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Artifacts and other Facts
Sometimes you find indicators of progress in Iraq in odd places. This story contains a hidden gem - see if you notice it (Hint: I subtly highlighted it in bold) :
Jordan returns stolen antiquities to Iraq(Comprehensive coverage of this and other recoveries - and future hopes - is available via Lebanon's Daily Star)
AMMAN (AFP) — Jordan on Sunday returned to Iraq some 2,466 artefacts, including gold coins, jewellery and Islamic and ancient manuscripts, that were stolen after the 2003 US-led invasion of its neighbour.
"Now that stability is restored in Iraq, Jordan decided to return these antiquities to where they belong, to Iraq, the cradle of civilisation," Jordanian Tourism Minister Maha Khatib told a news conference.
But did you notice the part where the Jordanian government official declared that stability is restored in Iraq? Crazy, huh? Probably just an artifact of translation, but to be safe someone had better get her a gift subscription to the New York Times - quick.
Of course, that illustrious paper covered the story too - one paragraph, sans the "stability" comment, but with this:
Thousands of pieces were looted after the 2003 invasion, and Iraqi officials have blamed the pilfering on smugglers and occupying troops.In fact, that "blame" was a major feature of their April 2003 front page banner headline story:
The National Museum of Iraq recorded a history of civilizations that began to flourish in the fertile plains of Mesopotamia more than 7,000 years ago. But 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.Two days later a Times op/ed would clarify:
Officials with crumpled spirits fought back tears and anger at American troops, as they ran down an inventory of the most storied items that they said had been carried away by the thousands of looters who poured into the museum after daybreak on Thursday and remained until dusk on Friday, with only one intervention by American forces, lasting about half an hour, at lunchtime on Thursday.
Mr. Muhammad spoke with deep bitterness toward the Americans, as have many Iraqis who have watched looting that began with attacks on government agencies and the palaces and villas of Mr. Hussein, his family and his inner circle broaden into a tidal wave of looting that struck just about every government institution, even ministries dealing with issues like higher education, trade and agriculture, and hospitals.
The looting of Iraq's national museum in Baghdad could have been prevented. The American and British forces are clearly to blame for the destruction and displacement of its cultural treasures.The story would never have been told if "museum officials" hadn't risked their own lives to bring reporters to the scene:
As fires in a dozen government ministries and agencies began to burn out, and as looters tired of pillaging in the 90-degree heat, museum officials reached the hotels where foreign journalists were staying along the eastern bank of the Tigris River. They brought word of what is likely to be reckoned as one of the greatest cultural disasters in recent Middle Eastern history.It was quite a story - though reality was quite different. You can read early indications of just how wrong it was here and here, and a comprehensive review of subsequent events here:
What was beyond contest today was that the 28 galleries of the museum and vaults with huge steel doors guarding storage chambers that descend floor after floor into unlighted darkness had been completely ransacked.
And on July 3, 2003, the Iraq National Museum was reopened to diplomats and the news media, to show how most of the antiquities, recently feared lost forever, had been recovered or miraculously accounted for.Tragically, Private First Class Edward J. “Jim” Herrgott was killed by a sniper while guarding the museum that night:
"He was outside the national museum in his Bradley tank and he was doing his watch as guard duty. He had slid up into the gunner's seat -- the gunner's hatch -- and a sniper got him in the neck. From reports that we heard, he was rushed to the hospital but they wren unable to keep him alive," Ken Kewatt said.
Marine Colonel Matthew Bogdanos (a Marine Reservist whose civilian job was DA in Manhattan) who had witnessed the 9/11 up close and was recalled to active duty for a tour in Afghanistan would take on the task of investigating the museum looting in April, 2003. He published his account in the book Thieves of Baghdad (Personal aside: I read this while deployed to Iraq on my last tour- excellent book.)
Col Bogdanos originally had a different mission in Iraq, but...
On April 15, I was again in Basra when a journalist approached me with rage in her eyes, screaming, "You macho assholes are down here looking for missiles and money, and the finest museum in the world in Baghdad has just been looted."He checked the headlines, including the one over the New York Times story above, and the AP's "Museum treasures now war booty" ("The Americans knew that the museum was at risk and could have protected it, said Patty Gerstenblith, a professor at DePaul School of Law in Chicago") and the Independent's U.S. blamed for failure to stop sacking of museum ("THE UNITED States was fiercely criticised around the world yesterday for its failure to protect Baghdad's Iraq National Museum where, under the noses of US troops, looters stole or destroyed priceless artefacts up to 7,000 years old.") and realized his efforts would need re-focusing.
Read the book for the full story of Bogdanos' incredible efforts over the subsequent six months, detailing the recovery of all but a few artifacts from the various locations where the museum officials had hidden them for safekeeping.
But consider also that for those crucial first six months in Baghdad Bogdanos and his team were kept from what would have been their primary mission.
"I had been called to the Pentagon on September 10, 2003, to give the Department of Defense's final briefing on the investigation... CENTCOM had given me six months of virtually unlimited authority, resources, and funding. They had allowed me to divert significant assets from our assigned counterterrorism mission to hunt down some pieces of rock with funny writing on them."But that's all ancient history now. And what difference could counterterror operations have made in those months anyhow?
"Now that stability is restored in Iraq..."
More to follow...
As usual, GreyHawk, you are accurate and perceptive. What wonders we could have done, and how many innocent Iraqi and American lives could have been saved if COL Bogdanos had not been diverted from his primary mission. If only the Iraqi people had acted like folks who were civilized for the first year of the invasion aftermath, instead of like savages unaccustomed to taking care of their own lives, their own fortunes, and their own country. The looting and stealing of poor Iraqis to advance their own lives at the expense of every single one of their neighbors, when they stole electrical cables, oil, vehicles, phones, every technology available, and sold them for cheap scrap had more to do with the last 5 yrs of poverty and despair they have experienced themselves, than anything an American soldier, General, Defense Secretary, or President had to do with.
The Iraqis brought their fate upon themselves by eschewing the lessons they supposedly taught everyone else in the world at one time. Cradle of Civilization, indeed.
SubsunkPosted by Subsunk at June 26, 2008 10:44 PM
A reminder: For months in 2003, every news agency on Earth reported that at least 50 percent (usually 100 percent) of the Iraq National Museum's antiquities had been taken by looters.
It turns out only 1 percent was taken by looters.
Yes, 1 percent. 95 percent never left the musuem. 2 percent was kept in other safe places.
Another 2 percent was stolen by museum workers in an inside job, before U.S. troops ever arrived in Baghdad.
That means 1 percent of those artifacts were stolen, and that was because Saddam's forces, who took sniper's positions inside and on top of the museum, shot at U.S. forces from those positions, and then left a museum back door open to looters.
But that was 1 percent looted.
That's a damn good performance in the face of a fascist enemy's bullets and shells during the liberation of 25 million Iraqis.Posted by Frank Warner at June 27, 2008 03:31 AM
In the third to last paragraph, in the above comment, I meant to say "looted" when I said "stolen."Posted by Frank Warner at June 27, 2008 03:39 AM Hide Comments | Show/Add Comments in Popup Window(3) | (Note: You must refresh main page to view newly posted comments here)