to establish a permanent anti-looting force in the Valley of the Kings three thousand or more years ago and to have kept it in place throgh the present. So yell about the Ptolemy regime, a conquering force, not protecting the tombs of Pharoahs or workmen's cemeteries.


    Righthanded and proud of it - 6/12/2003


    Whether 33 or 33 thousand or 33 million objects were looted in Iraq changes not a bit the obvious planning failures in the Pentagon and the unacceptable and unAmerican arrogance of Donald Rumsfeld in the wake of those failures.

    I feel sorry for old honest Abe turning over in his grave, if he really is wearing all that gear (as depicted here). But I do wonder why the neo-ideologues, with nothing better to do than regurgitate old paradigms on this website, are so enamoured of the LEFT and RIGHT sides of the 18th century French Assembly. Peut etre, they are closet supporters of Jacques Chirac ?






    Jonathan Dresner - 6/11/2003

    "You still have not apologized..."

    As it happens, I don't need to. I didn't say anything publically about this subject before this discussion (and my precious right to privacy means that I don't have to apologize for anything I did or didn't say off-line).

    I joined in to make two points. First, not all "lefties" think or write alike. Second, the that the issue hasn't actually been resolved yet: we are failing to fulfill our obligations to human culture on an ongoing basis, and this is problematic no matter what else I or anyone else thinks about the military or political situation.


    Jonathan Dresner - 6/11/2003

    "When you speak of "open archaeological sites" that are being looted, are you referring to the mass graves that Donny George's fellow Ba'athists filled with children and their toys as well?"

    No, I'm refering to historical sites with cuneiform tablets, statuary, pottery, ancient buildings and other artifacts that clearly fall under the category of cultural property.

    That is the subject of this discussion.

    But, since you insist on misconstruing my criticism of the US/UK war plans as support for Saddam Hussein's regime and supporters, let me make this perfectly clear: there is no doubt in my mind that the world is a better place with Saddam Hussein out of power. There is also no doubt in my mind that what we gain from toppling a vicious dictatorial regime is (probably partly) mitigated by our unilateralist and half-truth approach.

    I'm sorry, but I'm one of those who doesn't think that ends justify means.


    Kevin DeVita - 6/11/2003

    Looks like the Bush hate-ers jumped the gun again. I find it hard to respect their opinions and insights these days. Can a real democrat please come forward? Hating Bush will have the same result as the hating Hillary campaign in NY, get him (re-)elected.

    If the Democrats concentrated on what is the right thing to do, instead of the opposite thing to do, they could regain control over a branch of government. Bush isn't a bad guy. I disagree with his policies sometimes (mostly domestic), but he isn't going to disgrace the nation like the last bozo in the Oral Office. The worst part is, the people in my party would rather remain blind to what is right and wrong and play the partisan politics game.

    Libertarian is looking better and better... :)


    Fred Chico-Hamilton - 6/11/2003

    When you speak of "open archaeological sites" that are being looted, are you referring to the mass graves that Donny George's fellow Ba'athists filled with children and their toys as well?


    Fred Chico-Hamilton - 6/11/2003

    You still have not apologized...


    Jonathan Dresner - 6/11/2003

    Continuing from Article 5 of the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Properties in Times of Armed Conflict: "Any High Contracting Party in occupation of the whole or part of the territory of another High Contracting Party shall as far as possible support the competent national authorities of the occupied country in safeguarding and preserving its cultural property."

    Again, full text of the convention may be found at http://www.unesco.org/culture/laws/hague/html_eng/page1.shtml


    Jonathan Dresner - 6/11/2003

    Paragraph 3 of Article 4 of the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Properties in Times of Armed Conflict states: "The High Contracting Parties further undertake to prohibit, prevent and, if necessary, put a stop to any form of theft, pillage or misappropriation of, and any acts of vandalism directed against, cultural property."

    For full text, see http://www.unesco.org/culture/laws/hague/html_eng/page1.shtml


    Herodotus - 6/11/2003

    add to that the minimal damage (if any) to the Iraqi National Library, whose volumes, oh! ended up in several mosques, and you're left with a very large egg on the collective faces of those academics who were stupid enough to let their personal emotions trump ALL their training for accuracy and thoroughness.


