More on the aftermath of Iraqi museum looting...

Rohit Khare rohit at ics.uci.edu
Sun Apr 20 15:14:30 PDT 2003


For the archives: An article from Slate, an AP wrap-up of the  
resignations of various officials, and the Salon piece. In general,  
reading some comments from the British Culture Minister in the  
_Economist_ today, at least one member of the Coalition is taking this  
seriously. Also, for posterity, a quip from Blair in this NYT  
week-in-review wrapup:

> Just how high a risk he thought he was running in bucking majority  
> opinion against the war emerged in an interview this weekend with The  
> Sun, a tabloid that had given him unflinching support. He told the  
> newspaper that he had had aides draw up resignation papers in case the  
> outcome of the Commons debate went against him and that he had warned  
> his family he might lose his job over the issue.
>
> "In the end, it is a decision you put the whole of the premiership on  
> the line for," he said. A total of 139 Labor members voted against the  
> government, but it was not enough to deny him overall party support.

> The Sun interview, a shirt-sleeves affair in the garden behind 10  
> Downing Street, appeared designed to balance Mr. Blair's recent image  
> as a steely war leader confronting critics with a folksier version of  
> an informal regular guy. He is to meet this week in London with Prime  
> Minister José María Aznar of Spain, an ally who also had to battle  
> negative opinion, and he talked about a light-hearted exchange they  
> had had.
>
> "At one point he rang me to say, `I have the support of only 4 percent  
> of the people,' " Mr. Blair said. "I replied, Crikey, that's even less  
> than the number who think Elvis Presley is still alive."

I wonder what it's come to, when even the _Economist_ is praising  
leaders for defying so much of their electorates... and yet, that  
seemed the necessary thing to do. Hmm... how did I end up in this  
corner?

Sigh,
   Rohit

Raiders of the Lost Art
Why didn't we protect the National Museum and Library in Baghdad?
By Meghan O'Rourke
Posted Thursday, April 17, 2003, at 4:28 PM PT
http://slate.msn.com/id/2081647/

The Bush administration and the military have made it sound as though  
the extensive looting of three major Iraqi cultural institutions in  
Baghdad this past weekend was not foreseeable. At a Centcom briefing  
April 15, U.S. Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said, "I don't think anyone  
anticipated that the riches of Iraq would be looted by the people of  
Iraq." But in fact the administration had reason to suspect that this  
looting would happen. During uprisings within Iraq after the first Gulf  
War, nine of 13 regional museums, in Dohuk and elsewhere, were  
systematically looted. Many of these artifacts appeared on the  
international black market. It shouldn't have been a surprise that  
widespread theft would take place again during an interregnum in  
Baghdad. What's more, the Pentagon had long ago been informed by  
archaeologists of the value and importance of these institutions and in  
fact had drawn up a "No Strike List" of sites to avoid during its shock  
and awe campaign—a list that included the National Museum. On April 17,  
the chairman of the President's Advisory Committee on Cultural Property  
submitted his resignation to President Bush citing "the wanton and  
preventable destruction" of Iraq's National Museum of Antiquities.

If, like me, you know little about Mesopotamian art, the reports that  
emerged over the weekend might have found you unable to judge just how  
significant the loss was. By now it's clear that it's horrifically  
extensive: Archaeologists in the United States consider the National  
Museum of Antiquities, thoroughly sacked, to be among the 10 most  
important museums in the world. It was to Mesopotamian art what the  
Louvre is to Western painting. It maintained a collection of  
international antiquities dating back some 5,000 years. Needless to  
say, many Arab countries and civilians are taking its destruction  
personally. And yet this destruction was largely unnecessary.

