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April 18, 2003

Destruction Of Iraq's Art

Iraq Art - Where's The Loot? Two weeks after Iraq's National Museum was looted, some observers are wondering where all the art ended up. "Despite scattered rumors of artifacts turning up from Tehran to Paris, not a single one of the 90,000 or 120,000 or 170,000 plundered artifacts - no one knows for sure how many - is known to have been offered for sale anywhere in the world. And investigators and legitimate art dealers think they know why." Washington Post 04/23/03

Guards Needed For Iraq's Museum Is Baghdad's National Museum secured? "Expressing frustration that Iraq's National Museum, archives and library in Baghdad were not secured against looters and organized art thieves, the director of Berlin's Near East museum collection, Beata Salje, said Iraqi guards could be hired for as little as $3 a day. 'Immediate help is necessary,' Salje said at a news conference with other German experts. 'It is important that the money is given as quickly as possible to our Iraqi colleagues so they can organize this'." Miami Herald (AP) 04/22/03

Rumsfeld: Looting Exaggerated? Last week, trying to deflect reports of looting of the Iraq National Museum, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared: "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?" ABCNews 04/22/03

Looted Iraqi Art Beginning To Turn Up A"rt collectors and dealers say they are already getting queries about artifacts looted from Iraq's museums, and the FBI said today at least one suspected piece had been seized at an American airport." The Age (AP) (Melbourne) 04/22/03

Iraq Art - Failure To Act During the Second World War, Allied governments made protecting Europe's art treasures a priority. It was a policy that paid many benefits. So why did the Americans not have a similar policy to help protect Iraq's culture? Chicago Tribune 04/21/03

Stolen Iraqi Art Seized At Jordanian Border "Jordanian customs authorities have seized 42 paintings believed to have been looted from Iraq's National Museum, government officials said Saturday." Nando Times (AP) 04/20/03

Iraq Museum Looting Overstated? Was the extent of the looting of the National Museum in Baghdad overstated? "Thanks to Iraqi preparations before the war, it seems the worst has been avoided. Donny George, the director-general of restoration at the Iraqi Antiquities Department, Wednesday said his staff had preserved the museum's most important treasures, including the kings' graves of Ur and the Assyrian bulls. These objects were hidden in vaults that haven't been violated by looters. Most of the things were removed. 'We knew a war was coming, so it was our duty to protect everything. We thought there would be some sort of bombing at the museum. We never thought it could be looted'." Wall Street Journal 04/17/03

What Happened To Warnings About Iraq Museums? Before the war on Iraq, warnings were sent to the Britsh and American governments about protecting Iraq's cultural treasures. "They were completely ignored by the British government, who failed to acknowledge letters sent to them. That was unspeakably terrible. But meetings did take place with the Pentagon, who were given lists of endangered sites. They made contact with some of the appropriate experts, and assurances were given. But I think they were not prepared for what happened in Baghdad - for any of it. The looting of hospitals, for instance - just the scale of it all. I don't think anybody foresaw that there would be a disaster on this scale. The letters that were written were not very specific. They probably did not mention possible looting in the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad. It hadn't crossed my mind that that would even be possible." The Telegraph (UK) 04/19/03

The Dictator And His (Bad) Art "In light of the atrocities committed against the Iraqi people and other unfortunates over the past 30 years, it is undoubtedly beside the point to criticize Saddam Hussein for his aesthetics. Still, one of the more tantalizing discoveries of the last few days, as we peel back the onion layers of his regime, has been the revelation of the dictator's taste is art..." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 04/19/03

Bush Advisers Resign Over Iraq Looting "Three White House cultural advisers have resigned in protest at the failure of US forces to prevent the looting of Iraq's national museum." The advisers were all members of the President's Advisory Committee on Cultural Property. The three advisers had sharp words for the Bush administration's failure to have in place any sort of contingency plan for dealing with such foreseeable problems, and committee chair Martin Sullivan, who is one of those resigning, added that the looting was doubly preventable, since the United States was the nation in control of the timetable of the war. "In a pre-emptive war that's the kind of thing you should have planned for," he said. BBC 04/18/03

The Fog Of Washington Arrogance "Let's be serious. Is anybody really surprised that Baghdad's great civic art museum didn't rate a measly tank? That the treasures of ancient Mesopotamia sat unguarded and exposed, ripe for the picking by local scavengers either amateur or professional? The horrendous event was not, after all, a dire outcome of 'the fog of war.' It was instead a routine example of the fog of the Bush administration, when it comes to matters cultural." Los Angeles Times 04/18/03