    Herodotus - 6/11/2003

    Lost from the Baghdad museum: truth

    David Aaronovitch
    Tuesday June 10, 2003
    The Guardian


    When, back in mid-April, the news first arrived of the looting at the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad, words hardly failed anyone. No fewer than 170,000 items had, it was universally reported, been stolen or destroyed, representing a large proportion of Iraq's tangible culture. And it had all happened as some US troops stood by and watched, and others had guarded the oil ministry.

    Professors wrote articles. Professor Michalowski of Michigan argued that this was "a tragedy that has no parallel in world history; it is as if the Uffizi, the Louvre, or all the museums of Washington DC had been wiped out in one fell swoop". Professor Zinab Bahrani from Columbia University claimed that, "By April 12 the entire museum had been looted," and added, "Blame must be placed with the Bush administration for a catastrophic destruction of culture unparalleled in modern history." From Edinburgh Professor Trevor Watkins lamented that, "The loss of Iraq's cultural heritage will go down in history - like the burning of the Library at Alexandria - and Britain and the US will be to blame." Others used phrases such as cultural genocide and compared the US in particular to the Mongol invaders of 13th-century Iraq.

    Back in Baghdad there was anger. On April 14, Dr Donny George, the museum's director of research, was distraught. The museum had housed the leading collection of the continuous history of mankind, "And it's gone, and it's lost. If Marines had started [protecting the museum] before, none of this would have happened. It's too late. It's no use. It's no use."

    A few weeks later - in London to address a meeting at the British Museum - George was interviewed for this newspaper by Neal Ascherson. George, said Ascherson, did not throw blame around, but did remark that most of the looters responsible for the damage were not educated.

    On June 1, George was reported in the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag as reiterating that witnesses had seen US soldiers enter the museum on April 9, stay inside two hours and leave with some objects. When asked whether he believed that the US military and international art thieves had been acting in concert, George replied that a year earlier, at a meeting in a London restaurant, someone (unnamed) had told him that he couldn't wait till he could go inside the National Museum with US soldiers and give it a good pillage - ie, yes.

    So, there's the picture: 100,000-plus priceless items looted either under the very noses of the Yanks, or by the Yanks themselves. And the only problem with it is that it's nonsense. It isn't true. It's made up. It's bollocks.

    Not all of it, of course. There was some looting and damage to a small number of galleries and storerooms, and that is grievous enough. But over the past six weeks it has gradually become clear that most of the objects which had been on display in the museum galleries were removed before the war. Some of the most valuable went into bank vaults, where they were discovered last week. Eight thousand more have been found in 179 boxes hidden "in a secret vault". And several of the larger and most remarked items seem to have been spirited away long before the Americans arrived in Baghdad.

    George is now quoted as saying that that items lost could represent "a small percentage" of the collection and blamed shoddy reporting for the exaggeration.

    "There was a mistake," he said. "Someone asked us what is the number of pieces in the whole collection. We said over 170,000, and they took that as the number lost. Reporters came in and saw empty shelves and reached the conclusion that all was gone. But before the war we evacuated all of the small pieces and emptied the showcases except for fragile or heavy material that was difficult to move."

    This indictment of world journalism has caused some surprise to those who listened to George and others speak at the British Museum meeting. One art historian, Dr Tom Flynn, now speaks of his "great bewilderment". "Donny George himself had ample opportunity to clarify to the best of [his] knowledge the extent of the looting and the likely number of missing objects," says Flynn. "Is it not a little strange that quite so many journalists went away with the wrong impression, while Mr George made little or not attempt to clarify the context of the figure of 170,000 which he repeated with such regularity and gusto before, during, and after that meeting." To Flynn it is also odd that George didn't seem to know that pieces had been taken into hiding or evacuated. "There is a queasy subtext here if you bother to seek it out," he suggests.

    On Sunday night, in a remarkable programme on BBC2, the architectural historian Dan Cruikshank both sought and found. Cruikshank had been to the museum in Baghdad, had inspected the collection, the storerooms, the outbuildings, and had interviewed people who had been present around the time of the looting, including George and some US troops. And Cruikshank was present when, for the first time, US personnel along with Iraqi museum staff broke into the storerooms.

