Bush and Blair guilty of looting archaeological treasures of Iraq


This video, with an interview with Iraqi ex museum director Donny George who fled to Syria, is about the looting of Iraq after George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion.

April 10-12, 2007 was the fourth anniversary of the looting of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad.

SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone then organized a worldwide candlelight vigil to end the looting and destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq, and around the world.

From The Guardian in Britain:

In Iraq’s four-year looting frenzy, the allies have become the vandals

British and American collusion in the pillaging of Iraq’s heritage is a scandal that will outlive any passing conflict

Simon Jenkins

Friday June 8, 2007

Fly into the American air base of Tallil outside Nasiriya in central Iraq and the flight path is over the great ziggurat of Ur, reputedly the earliest city on earth.

Seen from the base in the desert haze or the sand-filled gloom of dusk, the structure is indistinguishable from the mounds of fuel dumps, stores and hangars.

Ur is safe within the base compound. But its walls are pockmarked with wartime shrapnel and a blockhouse is being built over an adjacent archaeological site.

When the head of Iraq’s supposedly sovereign board of antiquities and heritage, Abbas al-Hussaini, tried to inspect the site recently, the Americans refused him access to his own most important monument.

Yesterday Hussaini reported to the British Museum on his struggles to protect his work in a state of anarchy. It was a heart breaking presentation.

Under Saddam you were likely to be tortured and shot if you let someone steal an antiquity; in today’s Iraq you are likely to be tortured and shot if you don’t.

The tragic fate of the national museum in Baghdad in April 2003 was as if federal troops had invaded New York city, sacked the police and told the criminal community that the Metropolitan was at their disposal.

The local tank commander was told specifically not to protect the museum for a full two weeks after the invasion. Even the Nazis protected the Louvre.

When I visited the museum six months later, its then director, Donny George, proudly showed me the best he was making of a bad job.

He was about to reopen, albeit with half his most important objects stolen.

The pro-war lobby had stopped pretending that the looting was nothing to do with the Americans, who were shamefacedly helping retrieve stolen objects under the dynamic US colonel, Michael Bogdanos (author of a book on the subject).

The vigorous Italian cultural envoy to the coalition, Mario Bondioli-Osio, was giving generously for restoration.

The beautiful Warka vase, carved in 3000BC, was recovered though smashed into 14 pieces.

The exquisite Lyre of Ur, the world’s most ancient musical instrument, was found badly damaged.

Clerics in Sadr City were ingeniously asked to tell wives to refuse to sleep with their husbands if looted objects were not returned, with some success.

Nothing could be done about the fire-gutted national library and the loss of five centuries of Ottoman records (and works by Piccasso and Miro).

But the message of winning hearts and minds seemed to have got through.

Today the picture is transformed.

Donny George fled for his life last August after death threats.

The national museum is not open but shut. Nor is it just shut.

Its doors are bricked up, it is surrounded by concrete walls and its exhibits are sandbagged.

Even the staff cannot get inside. There is no prospect of reopening.

Hussaini confirmed a report two years ago by John Curtis, of the British Museum, on America’s conversion of Nebuchadnezzar’s great city of Babylon into the hanging gardens of Halliburton.

This meant a 150-hectare camp for 2,000 troops.

In the process the 2,500-year-old brick pavement to the Ishtar Gate was smashed by tanks and the gate itself damaged.

The archaeology-rich subsoil was bulldozed to fill sandbags, and large areas covered in compacted gravel for helipads and car parks.

Babylon is being rendered archaeologically barren.

Meanwhile the courtyard of the 10th-century caravanserai of Khan al-Raba was used by the Americans for exploding captured insurgent weapons.

One blast demolished the ancient roofs and felled many of the walls.

The place is now a ruin.

Outside the capital some 10,000 sites of incomparable importance to the history of western civilisation, barely 20% yet excavated, are being looted as systematically as was the museum in 2003.

When George tried to remove vulnerable carvings from the ancient city of Umma to Baghdad, he found gangs of looters already in place with bulldozers, dump trucks and AK47s.

Hussaini showed one site after another lost to archaeology in a four-year “looting frenzy”.

The remains of the 2000BC cities of Isin and Shurnpak appear to have vanished: pictures show them replaced by a desert of badger holes created by an army of some 300 looters. …

It is abundantly clear that the Americans and British are not protecting Iraq’s historic sites.