Museum Looters Were Pros The looting of Baghdad's National Museum of Antiquities was no mere grab-and-go act by a desperate citizenry. According to UNESCO, the vast majority of the museum thefts were perpetrated by professional art thieves who knew exactly what to take, and where to find it. "Museum officials in Baghdad told UNESCO that one group of thieves had keys to an underground vault where the most valuable artifacts were stored. The thefts were probably the work of international gangs who hired Iraqis for the job, and who have been active in recent years doing illegal excavations at Iraqi archaeological digs." Washington Post 04/18/03

The Real Cost of the Baghdad Looting Although Americans may find it convenient to think of the Middle East as a land of barbaric, uncultured souls prone to unstoppable violence, the recent horrific and systematic destruction of Iraq's cultural firmament points up how wrong these misconceptions truly are. When Baghdad's central library burned to the ground last week, centuries of irreplacable cultural scholarship were lost to the world. Iraq has always taken great pride in its culture and its history, and has catalogued both with a meticulousness which 'cultured' Americans have never matched. "Since 1967, the country has had stringent laws preventing the export of antiquities. One of the saddest ironies of the destruction is that Iraq's defense of its cultural heritage was considered a model for the region." Washington Post 04/18/03

Cultural History Theft - An Organized Racket "Stealing a country’s physical history, its archaeological remains, has become the world’s third biggest organised racket, after drugs and guns. There are those who argue that it shouldn’t need to be illegal at all. There are those who say, look, the free market should operate here. Why shouldn’t a private collector be allowed to buy an antiquity and keep it in his bathroom, maybe next to the bidet, or as a tasteful holder for the Toilet Duck, if he wishes to do so, and if both he and the seller are happy with the price? You will not be surprised to hear that many of those who argue this way are American. You may not be surprised, either, that shortly before the invasion of Iraq, and with the spoils of war on their mind, some of these people formed themselves into a lobbying organisation called the American Council for Cultural Policy (ACCP)." The Spectator 04/17/03

America's Contempt For History (Other Than Its Own) Allowing the destruction of Iraq's art shows the contempt the United States has for other cultures. "The notion that Iraq even has history - let alone that 7,000 years ago this land was the cradle of civilization - is not likely to occur to the neocolonialists running a brawny young nation barely more than 200 years old. The United States' earnest innocence is the charm that our entertainment industry markets so successfully around the world, but it is also the perennial seed of disaster as we blithely rearrange corners of the planet we only pretend to understand." The Nation 04/16/03

British Museum Reaches Out To Iraq British Museum director Neil MacGregor expresses his dismay over the looting of Iraq's National Museum. "The human aspect is as vital as the artistic and cultural. These museum people in Baghdad, MacGregor points out, are friends, close associates, with whom his staff have been in regular contact over long-term shared projects. Only weeks ago, while the coalition plotted air attacks, British Museum scholars were still exchanging prized information on the decipherment of precious cuneiform tablets. Many of these writings on clay, having survived 5,000 years, now lie smashed." London Evening Standard 04/17/03

Choosing Destruction For Iraqi Art Why did the Bush administration choose not to protect Iraq's cultural treasures? "Only two of the thousands of pieces of art that were stolen after the first Gulf War were recovered. Even if a sculpture of a bronze Akkadian king isn't important to the Bush administration, you'd think its own self-interest would be: In the eyes of the world, the war's success will be measured as much by what happens now and over the coming months as by the shock and awe campaign." Slate 04/17/03

How Iraq's National Museum Was Looted "Museum guard, Abdulk Rahman, tried to stop the first pillagers breaking through security gates at the rear of the compound, but he was forced to give up. Once inside, guards and curators were powerless to resist. A few hours later, US troops answered a desperate call from a curator, Raid Abdul Ridha Mohammed. Tanks were brought to the entrance, which dispersed the looters, but the Americans stayed for only half an hour. Immediately after their departure, the looters returned. The main ransacking seems to have occurred the next day, when hundreds of looters quickly gained access to the 28 public galleries." The Art Newspaper 04/17/03

What Was Stolen Or Destroyed The Art Newspaper has put illustrations of artwork lost in Iraq's National Museum online. The drawings come from the museum's catalog. "We should stress that at this stage there is no detailed information on what objects have been looted, what have been damaged and what are safe. Nevertheless, the images in the Treasures of the Iraq Museum represent many of the most important objects from the collection, which numbers some 170,000 pieces." The Art Newspaper 04/17/03

An International Tragedy "The tragedy has provoked international uproar. Western museums have launched an urgent rescue mission to trace and return the missing treasures. Downing Street has demanded a list of the antiquities that can be circulated to British troops in Iraq. Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, has promised a military guard on remaining museums and important archaeological sites. And Unesco is to hold an emergency meeting tomorrow to prepare an action plan. For many, it is too late. Shards of antique pottery, smashed stone sculptures and scattered bits of parchment abandoned in the museum galleries make clear that little care will be taken with the stolen antiquities." The Art Newspaper 04/17/03