    One, which had clearly been used as a sniper point by Ba'ath forces, had also been looted of its best items, although they had been stacked in a far corner. The room had been opened with a key. Another storeroom looked as though the looters had just departed with broken artefacts all over the floor. But this, Cruikshank learned, was the way it had been left by the museum staff. No wonder, he told the viewers - the staff hadn't wanted anyone inside this room. Overall, he concluded, most of the serious looting "was an inside job".

    Cruikshank also tackled George directly on events leading up to the looting. The Americans had said that the museum was a substantial point of Iraqi resistance, and this explained their reticence in occupying it. Not true, said George, a few militia-men had fired from the grounds and that was all. This, as Cruikshank heavily implied, was a lie. Not only were there firing positions in the grounds, but at the back of the museum there was a room that seemed to have been used as a military command post. And it was hardly credible that senior staff at the museum would not have known that. Cruikshank's closing thought was to wonder whether the museum's senior staff - all Ba'ath party appointees - could safely be left in post.

    Furious, I conclude two things from all this. The first is the credulousness of many western academics and others who cannot conceive that a plausible and intelligent fellow-professional might have been an apparatchiks of a fascist regime and a propagandist for his own past. The second is that - these days - you cannot say anything too bad about the Yanks and not be believed.


    Dave Tabaska - 6/11/2003

    I'm curious...

    Can you provide which treaty or agreement (and the chapter/section/paragraph or whatever part) makes the preservation of cultural heritage sites an obligation?


    Jerry Sternstein - 6/11/2003

    For some reason the URL I cited doesn't work so I'm posting the entire story:

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Lost from the Baghdad museum: truth

    David Aaronovitch
    Tuesday June 10, 2003
    The Guardian

    When, back in mid-April, the news first arrived of the looting at the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad, words hardly failed anyone. No fewer than 170,000 items had, it was universally reported, been stolen or destroyed, representing a large proportion of Iraq's tangible culture. And it had all happened as some US troops stood by and watched, and others had guarded the oil ministry.

    Professors wrote articles. Professor Michalowski of Michigan argued that this was "a tragedy that has no parallel in world history; it is as if the Uffizi, the Louvre, or all the museums of Washington DC had been wiped out in one fell swoop". Professor Zinab Bahrani from Columbia University claimed that, "By April 12 the entire museum had been looted," and added, "Blame must be placed with the Bush administration for a catastrophic destruction of culture unparalleled in modern history." From Edinburgh Professor Trevor Watkins lamented that, "The loss of Iraq's cultural heritage will go down in history - like the burning of the Library at Alexandria - and Britain and the US will be to blame." Others used phrases such as cultural genocide and compared the US in particular to the Mongol invaders of 13th-century Iraq.

    Back in Baghdad there was anger. On April 14, Dr Donny George, the museum's director of research, was distraught. The museum had housed the leading collection of the continuous history of mankind, "And it's gone, and it's lost. If Marines had started [protecting the museum] before, none of this would have happened. It's too late. It's no use. It's no use."

    A few weeks later - in London to address a meeting at the British Museum - George was interviewed for this newspaper by Neal Ascherson. George, said Ascherson, did not throw blame around, but did remark that most of the looters responsible for the damage were not educated.

    On June 1, George was reported in the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag as reiterating that witnesses had seen US soldiers enter the museum on April 9, stay inside two hours and leave with some objects. When asked whether he believed that the US military and international art thieves had been acting in concert, George replied that a year earlier, at a meeting in a London restaurant, someone (unnamed) had told him that he couldn't wait till he could go inside the National Museum with US soldiers and give it a good pillage - ie, yes.

    So, there's the picture: 100,000-plus priceless items looted either under the very noses of the Yanks, or by the Yanks themselves. And the only problem with it is that it's nonsense. It isn't true. It's made up. It's bollocks.

    Not all of it, of course. There was some looting and damage to a small number of galleries and storerooms, and that is grievous enough. But over the past six weeks it has gradually become clear that most of the objects which had been on display in the museum galleries were removed before the war. Some of the most valuable went into bank vaults, where they were discovered last week. Eight thousand more have been found in 179 boxes hidden "in a secret vault". And several of the larger and most remarked items seem to have been spirited away long before the Americans arrived in Baghdad.

    George is now quoted as saying that that items lost could represent "a small percentage" of the collection and blamed shoddy reporting for the exaggeration.