Among the important pieces of art missing is a 4,300-year-old bronze  
mask of an Akkadian king that is featured in most books of ancient art  
history. It was on the cover of one of my high school textbooks; I  
remember wanting to touch its nubbly beard. Also gone is a small  
limestone statuette of a prince, circa 3300 B.C.; jewelry from the  
royal tombs of Ur dating to 2500 B.C.; a solid gold harp from the  
Sumerian era; a series of small ivories dating to the eighth century  
B.C.; second-century B.C. Parthian sculptures from Hatra; and a  
collection of around 80,000 cuneiform tablets that contain examples of  
the some of the world's earliest writing.

The museum's comprehensive collection was unprecedented. Saddam's  
secularism and his long-term interest in Iraq's archaeological  
legacy—in part self-serving; he inscribed his name next to  
Nebuchadnezzar's in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon—had enriched the  
National Museum's collection. (According to a Financial Times piece  
from 2000, Saddam reportedly made extensive suggestions in the margins  
of all reports filed by Iraq's archaeological director, Donny George.  
He also made antiquities smuggling punishable by death.)

But it's hard to know exactly what's been lost. Because of the U.S.  
embargo, few American archaeologists had even been in Baghdad since  
1991. Several I spoke with noted that we can't rule out the possibility  
that Saddam Hussein and Baath Party officials may have been selling off  
items over the years. (In 2000, when the National Museum reopened after  
renovations for damage done during the first Gulf War, a BBC  
correspondent wrote that many exhibits and treasures previously at the  
museum were missing.) One suggested that the initial estimate of  
170,000 stolen objects would turn out to be high.

The destruction wrought in the National Library and the Ministry for  
Religious Affairs, on the other hand, is irreparable: The buildings  
were burned nearly to the ground. As Michael Sells, a professor of  
comparative religions at Haverford College and a co-editor of The  
Cambridge History of Arabic Literature, explained, we'll never have a  
chance to buy back, on the black market, all the books and manuscripts  
that were burned—nor will we discover them someday in a criminal's  
closet. Among them were extensive antique manuscripts that are not  
available in print, and thousands of illuminated and handwritten  
Qurans, now in ashes.

An armed guard protecting empty shelvesHow could this happen? The  
looting of the museum occurred in two waves, according to witnesses and  
to international art and antiquities experts. The first appears to have  
been executed by insiders equipped with glass cutters and other tools.  
Apparently, they knew what they were looking for. The thieves opened  
glass display cases without smashing them and penetrated the locked  
vaults in the museum. The second wave of looting was what's known as  
opportunistic—the kind that Donald Rumsfeld described as the natural  
exuberance of a country working off the nervous energy occasioned by  
regime change.

The Pentagon has defended its non-action by saying that it agreed to  
protect the sites during battle, as distinct from any looting that came  
afterward. Splitting hairs, anyone? The United States could easily have  
done more to stop the ransacking. The looting of the museum began on  
Friday; it extended, according to a BBC radio report, for three days,  
at which point there still were no guards posted outside the building.  
Numerous newspapers quote Iraqi citizens who saw American patrols  
impassively watch as looters carted away vases, jewelry, pots, and  
other goods. The Guardian reported on Monday that U.S. Army commanders  
had just rejected a new plea from desperate officials of the Iraq  
Museum for aid. And the fires at the National Library and the Ministry  
of Religious Affairs took place two whole days after the looting of the  
museum began. Americans ought to have protected the museums, just as we  
posted Army patrols outside the National Ministry of Oil.

The military's inaction doesn't seem to have been a question of  
choosing between protecting civilians and guarding gold jewelry. The  
Chicago Tribune reported that the U.S. military successfully assigned  
men to chip away a disrespectful mural of former President George Bush  
on the floor of the Al Rashid Hotel, even though it failed to protect  
the museum and library from being plundered.

