Iraqi museum ‘reopening’ tragicomedy

This video is George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld making his infamous “stuff happens” comment following the fall of Baghdad regarding the rampant looting and violence that broke out in the aftermath of the toppling of the Iraqi government, in response to questions on how we allowed it to happen.

“Free people are free to […] commit crimes and do bad things”.

By Sandy English:

Amid continued US looting of cultural materials:

Iraqi museum reopens

4 March 2009

The National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad, which has been closed since it was looted and vandalized in the first days of the US invasion in 2003, reopened last week to pronounced controversy. Only eight of the museum’s 26 galleries were on view, and even those for a few hours only.

The most splendid parts of the collection, the jewelry and ceremonial objects from the royal graves of the Sumerian city of Ur and the 600 pieces from the Assyrian city of Nimrud, were absent and represented only by photographs.

The director of the museum, Amia Edan, who had opposed the opening said, “The collections of the Iraq Museum itself are in boxes in a safe place. We cannot show anything from that collection.”

According to the New York Times, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki spoke at a dedication ceremony that had been prepared in secrecy. “Heavily armed soldiers patrolled the museum’s roof and watched from sandbagged redoubts as Mr. Maliki, other senior officials, and foreign diplomats arrived,” the Times reported. “Helicopter’s thudded in the sky, and the police blocked the streets for miles around.” …

The museum housed one of the world’s great collections of ancient artifacts and works of art provided, for the most part, by the excavation of the remains of nearly 6,000 years of civilization in Iraq, which has historically been known as Mesopotamia. …

The Museum was looted between April 8 and 12, 2003, due to the disregard of cultural heritage law by the American forces. Exactly what happened remains unclear today; the only investigation was conducted by the military itself. It is clear, though, that the American military and political establishment at the highest levels of the Pentagon and the Bush administration disregarded their obligation to guard and protect the museum. Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld quipped about the thefts: “Stuff happens.” The looting of the museum was an American war crime for which no one has been brought to justice. …

The Museum had opened briefly in July 2003 at the behest of the American proconsul Paul Bremer. It closed after several hours because of danger from mortar rounds and gunfire. …

According to a note on the IraqCrisis List on the Internet by Donny George, the former director of the Museum now in exile in the United States, in January the Iraqi minister for tourism and antiquities, Qahtan al-Jibouri, showed up at the museum with his armed bodyguards, “and started threatening everybody and ordered that the Iraq Museum must be opened by the middle of this February because he had given his word [to] the media.”

George has noted that by opening the museum, the Iraqi government was “putting the museum and the collection in a very bad and dangerous situation.” The museum’s staff opposed Maliki and Jibouri’s plans, and an open letter signed by prominent Iraqi archaeologists called on the government to cancel the opening. …

The opening of the museum last week was little more than a publicity stunt to show that life in Iraq has returned to normal; far from doing so, the event revealed the weakness, confusion and irresponsibility of the Iraqi regime.

The decision instigated infighting in the government itself, with the New York Times noting in a February 15 article: “Jabir al-Jabiri, the senior deputy at the Culture Ministry, said in a telephone interview that the reopening announcement had been premature and surprised the ministry officials who have the final say.” …

While such squabbling goes on in the divided and crisis-ridden puppet government, the plunder of antiquities continues at archaeological sites across Iraq. According to McGuire Gibson, an internationally known expert on Mesopotamian archaeology, “It would be great if the looting has stopped, but I doubt that it has.”

After examining satellite images on Google Earth, Gibson has noted that they appear to show a devastating picture of recent illicit digging from ancient sites in Iraq. “When I visited Umma on May 21, 2003, by helicopter with Ambassador Cordone, I counted over 250 looters at work, and the disturbed area was much bigger, my impression being that it was perhaps 5 times greater than it had been before the war. The new image from June 2008, however, shows that the entire site of Umma is riddled with holes…. If you look at Google Earth images of Dhi Qar province you can find dozens of small, unidentified sites as well as major ones with differing percentages of looter holes.”

In another e-mail posting, Gibson leaves no doubt that the direct cause of the looting is the desperate poverty, particularly since the war, of the Iraqi people …

The destruction of the Iraqi people’s historical memory and cultural heritage have accompanied the killing, maiming and displacement of millions of people since the American invasion nearly six years ago.

Along with mass unemployment, food insecurity and infrequent access to electricity, these cultural crimes are a part of what the World Socialist Web Site has called the sociocide of Iraq, that is, the destruction of Iraq as a functioning society.

There is an objective need by American imperialism not to rebuild Iraq society but to refashion it into an impoverished semi-colonial country whose resources are at the disposal of the ruling elite in the United States.

According to Arnon Grunberg in Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad, 20 March 2009, page 9, since the “reopening” the museum is in fact closed; opening sometimes for a foreign journalist.

September 2010: The museum is closed again: Iraqi museum struggles to recover lost artefacts and glory: here.

From The Art Newspaper:

The Iraqi government plans to open Babylon to visitors on 1 June, according to news reports. Iraq’s state board of antiquities and heritage is opposing the move, on the grounds that the site needs further protection and investigation before being reopened. This follows the controversial reopening of Baghdad’s National Museum on 23 February, after a government decision to proceed with this, defying opposition from curators who felt that it was too early.

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