    "There was a mistake," he said. "Someone asked us what is the number of pieces in the whole collection. We said over 170,000, and they took that as the number lost. Reporters came in and saw empty shelves and reached the conclusion that all was gone. But before the war we evacuated all of the small pieces and emptied the showcases except for fragile or heavy material that was difficult to move."

    This indictment of world journalism has caused some surprise to those who listened to George and others speak at the British Museum meeting. One art historian, Dr Tom Flynn, now speaks of his "great bewilderment". "Donny George himself had ample opportunity to clarify to the best of [his] knowledge the extent of the looting and the likely number of missing objects," says Flynn. "Is it not a little strange that quite so many journalists went away with the wrong impression, while Mr George made little or not attempt to clarify the context of the figure of 170,000 which he repeated with such regularity and gusto before, during, and after that meeting." To Flynn it is also odd that George didn't seem to know that pieces had been taken into hiding or evacuated. "There is a queasy subtext here if you bother to seek it out," he suggests.

    On Sunday night, in a remarkable programme on BBC2, the architectural historian Dan Cruikshank both sought and found. Cruikshank had been to the museum in Baghdad, had inspected the collection, the storerooms, the outbuildings, and had interviewed people who had been present around the time of the looting, including George and some US troops. And Cruikshank was present when, for the first time, US personnel along with Iraqi museum staff broke into the storerooms.

    One, which had clearly been used as a sniper point by Ba'ath forces, had also been looted of its best items, although they had been stacked in a far corner. The room had been opened with a key. Another storeroom looked as though the looters had just departed with broken artefacts all over the floor. But this, Cruikshank learned, was the way it had been left by the museum staff. No wonder, he told the viewers - the staff hadn't wanted anyone inside this room. Overall, he concluded, most of the serious looting "was an inside job".

    Cruikshank also tackled George directly on events leading up to the looting. The Americans had said that the museum was a substantial point of Iraqi resistance, and this explained their reticence in occupying it. Not true, said George, a few militia-men had fired from the grounds and that was all. This, as Cruikshank heavily implied, was a lie. Not only were there firing positions in the grounds, but at the back of the museum there was a room that seemed to have been used as a military command post. And it was hardly credible that senior staff at the museum would not have known that. Cruikshank's closing thought was to wonder whether the museum's senior staff - all Ba'ath party appointees - could safely be left in post.

    Furious, I conclude two things from all this. The first is the credulousness of many western academics and others who cannot conceive that a plausible and intelligent fellow-professional might have been an apparatchiks of a fascist regime and a propagandist for his own past. The second is that - these days - you cannot say anything too bad about the Yanks and not be believed.




    Jerry Sternstein - 6/11/2003

    Here's an excellent story in the Guardian about the looting that never was or, if a few things were stolen, was an inside job.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,974193,00.html

    It appears that Donny George, the head of the museum and a loyal Saddamite, deliberately concocted most of the falsehoods in order to discredit the coalition. But, as the author remarks, what is even sadder is that academics were all to ready to believe the lies he spread.


    Herodotus - 6/11/2003

    You're probably referring to the looting of some of the nuclear material stored at Al Tuwaitha (the big story of a week before last...if I'm wrong, I'd be happy to adjust). I too was troubled by this, but several things are important to know about this.

    One, the material looted was, apparently, not the target of the looters. The containers were (i.e. anything not bolted down).

    Two, the nuclear material that disappeared was of the particularly nasty sort of gamma-particle emitters. Unless the looters arrived with cases specifically designed for transporting this kind of material (mostly heavy lead boxes), they are doing little more than endangering their lives.

    Three, the danger now is that large areas have been contaminated with the cesium (or whatever it was). Something similar happened in Brazil in the early 1990s. The U.S. will have to take steps to clean this up.