Why didn't anyone act? How hard would it have been for someone to call  
Tommy Franks and say, "This is getting out of hand"? Put bluntly, it  
seems like the administration just didn't care enough to stop it—an  
indifference that's part and parcel with its general attitude toward  
anything other than its military objectives. Rumsfeld appeared  
genuinely annoyed even to have to answer questions about the ransacking  
of the museum and library: "We didn't allow it to happen. It happened,"  
he said. This ham-fisted diplomacy immediately gave rise to  
anti-American conspiracy-mongering: Nine British archaeologists  
suggested that, in turning a blind eye to the looting, the Bush  
administration was succumbing to pressure from private collectors to  
allow treasures to be traded on the open market. Others have suggested  
the administration wanted the world to feel the symbolic weight of the  
destruction of Saddam's regime.

What's to be done now? If they haven't already, the military might  
start by posting guards at the museum—even as a token symbol of  
respect. Today, UNESCO is holding an emergency meeting in Paris to  
refine strategies for dealing with the catastrophe. According to  
antiquities experts, the best chance for recovering the stolen art is  
seizing it at the borders of Iraq (which U.S. troops are patrolling in  
the hopes of keeping Baath officials from escaping). A group of  
archaeologists, including John Malcolm Russell, a specialist in  
Mesopotamian archaeology at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston,  
have drawn up guidelines of what the military should look for, and are  
urging the U.S. government to offer amnesty and a small reward for all  
those who have "found" Iraqi art. But for the military to take on this  
responsibility, the administration itself needs to convey the urgency  
of the matter—which it has only just begun to do: On Thursday, the FBI  
announced that it would help in the search to recover antiquities.  
Although Colin Powell has promised that the United States would help  
rebuild the city's National Museum, no U.S. official has yet  
apologized—and there've been few or no words from Bush on the issue.

Only two of the thousands of pieces of art that were stolen after the  
first Gulf War were recovered, McGuire Gibson, who teaches Mesopotamian  
archaeology at the University of Chicago, has said. 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. And the United  
States now has a black mark that it could have avoided.
======================================
<http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&ncid=584&e=2&cid=584&u=/ 
nm/20030417/pl_nm/iraq_antiquities_dc>

US Culture Advisers Resign Over Iraq Museum Looting
By Niala Boodhoo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two cultural advisers to the Bush administration
have resigned in protest over the failure of U.S. forces to prevent the
wholesale looting of priceless treasures from Baghdad's antiquities
museum. Martin Sullivan, who chaired the President's Advisory Committee
on Cultural Property for eight years, and panel member Gary Vikan said
they resigned because the U.S. military had had advance warning of the
danger to Iraq's historical treasures.

"We certainly know the value of oil but we certainly don't know the
value of historical artifacts," Vikan, director of the Walters Art
Gallery in Baltimore, told Reuters on Thursday.

At the start of the U.S.-led campaign against Iraq, military forces
quickly secured valuable oil fields.

Baghdad's museums, galleries and libraries are empty shells, destroyed
in a wave of looting that erupted as U.S.-led forces ended Saddam
Hussein's rule last week, although antiquities experts have said they
were given assurances months ago from U.S. military planners that Iraq's
historic artifacts and sites would be protected by occupying forces.

"It didn't have to happen," Sullivan told Reuters. "In a pre-emptive war
that's the kind of thing you should have planned for." Sullivan sent his
letter of resignation earlier this week.

The Iraqi National Museum held rare artifacts documenting the
development of mankind in ancient Mesopotamia, one of the world's
earliest civilizations. Among the museum collection were more than
80,000 cuneiform tablets, some of which had yet to be translated.

Professional art thieves may have been behind some of the looting, said
leading archeologists gathered in Paris on Thursday to seek ways to
rescue Iraq's cultural heritage.

Among the priceless treasures missing are the 5,000-year-old Vase of
Uruk and the Harp of Ur. The bronze Statue of Basitki from the Akkadian
kingdom is also gone, somehow hauled out of the museum despite its huge
weight.

The White House repeated on Thursday that the looting was unfortunate
but the U.S. military had worked hard to preserve the infrastructure of
Iraq.

