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Haunting: The Pillaging and Destruction of Iraq's National Museum of Antiquities ( 0) Printer friendly page Print This
By Les Blough, Editor
Axis of Logic (with reprint from LA Times)
Wednesday, Apr 9, 2008

"The Iraqis have accused the US of the most organized cultural 'crime of the century'. And rightly so. US archaeologists have even suggested that the failure to protect Iraqi antiquities could amount to a war crime under the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property. According to initial estimates, a total of 170,000 statues, clay tablets, pieces of pottery and jewelry dating back more than 5,000 years to the first dawn of civilization simply vanished. Is this possible? Is it conceivable that a 5,000-year-old Sumerian alabaster vase — known as the warka vase, which weighs 300 kilograms and would need several people to remove it — could have been so easily carried away by looters without the connivance of US forces? The same applies to the 5,000-year-old alabaster Uruk Vase, the famous stone sculpture known as the 'White Lady', and the world-renowned clay tablets of King Gilgamesh written 2,500 years before Christ. Is it conceivable that the 9,000-year-old Neolithic collection of sculptures or the collection of 80,000 cuneiform tablets comprising the world’s earliest writing, or the spectacular cache of gold artifacts from the burial tombs of Assyrian queens in Nimrod could have been spirited away by petty thieves who simply hated Saddam Hussein? And what about the Babylonians tablets depicting Jews paying homage to the Babylonian king? Could that have been stolen by anyone other than Israeli-organized gangs?

- Dr. Afnan Hussein Fatani
Professor of Stylistics
King Abdul Aziz University
May 10, 2003

"Haunting" - In the din of the infamous war on the people of Iraq, the killing and maiming is haunting; the dead and disabled children ... the empty chairs at the dinner table ... the empty or destroyed houses where whole families once lived ... the suffering of those left behind ... all of it haunts us; the destruction of a modern infrastructure, power plants, bridges, highways, sewage systems, water supply, public schools, universities, hospitals, clinics, dental labs, irrigation systems, farms, orchards, research facilities are haunting - under Saddam, Iraq had it all; ... the destruction of this ancient culture is haunting.

I am sometimes ashamed to say it, but I must. In a strange way, the destruction of the National Museum of Antiquities in Baghdad haunts me more ... or at least differently ... than any of these. How can I place "things" above the suffering of my brothers and sisters in Iraq, one might fairly ask. I do not. But when in 2003, I watched the National Museum pillaged and robbed, it went to my sense of "the cradle" ... of the oldest symbols of our existance as homo sapien. humanity. It symbolized for me our self-annihilation as a species and whether we will ... can ... whether we can turn it around ... and go on. In some strange way, the destruction and pillaging of the National Museum of Antiquities was and continues to be, the most haunting of all in this dark, bloody hell called "The War in Iraq".

"The pillaging of the Baghdad Museum is a tragedy that has no parallel in world history; it is as if the Uffizi, the Louvre, or all the museums of Washington D.C. had been wiped out in one fell swoop. Some compare the event to the burning of the Alexandria Library. The full range of losses will probably never be known because the catalog records were scattered and destroyed and the living record of more than eight thousand years of human history has been erased in two days."

 - Piotr Michalowski, Professor
Near East Studies
University of Michigan
March 14, 2003

We remember well watching the U.S. Marines on television, guarding and protecting the attack on the museum, turning blind eyes from the thieves. We remember how under their watch, some grand statues could only be loaded with cranes onto tractor trailers before being hauled off by the barbaric invaders. The corporate media report below states,

"Some headlines at the time exaggerated the size of the damage -- erroneously reporting 170,000 items missing. Investigators later discovered that some important artifacts -- including gold jewelry from Nimrud -- had been hidden at Iraq's Central Bank since the Persian Gulf War in 1990."

Why should we believe the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post or New York Times with their history of lies about the war in Iraq? - lies that continue today. Who is Johanna Neuman of the LA Times who wrote this simple-minded report on the 5th anniversary of the destruction of Baghdad? Why should we believe her sources when she makes vague references like, "Investigators say ..."? Why should we believe her "experts" ... or for that matter, the FBI or Interpol as they investigate this unprecedented crime on behalf of the invader/occupier? The LA Times offers no proof or evidence of their claims. Was it 175,000 artifacts stolen, as reported earlier by archeologists and historians for years - or 15,000 as the LA Times now reports below? Artificially reduced numbers mean impunity for the thieves.

Neuman includes a sentimental quote by "U.S. Marine Reserve Col. Matthew Bogdanos, a New York assistant district attorney who has made the hunt for antiquities his specialty". When researching the looting of the museum, his name is repeatedly touted in the corporate media with nauseating frequency as the hero who is devoting his life to recovering the stolen artifacts. In the report below, he is quoted: "The numbers can't tell the whole story, These things remind us of our common beginnings." No, Col. Bodganos, of course "the numbers can't tell the whole story". But the story is based on the numbers. Therefore, we won't allow the numbers to be diminished or forgotten with your simplistic reflection about our "common beginnings". It's difficult to hear a Marine Colonel refer to "our common beginnings when it was his Marine Corps who presided over the destruction.

