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More details emerge about the 'theft of the century'

Looting of Iraqi museum was long planned

By Heather Cottin

More information has come to light indicating that the looting of Iraq's archeological museum was long planned by those aware of its great historical treasures and was carried out with the complicity of the Pentagon.

Some 7,000 years ago, the earliest Western civilization began in the fertile area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It was here that people invented the wheel, writing, law and agriculture. Today most of that area is in Iraq, which had carefully preserved, for humanity and particularly for scholars of antiquity, thousands of irreplaceable artifacts of the ancient world in its museums.

In the very first days of the U.S. military occupation of Baghdad, all the fabulous artifacts in the museum there were stolen. It was a crime engineered on behalf of "foreign art collectors," and was "planned well in advance of the American-led invasion." ("Raiders of the Lost Art," Sunday Telegraph, April 20)

The impression given by the U.S. mass media was one of utter and spontaneous chaos. But other accounts contradict that. "Witnesses have spoken of seeing well-dressed men with walkie-talkies at the scene, and of artifacts being transported away in orderly convoys of vans rather than over the heads of the crowd. 'We already have reports of exhibits being offered for sale in Switzerland and Japan,' says Karl-Heinz Kind, Interpol's specialist officer for art and antiquity trafficking." (Sunday Telegraph, April 20)

U.S. troops were completely in control of the area. "We begged authorities to watch out for this ... All it would have taken was a tank parked at the gate," said Jane Waldbaum, president of the Archaeol ogical Institute of America. (USA Today, April 14)

The tanks were there, but not to protect the building. "U.S. forces told people to commence looting," said Khaled Bayomi, a Swede who had gone to Iraq to be a human shield. ("U.S. Forces Encourage Looting," Dagens Nyheter, April 11)

Granite statue on an Abrams tank

In fact, U.S. soldiers have been flaunting stolen artwork. "On one U.S. Abrams tank in a Baghdad street soldiers carry a granite statue from a government residence that now seems to serve as a souvenir," wrote the Financial Times of April 14.

The destruction and looting of the culture of Iraq on April 11 and 12 was premeditated by international criminals and sanctioned by the United States. Angry that Iraq's "retentionist" laws protected its antiquities, a newly formed group of art dealers, the American Council for Cultural Policy, had met with U.S. defense and state department officials in January, before the start of the war. Their pressure to make it easier for Iraqi art to enter the U.S. helped pave the way for the "crime of the century."

Since the 1991 Gulf War, when 5,000 artifacts were stolen from Iraqi museums, the provincial museums had moved their most valuable pieces into the National Museum in Baghdad for safekeeping. (Sunday Telegraph, April 20) This made the thieves' job easier.

"The vaults had been opened with keys," reported the Toronto Globe and Mail on April 18. Valuable objects were selected and replicas rejected. Academics who gathered in Paris at the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization concluded that the pillaging was the work of an international conspiracy.

The staff of the Baghdad museum has told reporters that they begged U.S. troops to help against the looters, but could not get a detachment of soldiers assigned to protect the site. Nor was there even "just one soldier for [any non-oil-related] government building. . . I told the American major, 'you've caused this.'" an Iraqi neighborhood official said. (Financial Times, April 14)

This was so obviously a crime perpetrated by the U.S. military and capitalist art collectors around the world that several officials in the Bush administration resigned, including Martin Sullivan, chair of the president's advisory committee on cultural property, and Gary Vikan, a committee member.

Aghast at the theft of 80,000 cuneiform tablets, Vikan, director of Baltimore's Walters Art Gallery, said, "If we understood the value of Sumerian cuneiform tablets to our past, as we do with oil getting us somewhere in our cars, I don't think this would have happened." (Guardian, April 11)

Once everything was stolen, the U.S. government swung into action. It called for Interpol and the FBI to try to help recover and "block any sale of the looted goods." But a week after the massive theft, nothing had been done to identify what was missing. "Iraqi Museum officials today indicated they have had no contact from the U.S. investigators." (Melbourne Herald Sun, April 19)

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rums feld wasn't upset. He criticized the media for exaggerating the looting. "Stuff happens," he said, alluding to a crude slang expression. (CNN, April 12)

"If a country's civilization is looted, then that country is ended," said Raid Abdul Ridha, Iraqi archeologist. That was the idea. This was not about democracy. As Iraqi Airlines pilot Mohammed Nasser said, "Democracy cannot come through guns and looting." (Daily Telegraph, April 14)

The plunder of Iraq was an act of war designed to rob the Iraqis of their history and satisfy the greed of the bourgeoisie.

Reprinted from the May 1, 2003, issue of Workers World newspaper

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