"It is unfortunate that there was looting and damage done to the museum
and we have offered rewards, as Secretary Rumsfeld has said, for
individuals who may have taken items from the museum to bring those
back," White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said in Crawford, Texas,
where President Bush is spending a long Easter break.

FBI Director Robert Mueller added that the bureau was sending agents to
Iraq to assist with criminal investigations and had issued Interpol
alerts to all member nations regarding the potential sale of stolen
artifacts.

"We recognize the importance of these treasures to the Iraqi people and
as well to the world as a whole," Mueller said. "And we are firmly
committed to doing whatever we can in order to secure the return of
these treasures to the people of Iraq."

The president appoints the 11-member advisory committee, which works
through the State Department to advise the executive office on the 1970
UNESCO Convention on international protection of cultural objects.


========================================
From: Paul Saffo <psaffo at iftf.org>
Date: Thu, 17 Apr 2003 07:41:20 -0700
To: Dave Farber <dave at farber.net>
Subject: Best context on the Baghdad looting

Dave-
This is far and away the best article on the looting and the US failure  
to
stop it. I urge you to share it on IP.  My forecaster's instinct tells  
me
that this failure will cost our country dearly in the decades to come,  
and I
expect that one day our descendants will be held to account for this  
crime
against civilization.
-p


---------------------------
http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2003/04/17/antiquities/index.html

The end of civilization
The sacking of Iraq's museums is like a "lobotomy" of an entire  
culture, say
art experts. And they warned the Pentagon repeatedly of this potential
catastrophe months before the war.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Louise Witt


April 17, 2003  |  On Jan. 24 at the Pentagon, a small group of  
accomplished
archeologists and art curators met with Joseph Collins, who reports  
directly
to Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and four other Pentagon
officials to talk about how the U.S. military could protect Iraq's  
cultural
and archeological sites from damage and destruction during the  
impending war
in that country. McGuire Gibson, a professor at the Oriental Institute  
at
the University of Chicago, gave the officials a list of 5,000 cultural  
and
archeological sites. First on the list: the National
Museum of Iraq in Baghdad.

Gibson recalls he talked to the group about the importance of  
safeguarding
the museum from bomb damage -- and from looting after the military  
conflict
ended. "I pointed to the museum's location on a map of Baghdad and said:
'It's right here,'" he recalled in an interview. "I asked them to make
assurances that they'd make efforts to prevent looting and they said  
they
would. I thought we had assurances, but they didn't pan out."

On April 10, a day after Saddam Hussein's regime collapsed and Baghdad  
was
in the hands of U.S. military forces, the National Museum of Iraq was
ransacked. In a matter of hours, thousands of Iraqis, some thought to be
working for art dealers, clambered into the museum that had been closed  
to
the public for years. After two days of looting, almost all of the  
museum's
170,000 artifacts were either stolen or damaged. Ancient vases were  
smashed.
Statues were beheaded. In the museum's collection were items from Ur and
Uruk, the first city-states, settled around 4000 B.C., including art,
jewelry and clay tablets containing cuneiform, considered to be the  
first
examples of writing. The museum also housed giant alabaster and  
limestone
carvings taken from palaces of ancient kings.

"It's catastrophic," says Gibson, who is also head of the American
Association for Research in Baghdad, a consortium of about 30 U.S.  
museums
and universities. "It's a lot like a lobotomy. The deep memory of an  
entire
culture, a culture that has continued for thousands of years, has been
removed. There was 5,000 years of written records, even Egyptian records
don't go back that far. It's an incredible crime."

In the aftermath of a looting spree that stripped museums in Baghdad and
Mosul, left the National Library a smoldering ruin and turned thousands  
of
ancient Qurans at the Ministry for Religious Affairs to ashes,
archaeologists and museum curators from around the world are racing  
today to
assess the damage and, where possible, to recover what has not been
destroyed. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization (UNESCO) has called an emergency meeting Thursday in Paris  
to
review the disaster. Even the U.S. government has pledged
an aggressive effort to help recover Iraq's stolen historical treasures.

