Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Where are the Iraqi Antiquities Returned Earlier by the US Army?

In a major public relations (if nothing else) disaster, it is reported in the New York Times (Steven Lee Myers: " Iraqi Treasures Return, but Questions Remain" September 7, 2010) that a senior Iraqi official has disclosed that 632 antiquities repatriated to Iraq from the USA last year and turned over to the office of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki were now unaccounted for.
While Iraqi officials celebrated the repatriation of what they called invaluable relics — “the return of Iraq’s heritage to our house,” as the state minister of tourism and antiquities, Qahtan al-Jibouri, put it — the fate of those previously returned raised questions about the country’s readiness to preserve and protect its own treasures. Appearing at a ceremony displaying the artifacts at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Iraq’s ambassador to the United States, Samir Sumaidaie, pointedly said a previous shipment of antiquities had been returned to Iraq last year aboard an American military aircraft authorized by Gen. David H. Petraeus, only to end up missing. “They went to the Prime Minister’s office, and that was the last time they were seen,” said Mr Sumaidaie, who has worked fervently with American law enforcement officials in recent years to track down loot that had found its way into the United States. It was not immediately clear what happened, and Mr. Sumaidaie said he had tried and failed to find out. He did not directly accuse Mr. Maliki’s government of malfeasance, but he expressed frustration that the efforts to repatriate works of art and antiquities had resulted in such confusion and mystery. Ali al-Mousawi, a government spokesman, demanded that the American government account for the artifacts since an American military aircraft delivered them. “We didn’t receive anything,” he said in a telephone interview. Mr. Jibouri, one of Mr. Maliki’s advisers, said that if the relics were not somewhere in the prime minister’s custody, then they would probably be with the Ministry of Culture, which oversees the country’s museums. Its spokesman declined to comment. Amira Edan, the director of the National Museum, said none of the objects had been returned to her collection, which is where, she said, they all belonged. Mr. Jibouri [ Qahtan al-Jibouri, the state minister of tourism and antiquities] said a committee would be formed to investigate.
Perhaps some readers remember Peter Tompa's accusations in October last year that the Iraqi Prime Minister himself ("Nouri Kamil al-Maliki") had been arrested in Dubai trying to smuggle antiquities ("Iraqi PM's Relatives (sic) Are Said to be Detained with Sumerian Antiquities"), now Tompa is anticipating some vindication ("Repatriated Iraqi Artifacts Go Missing "). Let us see. If they have come back on the market again by back-door methods, who is buying them? The missing items are reported to be mainly cylinder seals and the suchlike. Possibly they were the batch which Bogdanos describes being seized in his book Thieves of Baghdad? (Can't find my copy to cite the page number).

Meanwhile in a blog post that is even longer than some of mine (!) "Common Ills" puts the lack of clarity over the current location of these artefacts into the wider perspective of the struggles to create a post-invasion ("puppet") government in Iraq (Iraq snapshot) worth a read, especially by the cheery war-mongers who thought that bombing Mesopotamia into the Stone Age without thought for how to rebuild afterwards and handing its ruler (a former US ally) in their custody over to raucous thugs was the way to build a new Iraq.

Larry Rothfield has a post on this on his "punching bag" blog:U.S. Returns Iraqi Artifacts Without Thinking Much About Who Takes Them ("Yet one more piece of evidence, if that were required, that the State Department dropped the ball completely by focusing its efforts on restoring the museum rather than on helping the Iraqis get their cultural policy infrastructure set up properly")

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