It was not only the museum that was pillaged in the wake of the 2003 invasion. Dr. Afnan Hussein Fatani also wrote about other historic buildings that were looted and burned and those responsible for the destruction:

"There are now credible and independent eyewitness accounts that US Marines were actually encouraging mobs to ransack and destroy the administrative and cultural institutions of the country. They even helped transport busloads of looters from the slum areas of Baghdad for that very purpose. According to an April 11 report by Ole Rothenborg, published in the Swedish Newspaper Dagens Nyheter, US Marines killed two Sudanese guards standing at their posts in front of an administrative building on the other side of Haifa Avenue in Baghdad and then crushed the entrance and gestured to the people to start looting; loudspeakers encouraged them in Arabic to take back “what belongs to them.” US tanks then moved on to the next government building, the Justice Department, and then the next and the next and the next. All in all, 158 government buildings were gutted and most of them set on fire. Only the Ministry of Oil and the Ministry of the Interior were left intact and guarded by US Marines."

Where have these stolen thousands of the earliest, artistic symbols of our existance been hidden? We are told by the LA Times, "Some had been hidden at Iraq's Central Bank" and many early reports in the U.S. media blamed Iraqis for stealing their own antiquities. Some even reported that they were being sold to fund Al Queda. But what about those that have beenrecovered? The LA Times tells us, "About half have been recovered." - that is half of their number, "17,000". Where were they found? Who were the thieves? Was anyone arrested? Where are the corporate media headlines of the thieves being arrested or standing trial?

Dr. Fatani continued,

"Who are these arsonists who sadistically set Iraq on fire with such vengeance? Robert Fisk describes them as a “trained and organized” army of men armed with maps and moving confidently from one building to another in utter indifference to US troops, knowing exactly where to go and what to burn next. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out who these men are. In any crime, the most important clue to solving the mystery is the motive. Let’s just ask ourselves, who stands most to gain from wiping out the Islamic, cultural and artistic identity of the Iraqi people. In who’s best interest is it to extract the ancient roots of Iraqi culture and civilization and destroy the symbols of Iraqi nationalism and pride? Just think about it. All roads lead inevitably to one destination, perhaps two."

It's as good a bet as any that some of Iraq's antiquities are stashed in New York as was Iran's stolen gold after the Shah fell. Who had control of the crime scene? It's just as good a bet that the artistic symbols of early man are hidden in Tel Aviv. We know Mossad was present in Iraq when the U.S invader pillaged the museum. What greater coup for the Israelis, who were behind this war from the beginning, than to take the heart and soul of their old enemy, one day show them in their own museums or eventually sell them off for profit? Motive ... Method ... Opportunity - but Dr. Fatani emphasizes motive above all.

If the human species and the capitalist system survives this madness, Iraq's antiquities may rest in an Israeli museum or perhaps be auctioned at Sotheby's in NYC, just as other pillaged art from centuries back became the private property of the ruling class and are sold today by the the rich to their greedy brethren. Haunting is one word that befits this darkness that threatens to extinguish the light for us all but this word too is consumed in the fire. 

© Copyright 2008 by


This material is available for republication as long as reprints include verbatim copy of the article its entirety, respecting its integrity. Reprints must cite the author and Axis of Logic as the original source including a "live link" to the article. Thank you!


Bio and Additional Articles by Les Blough

April 8, 2008
Missing Iraq antiquities haunt experts
Johanna Neuman
Los Angeles Times

About half of the 15,000 items either stolen or otherwise unaccounted for have been recovered, but the gaping hole in history remains on the fifth anniversary of the looting of Iraq's National Museum.

April 8, 2008

Five years ago, looters ransacked the Iraqi National Museum, stealing centuries-old artifacts that celebrated Iraq's role as the cradle of civilization. Some headlines at the time exaggerated the size of the damage -- erroneously reporting 170,000 items missing. Investigators later discovered that some important artifacts -- including gold jewelry from Nimrud -- had been hidden at Iraq's Central Bank since the Persian Gulf War in 1990.

Today, investigators say that about 15,000 pieces were either stolen in the wake of war or went unaccounted for in the months and years before the conflict began. About half have been recovered. But the impact of the thefts -- amulets, Assyrian ivories, sculpture heads, ritual vessels and cylinder seals -- is still being felt in art circles and black markets throughout the world.

"The numbers can't tell the whole story," said U.S. Marine Reserve Col. Matthew Bogdanos, a New York assistant district attorney who has made the hunt for antiquities his specialty. "These things remind us of our common beginnings."

Interpol has been on the case, as has the FBI, where a new top 10 art crimes list has reported some early successes, including recovery of eight cylinder seals.

"We are still looking for this material. It's still important that we recover it if it is out there," said Bonnie Magness-Gardner, an archaeologist and art theft program manager at the FBI. "This material represents the rise of civilization in the Western world."

Bogdanos says there are as many reasons to steal antiquities as there are people -- "money, lust, a misguided sense that they are preserving Iraqi culture . . . cultural hatred, heritage used as a weapon . . . every base or self-deceptive motive you can imagine."

Much of the treasure is recovered in the Middle East, he said.

To mark the fifth anniversary of the looting, the University of Chicago's Cultural Policy Center is hosting a panel discussion Wednesday at the National Press Club in Washington. Called "Antiquities Under Siege," the panel will examine what director Lawrence Rothfield calls the continuing crime of eroding the history buried in the desert of Iraq.

"The FBI and Interpol are working on this, but with a staff, in the case of Interpol, that can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and that staff responsible not just for Iraq but for combating all illicit trafficking in cultural goods worldwide, they need help," said Rothfield, who also questioned why the Pentagon did not include international arts organizations in its postwar planning until early 2003. "Had they been at the table [from the beginning] they might have been able to hammer home the likelihood that the museum would be attacked by looters as soon as the regime fell."

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