Art Destruction - Questions And A Few Facts The Art Newspaper asks eight important questions about the destruction of Iraq's museums and what happens next. The Art Newspaper 04/17/03

Iraqi Culpability In Art Destruction? Jim Hoagland writes that while Americans should have done something to protect Iraqi art, "the rush to condemn Americans for looting and destruction committed by Iraqis obscures fundamental questions about social responsibility and accountability in Iraq and throughout the Arab world. The debate about responsibility for the museum's losses goes to the heart of the need for urgent moral and psychological change in the greater Middle East. An important question is going unasked in the rush to condemn: If looting was so predictable, what did the Iraqis - and particularly the staff of the museum - do to protect the museum's valuable antiquities?" Washington Post 04/17/03

Iraq Art Destruction Makes New Enemies For America That Americans allowed the destruction of Iraqi culture while they stood by and watched has ignited rage among those Iraqis who might have been expected to support the Americans. "Somewhere, in the cacophony of bombs and the orgy of looting that followed, Baghdad's cultural elite became angry about the war, seeing in its destruction a vulgarity that only pushed the country deeper into degradation. Even today, even in Baghdad, there are people unused to chaos, and chaos now it is." The New York Times 04/17/03

American Cutural Property Commission Official Resigns In Protest Citing "the wanton and preventable destruction" of Iraq's National Museum of Antiquities, the chairman of the President's Advisory Committee on Cultural Property has submitted his resignation to President Bush. Washington Post 04/17/03

Iraq Art - A Forseeable Tragedy That Iraq's museums would be pillaged was a forseeable thing, writes Kenneth Baker. "We have to wonder how the Pentagon and the State Department could fail to see the cultural calamity coming, such a predictable consequence of urban war chaos. Weeks before the invasion, the Archaeological Institute of America published an 'Open Declaration on Cultural Heritage at Risk in Iraq,' signed by hundreds of scholars from around the world." San Francisco Chronicle 04/17/03

Did Americans Allow Iraq Museum Looting Because Of A Lack Of Appreciation For Art? Is the fact that American troops protected oil fields but not museums significant? Caroline Abels writes that "we might never know why the looting continued unchecked despite strong early warnings from the world art community that Iraq's treasures required protection. But the cynic in me wonders whether the American military would have done more to protect the museums had we been a country that better recognized the value of art." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 04/17/03

Don't Buy Iraqi Antiquities World museum leaders suggest a moratorium on Iraqi antiquity sales as well as offering rewards for the return of art looted from Iraq's museums. "I feel very strongly that we have to mobilize a reaction and make people aware that it's not going to be easy to get the looted stuff out on the market." The New York Times 04/16/03

Assessing Blame In Iraq Looting Who will be blamed for allowing the looting of Iraq's museums? "Many Iraqis already believe that allied forces targeted ancient sites during the first Gulf War out of malice; this new destruction of Iraq’s cultural heritage may soon be attributed not to Iraqi criminals but to coalition intentions. In this war US commanders were already provided with a list of the most important of an estimated 10,000 ancient sites in Iraq. The Americans claim that they took great care to avoid hitting these but say that Saddam Hussein deliberately sited many of his defences near such places to give them cover." The Times (UK) 04/16/03

Protection From Bombs, Not Looters Iraqi curators thought the biggest threat to their art was American bombs. They weren't prepared for looting... The Times (UK) 04/16/03

Who Will Buy Looted Iraqi Art? There won't be many buyers. "The major salerooms greatly restrict their sales of antiquities, most of which have no commercial value unless they carry with them what effectively amounts to a passport. The history of any major piece must be well known to make that piece saleable." The Times (UK) 04/16/03

When Is It Okay To Deface Art? "In Paradise Square, Baghdad, tearing down a giant bronze Saddam is seen as moving, heroic and symbolic. Bad art about bad people deserves all the abuse it gets, we might argue, but where do the lines of acceptability lie when an artist wilfully wrecks another artist's work? Jake and Dinos Chapman are in trouble again for defacing a complete set of Goya's 80 Disasters of War etchings. Goya worked on the series for a decade from 1810 and never saw it printed in his lifetime." But strangely, the defacement is moving... London Evening Standard 04/15/03