All foreign archaeologists have had to leave.

Troops are doing nothing to prevent the “farming” of known antiquities.

This is in direct contravention of the Geneva Convention that an occupying army should “use all means within its power” to guard the cultural heritage of a defeated state.

Shortly after the invasion, the British minister Tessa Jowell won plaudits for “pledging” £5m to protect Iraq’s antiquities.

I can find no one who can tell me where, how or whether this money has been spent.

It appears to have been pure spin.

Only the British Museum and the British School of Archaeology in Iraq have kept the flag flying.

The latter’s grant has just been cut, presumably to pay for the Olympics binge [in London, 2012].

As long as Britain and America remain in denial over the anarchy they have created in Iraq, they clearly feel they must deny its devastating side-effects.

Two million refugees now camping in Jordan and Syria are ignored, since life in Iraq is supposed to be “better than before“.

Likewise dozens of Iraqis working for the British and thus facing death threats are denied asylum.

To grant it would mean the former defence and now home secretary, the bullish John Reid, admitting he was wrong.

They will die before he does that.

Though I opposed the invasion I assumed that its outcome would at least be a more civilised environment.

Yet Iraq’s people are being murdered in droves for want of order. Authority has collapsed.

That western civilisation should have been born in so benighted a country as Iraq may seem bad luck.

But only now is that birth being refused all guardianship, in defiance of international law.

If this is Tony Blair’s “values war”, then language has lost all meaning.

British collusion in such destruction is a scandal that will outlive any passing conflict.

And we had the cheek to call the Taliban vandals.

Anti Iraq war hip-hop music in the USA: here.

Gordon Childe, Marxism and archaeology: here.

GERMANY Culture Minister Bernd Neumann said on Friday that the government had appealed against a court ruling to return artworks stolen by the nazis: here.

7 thoughts on “Bush and Blair guilty of looting archaeological treasures of Iraq

  1. Aug 30, 2:00 PM EDT

    Digging up the Saudi past: Some would rather not

    By DONNA ABU-NASR
    Associated Press Writer

    RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Much of the world knows Petra, the ancient ruin in modern-day Jordan that is celebrated in poetry as “the rose-red city, ‘half as old as time,'” and which provided the climactic backdrop for “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

    But far fewer know Madain Saleh, a similarly spectacular treasure built by the same civilization, the Nabateans.

    That’s because it’s in Saudi Arabia, where conservatives are deeply hostile to pagan, Jewish and Christian sites that predate the founding of Islam in the 7th century.

    But now, in a quiet but notable change of course, the kingdom has opened up an archaeology boom by allowing Saudi and foreign archaeologists to explore cities and trade routes long lost in the desert.

    The sensitivities run deep. Archaeologists are cautioned not to talk about pre-Islamic finds outside scholarly literature. Few ancient treasures are on display, and no Christian or Jewish relics. A 4th or 5th century church in eastern Saudi Arabia has been fenced off ever since its accidental discovery 20 years ago and its exact whereabouts kept secret.

    In the eyes of conservatives, the land where Islam was founded and the Prophet Muhammad was born must remain purely Muslim. Saudi Arabia bans public displays of crosses and churches, and whenever non-Islamic artifacts are excavated, the news must be kept low-key lest hard-liners destroy the finds.

    “They should be left in the ground,” said Sheikh Mohammed al-Nujaimi, a well-known cleric, reflecting the views of many religious leaders. “Any ruins belonging to non-Muslims should not be touched. Leave them in place, the way they have been for thousands of years.”

    In an interview, he said Christians and Jews might claim discoveries of relics, and that Muslims would be angered if ancient symbols of other religions went on show. “How can crosses be displayed when Islam doesn’t recognize that Christ was crucified?” said al-Nujaimi. “If we display them, it’s as if we recognize the crucifixion.”

    In the past, Saudi authorities restricted foreign archaeologists to giving technical help to Saudi teams. Starting in 2000, they began a gradual process of easing up that culminated last year with American, European and Saudi teams launching significant excavations on sites that have long gone lightly explored, if at all.

    At the same time, authorities are gradually trying to acquaint the Saudi public with the idea of exploring the past, in part to eventually develop tourism. After years of being closed off, 2,000-year-old Madain Saleh is Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site and is open to tourists. State media now occasionally mention discoveries as well as the kingdom’s little known antiquities museums.