Gibson, who will attend the UNESCO meeting, and other experts in  
archaeology
and ancient art are hardly mollified by that pledge. In a series of
interviews with Salon, they offered a detailed account of warnings  
given to
U.S. war planners beginning last fall, and continuing up to the days  
before
the war -- warnings which were all but ignored.

"It's extraordinary," says Joan Aruz, curator in charge of the  
Department of
Ancient Near Eastern Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. "It's of the
utmost significance, not only for the cultural heritage of Iraq, but  
also
for the rest of the world. The museum contained the greatest work of art
created in the first cities. The loss is just outstanding. I haven't  
gotten
over the shock."

Aruz, who's in charge of the Met's upcoming exhibition about ancient  
Iraq,
says one of her favorite pieces in the museum's collection is a figure  
of a
man with a beard referred to as "The Priest King." Another is a carved  
face
of a sensitive-looking young woman. The combined value of the artifacts
could be in the billions of dollars.

Some archeological and art experts think that the sack of Baghdad may  
be a
result of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's decision not commit  
more
ground forces. Instead, he opted for a "rolling start" invasion where  
troops
would be deployed to Iraq as needed. Other generals, including Gen.  
Eric K.
Shinseki, the Army's chief of staff, criticized Rumsfeld's decision. One
unnamed general even called it a "war on the cheap."

The U.S. and Britain deployed almost 300,000 troops to the Persian Gulf
region. In contrast, during the Operation Desert Storm in 1991, allied
forces numbered closer to 500,000. "Now, we're seeing the consequences  
of
that decision," says Scott Silliman, who was the senior attorney for the
U.S. Air Force's Tactical Air Command during the first Gulf War.  
Silliman
worked with archeologists at that time to make sure the Air Force took
precautions not to destroy or harm Iraq's cultural and ancient sites.

Coalition forces are trying to restore civil order in Baghdad, a city  
of 4.5
million, and the looting has almost ended. However, the pandemonium and
destruction that occurred have cost the Bush administration credibility  
and
trust in Iraq and across the Arab world. Silliman, who's now a law  
professor
at Duke University and executive director of the Center for Law, Ethics  
and
National Security, says the coalition forces may have violated the  
Fourth
Geneva Convention, which calls for an occupying force to protect  
cultural
property. Even if the coalition forces didn't intentionally breach the
Geneva Conventions, he says, "the effect [of the looting] will be more  
in
world opinion, than in legal sanctions."

After the first reports of looting at Iraq's museums -- and the first
questions were raised about the failure of U.S. forces to intervene --
Rumsfeld's initial comments signaled that the U.S. didn't think that
protection of antiquities and art was a priority. At a news conference  
last
Friday, he blamed press coverage for inflating the problem. "The images  
you
are seeing on television you are seeing over and over and over," he  
said,
"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?'"

That outraged archaeologists, historians and others around the world.  
Jane
Waldbaum is president of the Archaeological Institute of America, a  
group
based in Milwaukee with a membership of 9,000 amateur and professional
archeologists in the U.S. and Canada; after meeting with officials in  
the
State Department in March to discuss protecting Iraq's antiquities, she  
was
outraged first by the unchecked looting and then by Rumsfeld's response.
"Donald Rumsfeld in his speech basically shrugged and said, 'Boys will  
be
boys. What's a little looting?'" she said. "Freedom is messy, but  
freedom
doesn't mean you have the freedom to commit crimes. This loss is almost
immeasurable."

In the past few days, the U.S. Central Command in Qatar has tried  
softening
Rumsfeld's off-the-cuff remarks. "I don't think anyone anticipated the
riches of Iraq would be looted by the Iraqi people," Brig. Gen. Vincent
Brooks said Tuesday. In fact, however, the Pentagon, the State  
Department
and the White House had been warned repeatedly, for months.

