Friday, 14 October 2011

Iraqi Buttocks and Plates: No Problems Using the 'L' Word Here

An Atlantic Wire article (Uri Friedman, 'Eating Off Saddam's Plates: Iraqi Militaria as a Hobby', 14.10.11) talks openly of the looting of Iraq by soldiers of the US-led invasion force. Even a few months ago, this was a topic that was not freely discussed, hushed up. We remember the unanswered questions about the reported involvement of a US military unit in the removal of an old Torah scroll from Iraq (a matter never resolved) and the embarrassment caused by the seizure of a chrome-plated AK47 that had somehow "arrived" in the States. Then this week we learn of a British ex-soldier, Nigel "Spud" Ely, working as a journalist 'embedded in' the invading army that took part of the "iconic" (only because the US media made it so) toppling on April 9, 2003 of the Firdos Square statue of the Iraqi president and is now hoping to earn a lot of money (perhaps about £10 000) from the sale of the item he drove about the country in the back of his jeep after removing it from the monument with a crowbar (? that's what it says):
He said the marines gave him permission to remove the buttock using a hammer and a crowbar. "The US Marines had erected a cordon of tanks to guard the square. But I wanted a piece of the statue -- and when I mentioned to the marines that I was an old soldier and with the press they told me, 'No problem, buddy -- help yourself,'" Ely said.
The Coalition Provisional Authority was only created on April 21st 2003. By what right were US military endowing ownership of this object to "Spud" the journalist? The President of Iraq was still the President and Iraqi ownership and cultural property laws still applied on April 9th- as did General Order 1A (GO-1A). International conventions and law are very clear about the duties and rights of an invading force on foreign soil. This was two days before Donald Rumsfeld's "stuff happens" pronouncement. Anyhow, "Spud" travelled around with this hunk of statue in the back of his jeep until it was time to go home. He only managed to get it across the Iraqi border by the tactic used by many antiquity smugglers too, misdescribing it:
"I threw it in the back of my truck and forgot about it until we tried to re-enter Kuwait, where the Kuwaiti army arrested us and searched us for plunder." The ex-serviceman was allowed to keep it after saying it was armour for a truck,
So it was removed from Iraq under false premises, no export licence is available for the auctioneers to show. We do not learn when "Spud" crossed the frontier, but it was after the UK had finally ratified the 1970 UNESCO Convention. I'd like to know why this object is on open sale in Britain by Hansons Auctioneers in Derby on October 27 as "war relic art".

The Atlantic Wire article writes about other "relics" which were "liberated" by the "stuff-happens" bit of the 2003 invasion.
Over the past week, several news outlets have picked up a story about how Kevin Lasko, a chef at the New York City restaurant Park Avenue Autumn (the name changes with the seasons), has teamed up with artist Michael Rakowitz to create a dish called "Spoils" that the restaurant is serving though November on plates looted from Saddam Hussein's palaces. [The dish was] deliberately designed to evoke mixed emotions in diners. "I wanted to explore the tension between the diner's tongue, the delicious and sweet meal, and the bitter surface upon which it is presented," Rakowitz explained. "Indeed, refusal, or the inability to eat or even order this dish because of the dishware's provenance or the circumstances under which it was acquired is just as important as the experience of consuming this dish."

Vignettes: Saddam hooded with US flag, "Heritage hero" Nigel Ely is the author of a book about soldiering, funny how blatant images of the Union Jack, aggressive stances and bits of old metal objects seem so often to go together...

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