Tuesday 19 March 2013

Iraq Invasion Ten Years on

US troops in Iraq (Photograph: Khalid Mohammed/AP)
In the early morning of 19 March 2003, U.S. forces bombed the al-Dora farming community on the outskirts of Baghdad. At approximately 05:30 UTC, four 'Bunker Buster' bombs were dropped on the compound in which they believed Saddam Hussein was staying. It was another US intelligence snafu, he however had not been there for many years. All four bombs missed their targets, and the attack killed one civilian and injured fourteen others, including four men, nine women and one child. 

Civilian Victims in Kirkuk
Thus began the US-led invasion of a "coalition of the willing" of a sovereign country,  destabilising it and leading to untold human suffering. The preventable looting of the museums, libraries and archaeological sites are an incidental result which pales into significance besides the damage done to human lives and the country by the sanctions and the war as a whole. Of course Iraq had no "weapons of mass destruction".

For an interesting analysis of the place of the 2003 invasion in the long-term development of the region, see David Gardner's FT piece, ('Iraq: a display of declining US power', Financial Times, March 8, 2013).

Meanwhile there is a piece in the Art newspaper summarising the loss of objects from the Iraq Museum in Baghdad as US soldiers - orderless - watched on (Martin Bailey 'Looted items missing and museums still closed in Baghdad', Art Newspaper Issue 244, 19 March 2013):
The worst damage occurred as a result of anarchic conditions in Baghdad immediately after the invasion. The nation­al Iraq Museum, one of the most important museums in the Middle East, was looted between 10 and 12 April 2003, and initially there were chilling reports that its entire collection of 200,000 antiquities had been seized. Fortunately, the finest pieces had already been moved to a secret store, although the main storeroom was broken into. An estimated 16,000 antiquities were stolen, around half of which have been recovered. Among the 8,000 or so items still missing are an important ivory plaque of a lioness and a collection of cylinder seals, with images of ancient life and myths. 
The creation of a proper record of what went missing is producing problems.
One of the mysteries is what has happened to the missing antiquities. Relatively few appear to have come onto the market, so are they being hoarded by the looters? Others may have been sold quietly to collectors who turned a blind eye to their origin—most likely in the Gulf states, according to a European museum source. 
Bailey also summarises two decades of looting of archaeological sites:
This was particularly bad between 2004 and 2005, with extensive damage in the south, in places such as Isin, Tell Jokha (ancient Umma) and Bismaya (ancient Adab). By 2006, however, the situation began to improve. This was because of the provision of more guards, better contacts between archaeologists and the local population, a gradually improving security situation and the drying-up of demand from collectors
The latter of course resulted from the restrictions on the movement of such material, making their possession potentially risky, and - more importantly - politically incorrect.

UPDATE 24.3.13

BBC Witness - Iraq: Ten years on - Looting in Baghdad
In April 2003, Baghdad descended into chaos as American troops took control of the city and did nothing to restore order. This is the context of what happened in the Museum.

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