On Oct. 15, Ashton Hawkins, president of the American Council for  
Cultural
Policy, a not-for-profit group formed to promote issues relating to art
collecting, sent a letter to Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell  
and
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice asking what steps the  
government
and the military were taking to secure Iraq's antiquities. Copies of the
letter were also sent to various officials in the National Security  
Council,
the Central Intelligence Agency and other agencies.

Hawkins, a former general counsel at New York's Metropolitan Museum of  
Art,
received no response.

Then in November, Hawkins and Maxwell L. Anderson, president of the  
American
Association of Museum Art Directors and director of the Whitney Museum  
of
American Art in New York, wrote an Op-Ed for the Washington Post. In the
piece published Nov. 29, they reiterated the points made in the earlier
letter and said that the U.S. government and the military should
prepare plans to protect Iraq's cultural and archeological sites.

"In the event of hostilities," they wrote, "we urge that steps be taken  
to
protect Iraq's heritage, in which we have a shared interest. Our  
military
and civilian leaderships should be aware of the location of Iraq's most
significant cultural and religious sites and monuments. To this end, we  
urge
the administration to consider the creation now (and not later) of a
planning mechanism specifically charged with ensuring that Iraq's  
material
culture is protected.

"At the conclusion of hostilities, should they occur, the United States  
and
its coalition partners will become heirs to responsibilities that  
include,
in addition to the welfare of Iraq's people, the task of protecting  
Iraq's
holy cities and ancient sites. Measures should be taken to ensure  
absolute
respect for the integrity of Iraq's sites and monuments, and to prevent
looting of any kind. In addition the coalition should encourage a new  
Iraqi
civil administration to move quickly to establish security for its own
monuments, sites and museums and support the reconstitution of
Iraq's antiquities service.

"We should not allow our primary objectives in this region to  
overshadow our
cultural responsibilities. Ultimately we may well be judged by how we  
behave
toward Iraq's patrimony in the course of any military action and  
occupation
we may undertake."

Again, no response from the White House, the Pentagon or the State
Department. Finally, Collins, the deputy assistant secretary of defense  
for
special operations/low intensity conflict, contacted Hawkins in the  
first
week of January and said he'd like to meet with him and whoever else he
thought would be helpful in coming up with a plan to protect Iraq's
archeological heritage. Originally scheduled for mid-January, the  
meeting
was postponed until Jan. 24. Those present at the meeting included  
Hawkins,
Anderson, Gibson, Arthur Houghton, vice president of the American  
Council
for Cultural Policy and a former curator at the Getty Museum in Los  
Angeles,
and, on the government's side, Collins and four other Pentagon  
officials.

The meeting was informal. Collins did not return calls seeking comment,  
but
others who attended remember him saying that the Pentagon wanted to  
expand
its list of archeological sites. The Defense Department had a list of  
150
sites compiled during the 1991 Gulf War. Gibson said he could provide  
the
Pentagon with thousands and thousands of other sites worth protecting.  
The
question was raised about what would be done to make sure that coalition
forces protect and safeguard property. Collins reassured the group that  
he
would issue an order making sure that the troops knew how to behave.

Everyone left the meeting satisfied that the Pentagon recognized the
importance of safeguarding and protecting Iraq's sites. In subsequent
communications with the Pentagon, Gibson stressed that after Saddam's  
regime
collapsed, the coalition would have to quickly deploy Special Forces  
troops
to secure cultural and archeological sites to prevent them from being
ransacked and damaged by looters. "I really hoped that the U.S. military
would take the National Museum of Iraq and protect it," he says. "I was
naive. I guess we were talking too far down the line of command."

In mid-March, just days before Anglo-American forces entered Baghdad, an
expanded group met with Ryan Crocker, deputy assistant secretary of the
Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. Waldbaum attended the meeting, as did  
Bonnie
Burnham, president of the World Monuments Fund, a private, nonprofit
architectural and art preservation organization in New York. The fund
designated two sites in Iraq for protection: the Nineveh and Nimrud  
Palaces
near Mosul, portions of which are more than 2,700 years old, and the  
Arbil
Citadel, built 8,000 years ago.