    There is, of course, the danger that some did specifically seek out the radioactive material and that it has fallen into bad hands. Since keeping these kinds of things out of the hands of dangerous people was one of the objectives in this exercise, if it turns out that terrorists have acquired the nuclear material then it will be a black mark against the operation.


    ian august - 6/10/2003

    i have a little problem with the looting of museums basically becuase they hold artifacts from possibly the oldest civilization on earth that could hold keys to knowing who humans truly are, but what is mind boggling is how the united states did not guard the nuclear power plants.. and now it is being reported that they were looted and up to 20% of there enriched uranium was taken. I mean come on, we invade to save us and the world from the threat of wmd and we dont stand guard of the most threatening asset iraq has? how can an administration that allows these huge errors to occur expect to have my support.. for all we the invasion of iraq to save the world of saddams wmd could have possibly been the key to ensuring that we are attacked with weapons of mass destruction.. someone , anyone , help me understand


    ian august - 6/10/2003


    Jonathan Dresner - 6/10/2003

    Yikes. You know, you raise some fine, complicating points, but you don't actually address the central question, which was the obligation under international law for a conquering power to protect cultural heritage resources. And your tone is unnecessarily derogatory.


    Jonathan Dresner - 6/10/2003

    Many of the historical critics on this point have stressed that historical records and archeological treasures are clearly not worth the loss of human life. I disagree. Under international law, a conquering power has an obligation to protect cultural resources. Not a conditional, if it's safe to do so, request, but an obligation.

    The job of the military was to conquer Iraq, and having conquered it, control it in accordance with international law. That is an inherently risky proposition, and loss of life can and will ensue from military actions. If the Bush and Blair administrations were willing to risk soldiers' lives to conquer Iraq, then they have incurred the obligation to risk soldiers' lives to control and protect Iraq's people, and its economic and cultural resources.

    If they were not prepared to do the job right, they should have held back until they were ready.


    OP Rockwell - 6/10/2003

    The biggest irony is not that the US/UK failed to prepare but that the leftys expect soldiers to put their lives on the line for the preservation of history. Most museums have standing disaster plans in place. These documents detail the response to flood, fire, or civil disturbance. No where is it expressed or implied that museum professionals (the great history protectors) should risk their lives to safeguard their holdings.

    Why should we expect a soldier to do what we would not do? Because their paid more? Ha.
    Because they are better able to determine the value of history? Ha.


    cassandra - 6/10/2003

    Absolutely amazing. Not since the Stalin's propagandists peddled the line about rosy-cheeked milkmaids bringing fattened cattle to market in spite of clear evidence of famine have American intellectuals swallowed a party line hook, line and sinker.
    You speak in laudatory terms of the Baghdad Museum's "professional staff," ignoring these are Baath Party appointees and like everyone else in the government. This in spite of the fact that museum director Donny George was one of the architects of the "reconstruction" of Babylon as a memorial to his leader Saddam Hussein _ a project architects poured gallons of ink into criticizing as a carnage exceeded in its archeological destruction only by Egypt's Aswan Dam when George oversaw the project in 1989.
    Surely these same Saddam-appointed lickspittle might be considered suspect for raising hell about the destruction of the museums? And what about the reports this week in the Washington Post detailing how members of this valiant museum staff took some of the prized antiquities home "for safekeeping." I bet they might still be kept were it not for the activities of American FBI agents in putting together the real story of the museum carnage in Baghdad.
    No, in spite of all these considerations, damn the facts and damn the evidence, it was the United States that was wrong and that's a tragedy. We are responsible because an unelected cowboy president and his troops didn't care enough to conduct a gentle war.
    Geez.


    Herodotus - 6/10/2003

    from the historian who posted that particularly vehement denunciation of the administration and the U.S. military in Iraq...I wonder whether he's willing to be courageous and admit he overreacted.


    Jonathan Dresner - 6/10/2003

    Of course, no lefty speaks for all lefties, but my relief at the revelation that these historical treasures are safe does not mitigate my disgust at the failure of US/UK military planners to prepare for the chaotic aftermath of their success. Though most of the important items in the museums were recovered, the museums and libraries were attacked by looters, and if the professional staff there had not made extraordinary efforts a great tragedy would have happened.

    And there is still the ongoing problem of open archeological sites which are being looted, according to news reports, and the general lack of safety and security.

    Not that I have a solution, but it wasn't my obligation under international law to come up with one, either.


    mark safranski - 6/10/2003

    This issue sparked some of the most shrill and abusive comments ever posted on HNN directed at a wide variety of targets, myself included. So I'm just wondering now that these folks have been shown to be fantastically wrong in their assessments if they might have similar courage to return this week and amend their original remarks ?

    http://www.zenpundit.blogspot.com