The Art Saddam Liked "The art in Saddam's palaces is very emphatically the embodiment of ideas and appetites, and as such, it is not really that funny. The erotic art is particularly recognisable as the sort of thing you'd see in Hitler's private collection - right down to the Aryan types. But Saddam is less elevated in his taste than Hitler. The Fuhrer was more pretentious. By contrast, there are no high cultural allusions whatsoever in the Saddamite paintings. They are from the universal cultural gutter - pure dreck. They look spraypainted, in a rampant hyperbolic style where all men are muscular, all women have giant breasts and missiles are metal cocks. These are art for the barely literate, or the barely sentient, dredged from some red-lit back alley of the brain." The Guardian (UK) 04/15/03

Is Museum's Destruction So Bad? The destruction of the Iraq Museum is a disaster. "Some objects will doubtless be recovered, and a few of the most remarkable may turn out to have been hidden away. Even so, when the news about the museum emerged some people over here began talking about how the Iraqi people had 'lost their past'. A museum like the one in Baghdad, they argued, gives a people a sense of who they are, and where they come from. Is this true? There is a lot of sentimentality attached to archaeology by outsiders." The Guardian (UK) 04/15/03

British Art Experts To Iraq Britain is sending a team of art experts to Iraq to try to help pick up the pieces after the smashing and looting of the National Museum of Antiquities. "Officials from Unesco, the UN cultural agency, will meet staff from the British Museum on Thursday to discuss tactics for Iraq. 'There will be a large conservation task to be done, extending over many years and requiring the widest possible international co-operation'."
BBC 04/15/03

British Museum Offers Iraqis Help The British Museum is offering to help the Iraq Museum. "The museum is considering the unprecedented move of arranging extended loans or gifts from its vast stores to help recreate the shattered displays when Iraqi museums reopen. It has the world's greatest Mesopotamian collection outside Iraq." The Guardian (UK) 04/16/03

The Symbolism Of Toppling Statues The images of Saddam's statues being pulled down in Iraq were compelling. "What is it about a dead and really poor statue - a boring one indeed - that rouses such personal antipathy? And why did we who were not there stay so gripped throughout the whole business? All of us are aware of the symbolic freight of statues like this one. Their toppling clearly symbolizes the end of the overthrown regime. Often the pent-up resentments against a now-absent leader are taken out on his images. The history of art and the history of all images is punctuated by events of this kind..." OpinionJournal.com 04/16/03

Saddam Liked Fantasy Raunch In His Art An American artist named Rowena was surprised to discover that two of her oil paintings hung in Saddam Husein's personal quarters. The paintings are fantasy raunch, and "Rowena, 58, said she did the oil paintings that hung in the dictator's den about 15 years ago as covers for bodice-ripper paperbacks with titles such as 'King Dragon' and 'Shadows Out of Hell'." Oh, and she'd like them back... New York Daily News 04/15/03

Tracking Down Iraq's Treasures Archaeologists are trying to track down items plundered from Iraq's National Museum of Antiquities. "They can't put the sculptures, statues, and coins back on the shelves from which they were wrested. But they can put together a database of what was lost in the looting that followed the fall of Baghdad. By gathering as much detailed information as possible, they hope to render unsellable the thousands of artifacts stolen from Iraq's largest museum, one of the region's most important. The more that is known about the lost pieces, the less likely they will be able to pass into private hands on the black market, scholars and curators say." Boston Globe 04/15/03

US Says It Will Help "Restore" Baghdad Museum The United States says it will help restore the Iraq National Museum. "Secretary of State Colin Powell said the Baghdad museum was 'one of the great museums in the world' and that the US would take a leading role in restoring it. Coalition forces were criticised for not protecting the institution, which housed many treasures from 'the cradle of civilisation', when it was ransacked on Friday. But critics say it's too late. 'And it's gone, and it's lost. If Marines had started before, none of this would have happened. It's too late. It's no use. It's no use'."

See pictures of damage to the museum here
BBC 04/14/03

Destroying Iraq's Museum - One Tank Could Have Saved It The looting of the Iraq Museum is a loss for the world. "The losses will be felt worldwide, but its greatest impact will be on the Iraqi people themselves when it comes to rebuilding their sense of national identity. International cultural organisations had urged before the war that the cultural heritage of Iraq, which has more than 10,000 archaeological sites, be spared. US forces are making a belated attempt to protect the National Museum, calling on Iraqi policemen to turn up for duty. There is no pay, but 80 have given their services. 'The Americans were supposed to protect the museum. If they had just one tank and two soldiers nothing like this would have happened. I hold the American troops responsible. They know that this is a museum. They protect oil ministries but not the cultural heritage'." The Telegraph (UK) 04/13/03