Crocker did not return calls seeking comment, but according to others  
at the
meeting, he pledged that the State Department would set up a working  
group
to focus on protecting Iraq's cultural and archaeological sites. He  
asked
the people at the meeting to provide names of Iraqis who could  
participate
in the working group once the coalition forces had secured Iraq. But it  
was
too late. The war's progress overtook the State Department's efforts,  
and
when Saddam's government in Baghdad collapsed on April 9, mayhem ensued.

Archeologists and art curators think that some of the looting was  
organized
by a conspiracy of antiquity dealers and smugglers. Proof of that is  
that
the heavy metal doors on the storage room at the National Museum of Iraq
weren't broken down, indicating that it was opened with a key. Also, the
card catalog listing the thousands and thousands of items in the museum  
was
destroyed. There is a duplicate somewhere, but the destruction of the  
one of
the catalogs shows that there was an effort to cover up what was going  
on.
In fact, there have been reports that artifacts that were in the museum  
have
already shown up in antiquity markets in Teheran and Paris.

"In warfare, there are priorities," Gibson says. "There are not enough
troops necessary to do everything that needed to be done. But we have a
responsibility under various rules in warfare to preserve the cultural
patrimony of a country."

As worldwide outrage grew over the plundering of Iraq's great cultural  
and
archeological sites, the U.S. responded. On Monday, Powell made a  
statement
that anyone caught dealing or possessing stolen antiquities may be
prosecuted under Iraqi law and the United States National Stolen  
Property
Act. He also said that Central Command issued orders to all troops in  
Iraq
to protect museums and antiquities throughout the country.

Powell said U.S. radio broadcasts are encouraging Iraqis to return any  
items
taken. The Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs will help
Iraqis and international experts in their efforts to restore artifacts  
and
the catalogs of antiquities that were damaged by looters. A senior  
advisor
in the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs, Ambassador  
John
Limbert, will take the lead in this effort. Powell also said the U.S. is
working through Interpol to help locate stolen items and return them to  
Iraq
before they make it into international crime channels. And he said the  
U.S.
has been in touch with the UNESCO to form a plan to safeguard Iraq's
antiquities.

Some of the antiquities stolen will probably be stashed away in private
collections for years and years. And many of the pieces that were  
damaged
are beyond repair. Archeological groups and art curators want to  
prevent the
stolen artifacts from leaving the country. Once they're in other  
countries,
it will be that much harder to retrieve them. To encourage Iraqis to  
return
stolen art and artifacts, they are pushing for the U.S. government to  
set up
an amnesty program and a reward system.

That's the model favored by Stuart E. Eizenstat, former deputy treasury
secretary and a member of the Presidential Advisory Commission on  
Holocaust
Assets in the United States. "The money would be well spent in winning  
the
goodwill of the Iraqi people," he said in an interview. It's important  
that
as much of the art and antiquities be recovered before they are  
transported
out of Iraq. "Once it's out of the country, it would pass through  
multiple
hands. What I found out [when working to recover art stolen by the  
Nazis]
was that the art world is a secretive world. As a dealer, you rely on
information from your immediate sellers and you don't ask questions."

Waldbaum, with the Archeological Institute of America, says she's  
talking to
different groups and individuals about setting up a Web site that could  
be a
repository for images and descriptions of all the artifacts that were  
in the
museum. That way if they make it to the market, dealers and museum  
curators
will be better able to determine if they were stolen from the Iraqi  
National
Museum. But this will take much time.

Meanwhile, some of the looted artifacts inevitably will find their way
through discreet channels to buyers. Among those, experts fear, many  
will
never be recovered.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

About the writer
Louise Witt is a writer who lives in Hoboken, N.J.

  


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