May 01, 2003

Baghdad Museum looting update

The looting of the Baghdad Museum is looking less and less serious all the time. According to this article (it's in the NYT, who I assume can't be accused of being Iraqi war apologists) there are actually only twenty-five objects that are "definitely" missing, as opposed to the entire 170,000 objects that were supposed to be in the place. I guess I don't have to say that that's a big difference, do I? Of course this assumes that these twenty-five objects were still in the museum at the time of the looting. Were I a corrupt Ba'athist party official, or a member of Saddam's family, I don't think I would have wasted the opportunity to stash away that pretty gold harp for my own self. It was probably sold years ago and resides in some rich dude's personal vault.

There is more about finding glass cutters and keys in the museum mess, eyewitness accounts of "European looking" men who directed the crowd, and so on. Also some good news for manuscript afficionados: the manuscripts in the museum were spared, having been "bricked up." Also there is speculation that "90 percent" of the manuscripts and books in the burned-down Iraqi National Library had actually already been moved for safekeeping, but that remains to be seen.

Of course, it wouldn't be an NYT article without some standard grousing to take the edge off the good news:

The Iraqi cultural officials cannot help looking back to April 8 and 9, when their appeals for American military protection of the museum went unheeded. In conversation after conversation, the subject resurfaces, invariably with a bitter reminder that American forces were already protecting the nearby Ministry of Oil.

"I asked some soldiers why they did not stop the looting," Mr. Naqsa Bandy recalled. "They said, `This is not our duty.' "

Mr. Khalil said his experience was similar. "The U.S. forces and tanks were near the museum," he said. "They could have done as they did at the Ministry of Oil. Why didn't they? I don't know. We asked them. They said they were in the middle of a war."

Uh huh. They were being fired on from the museum's vicinity. (scroll down to the paragraph from the Chicago Tribune piece.)

(NYT story via Common Sense and Wonder.)

Posted by Andrea Harris at May 1, 2003 12:20 PM

i get pissed off every time i hear the pundits comparing the US rush to protect the oil wells with their failure to protect the antiquities. the museum may be Iraq's past, but those God damn oil wells - for good or for ill - are Iraq's future. yes, it would have been ideal for us to have gone in without breaking a even a damn dish, waved a magic wand that killed Saddam, created a Constitution, and elected a democratic, secular, Iraqi government.

it just doesn't happen that way. let's place the blame on the deserving, just for ONCE, hm? let's blame the thieves and the buyers.

Posted by: chris at May 1, 2003 at 06:17 PM

Here, here! Yes, we can't lie: The U.S. Government IS concerned with middle-eastern oil. But so is most of the civilized world! The world economy depends, among other things, on oil, and even though saving every last artifact would have been great, oil is definately a higher priority. And in War, you gotta get your priorities straight.

Posted by: M@ at May 7, 2003 at 05:35 PM