ISIS Is About to Destroy Biblical History in Iraq

tags: ISIS, al-Baghdadi, Mosul Museum



No trace ever has been found of the Garden of Eden, said to have lain near the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates, but one of the great prizes the excavators did discover was Senaccherib’s capital, Nineveh, which the biblical prophet Nahum called “the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims!”

Last month, a new marauder descended on Nineveh and the nearby city of Mosul. He, too, came down like the wolf on the fold, but his cohorts brandished Kalashnikovs from pickup trucks, not shining spears; their banners were the black flags of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham.

Soon afterward the minions of the self-appointed caliph of the freshly self-declared Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, paid a visit to the Mosul Museum. It has been closed for years for restoration, ever since it was looted along with many of Iraq’s other institutions in the wake of the culturally oblivious American-led invasion of 2003. But the Mosul Museum was on the verge of reopening, at last, and the full collection had been stored there.

“These groups of terrorists—their arrival was a brutal shock, with no warning,” Iraqi National Museum Director Qais Hussein Rashid told me when he visited Paris last week with a mission pleading for international help. “We were not able to take preventive measures.”

Indeed, museum curators and staff were no better prepared than any other part of the Iraqi government. They could have learned from al-Baghdadi’s operations in neighboring Syria that a major source of revenue for his insurgency has been the sale of looted antiquities on the black market. As reported in The Guardian, a windfall of intelligence just before Mosul fell revealed that al-Baghdadi had accumulated a $2 billion war chest, in part by selling off ancient artifacts from captured Syrian sites. But the Iraqi officials concerned with antiquities said the Iraqi intelligence officers privy to that information have not shared it with them.

So the risk now—the virtual certainty, in fact—is that irreplaceable history will be annihilated or sold into the netherworld of corrupt and cynical collectors. And it was plain when I met with Rashid and his colleagues that they are desperate to stop it, but have neither the strategy nor the resources to do so.



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