Erasing The Story Of Civilization The looting of Iraq's museums is "a cultural catastrophe. Yesterday the museum's exhibition halls and security vaults were a barren mess - display cases smashed, offices ransacked and floors littered with hand-written index cards recording the timeless detail of more than 170,000 rare items that were pilfered. Worse, in their search for gold and gems, the looters got into the museum's underground vaults, where they smashed the contents of the thousands of tin trunks. It was here that staff had painstakingly packed priceless ceramics that tell the story of life from one civilisation to the next through 9000 fabled years in Mesopotamia." The Age (Melbourne) 04/14/03

Iraq Museum Destroyed Iraq's National Museum in Baghdad has been destroyed. "Once American troops entered Baghdad in sufficient force to topple Saddam Hussein's government this week, it took only 48 hours for the museum to be destroyed, with at least 170,000 artifacts carried away by looters. The full extent of the disaster that befell the museum came to light only today, as the frenzied looting that swept much of the capital over the previous three days began to ebb." The New York Times 04/13/03

Calls To Protect Iraqi Art "Concerned archaeologists urged United States military leaders to take more forceful steps to protect Iraqi's cultural treasures and to restore control of them to the local Department of Antiquities. For weeks before the war, archaeologists and other scholars had alerted military planners to the risks of combat, particularly postwar pillage of the country's antiquities. These include 10,000 sites of ruins with such resonating names as Babylon, Nineveh, Nimrud and Ur." The New York Times 04/13/03

Looters Clean Out Iraqi Museum The Mosul Museum in Iraq has been looted. "The looters knew what they were looking for, and in less than 10 minutes had walked off with several million dollars worth of Parthian sculpture. "Iraq has a great history," said the museum's curator. "It's just been wrecked. I'm extremely angry. We used to have American and British tourists who visited this museum. I want to know whether the Americans accept this." The Guardian (UK) 04/12/03

Interest In Iraq Art Soars The British Museum reports that visits to its Iraqi exhibitions have tripled since the war on Iraq began. The British Museum has the greatest collection of Mesopotamian art outside Iraq. A spokeswoman confirmed that visits to its Mesopotamian and Assyrian galleries had risen significantly. 'It's just general curiosity from what's going on (with the war). Members of the public are coming from all over the world." BBC 03/31/03

Is Saddam Holding Historical Treasures Hostage? "Millennia ago, Iraq was the cradle of civilization, hence the concern about its cultural and archaeological sites. Is the U.S. taking sufficient care to spare Iraq's treasures? The laws of warfare make clear that while combatants may not target such sites, if they are used for military purposes they lose their protection." Unfortunately, say US commanders, the Iraqis have are putting military targets next to important archaeological sites. Recently Iraq "placed military equipment and communications equipment next to the 2,000-year-old brick arch of Ctesiphon on the banks of the Tigris River, the world's largest surviving arch from ancient times and the widest single-span arch in the world." OpinionJournal.com 03/27/03

Destroying The Cradle Of Civilization? Archaeologists fear that George Bush's war on Iraq and its aftermath could "obliterate much of humanity's earliest heritage. Heavily looted in the last 10 years, Iraq's archaeological treasure remains as precarious as the rest of the country's post-war future. 'What's really at stake here is our past. What happened here was the establishment of civilization as we know it - codified religion, bureaucracy, cities, writing. What developed there was modern life - urban existence." Philadelphia Inquirer 03/24/03

Destroying Treasures Of History Is Wrong - No Matter Who's Doing It Two years ago the world stood apalled as the Taliban blasted the historic Bamiyan Buddhas into oblivion. Though the regime commited many atrocities, somehow the destruction of the centuries-old statues stirred fresh outrage. Now the US is planning to bomb Iraq, site of many historical/archaeological treasures. Is this not outrageous also? Newsday 03/02/03

Iraq War Would Imperil Archaeological Treasures Archaeologists worry that a war in Iraq will stop digs across the Middle East. "Researchers with long experience in Iraq say they are worried that postwar looting could cause even more damage to the antiquities than combat. They also fear that some art dealers and collectors might try to take advantage of any postwar disarray and change in government to gain access to more of Iraq's archaeological treasures." The New York Times 02/25/03

Iraq War = Certain Destruction Of Artifacts Of Human History Iraq is rich in important historical sites and artifacts. "The country is one of the prime centers of Islamic art and culture. It is home to some of the earliest surviving examples of Islamic architecture — the Great Mosque at Samarra and the desert palace of Ukhaidar — and it is also a magnet for religious pilgrimage. The tombs of Imam Ali and his son Husein, founders of the Shiite branch of Islam, at Najaf and Karbala, are two of the most revered in the Muslim world." A war will surely damage some of it. The New York Times 02/25/03

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