    “It’s already a big change,” said Christian Robin, a leading French archaeologist and a member of the College de France. He is working in the southwestern region of Najran, mentioned in the Bible by the name Raamah and once a center of Jewish and Christian kingdoms.

    No Christian artifacts have been found in Najran, he said.

    Spearheading the change is the royal family’s Prince Sultan bin Salman, who was the first Saudi in space when he flew on the U.S. space shuttle Discovery in 1985. He is now secretary general of the governmental Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities.

    Dhaifallah Altalhi, head of the commission’s research center at the governmental Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, said there are 4,000 recorded sites of different periods and types, and most of the excavations are on pre-Islamic sites.

    “We treat all our sites equally,” said Altalhi. “This is part of the history and culture of the country and must be protected and developed.” He said archaeologists are free to explore and discuss their findings in academic venues.

    Still, archaeologists are cautious. Several declined to comment to The Associated Press on their work in the kingdom.

    The Arabian Peninsula is rich, nearly untouched territory for archaeologists. In pre-Islamic times it was dotted with small kingdoms and crisscrossed by caravan routes to the Mediterranean. Ancient Arab peoples – Nabateans, Lihyans, Thamud – interacted with Assyrians and Babylonians, Romans and Greeks.

    Much about them is unknown.

    Najran, discovered in the 1950s, was invaded nearly a century before Muhammad’s birth by Dhu Nawas, a ruler of the Himyar kingdom in neighboring Yemen. A convert to Judaism, he massacred Christian tribes, leaving triumphant inscriptions carved on boulders.

    At nearby Jurash, a previously untouched site in the mountains overlooking the Red Sea, a team led by David Graf of the University of Miami is uncovering a city that dates at least to 500 B.C. The dig could fill out knowledge of the incense routes running through the area and the interactions of the region’s kingdoms over a 1,000-year span.

    And a French-Saudi expedition is doing the most extensive excavation in decades at Madain Saleh. The city, also known as al-Hijr, features more than 130 tombs carved into mountainsides. Some 450 miles from Petra, it is thought to mark the southern extent of the Nabatean kingdom.

    In a significant 2000 find, Altalhi unearthed a Latin dedication of a restored city wall at Madain Saleh which honored the second century Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius.

    So far, there has been no known friction with conservatives over the new excavations, in part because they are in the early stages, are not much discussed in Saudi Arabia, and haven’t produced any announcements of overtly Christian or Jewish finds.

    But the call to keep the land purged of other religions runs deep among many Saudis. Even though Madain Saleh site is open for tourism, many Saudis refuse to visit on religious grounds because the Quran says God destroyed it for its sins.

    Excavations sometimes meet opposition from local residents who fear their region will become known as “Christian” or “Jewish.” And Islam being an iconoclastic religion, hard-liners have been known to raze even ancient Islamic sites to ensure that they do not become objects of veneration.

    Saudi museums display few non-Islamic artifacts.

    Riyadh’s National Museum shows small pre-Islamic statues, a golden mask and a large model of a pagan temple. In some display cases, female figurines are listed, but not present – likely a nod to the kingdom’s ban on depictions of the female form.

    A tiny exhibition at the King Saud University in Riyadh displays small nude statues of Hercules and Apollo in bronze, a startling sight in a country where nakedness in art is highly taboo.

    In 1986, picnickers accidentally discovered an ancient church in the eastern region of Jubeil. Pictures of the simple stone building show crosses in the door frame.

    It is fenced off – for its protection, authorities say – and archaeologists are barred from examining it.

    Faisal al-Zamil, a Saudi businessman and amateur archaeologist, says he has visited the church several times.

    He recalls offering a Saudi newspaper an article about the site and being turned down by an editor.

    “He was shocked,” al-Zamil said. “He said he could not publish the piece.”

    Like

  2. Pingback: Briton refuses honour because of Blair’s Iraq war | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Pingback: Emperor Hadrian withdrew troops from Iraq | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  4. Pingback: The diaries of British Left Labourist Tony Benn | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  5. Pingback: US female soldiers die, suicides or murders? | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  6. Pingback: Iraq’s cultural heritage in ruins | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  7. Pingback: Iraqi sculptor who replaced Saddam statue says Bush is even worse | Dear Kitty. Some blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.