The 2003 Iraq War & Archaeology

Babylon  (Baghdad)

The 2003 Iraq War & Archaeology
Sun Apr 13 08:38:09 2003

The 2003 Iraq War & Archaeology

"U.S. forces reopened two strategic bridges Saturday in the heart of Baghdad and crowds of looters surged across - taking advantage of access to new territory that had not already been plundered. U.S. forces did nothing to stop them."

"A National Museum employee arrived Saturday to find the administrative offices trashed by looters. The only thing she could salvage was a telephone book-sized volume."

"'It is all the fault of the Americans. This is Iraq's civilization. And it's all gone now.' An elderly museum guard said hundreds of looters attacked Thursday and carried away artifacts on pushcarts and wheelbarrows. The two-story museum's marble staircase was chipped, suggesting looters might have dragged heavier items down on pushcarts or slabs of wood."

"Before the war, the museum closed its doors and secretly placed the most precious artifacts in storage, but the metal storeroom doors were smashed and everything was taken. 'This is the property of this nation and is the treasure of 7,000 years of civilization,' said museum employee Ali Mahmoud. 'What does this country think it is doing?'"   


U.S. forces say "stopping looters not primary role"

Saturday, April 12, 2003 at 10:00 JST
WASHINGTON — The military on Friday rejected criticism that it is allowing a wave of looting and violence in its wake in Iraq, saying troops must remain focused on combat, not restoring order.

Aid organizations said the lawlessness was worsening the humanitarian situation in Baghdad and urged the Bush administration to move quickly against it.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld characterized the looting as "untidiness" and part of a transitional phase after the fall of Saddam Hussein's government and on the way to freedom.

"Stuff happens," Rumsfeld said.

"We do feel an obligation to assist in providing security, and coalition forces are doing that," he told a Pentagon news conference. "Where they see looting, they are stopping it."

At the war's command center in Qatar, officials said earlier Friday they expected the surge of violence as a release of pent-up hatred and anger at a regime that brutalized and repressed the population for decades.
The comments came on the third day of pillaging in the capital, and violence repeated itself anew with the fall of each additional city in northern Iraq.

Much of the looting was at government ministries and the homes of former regime leaders, with bands of looters taking everything from vases, desks and other furnishing from government offices to AK-47s and ammunition from Iraqi military bunkers.

But they also stripped foreign embassies, took ambulances from hospitals and attacked some private businesses. In the northern city of Mosul, residents burned buildings, stole rare manuscripts from the university library and grabbed wads of money from a bank as local people with accounts deposited there sadly looked on. There was a report of looting at archaeological sites.

Rumsfeld suggested that many of the television images beamed around the world showing acts of looting were being shown repeatedly, exaggerating the effect.

"You cannot do everything instantaneously" Rumsfeld said, adding there are upcoming efforts to increase security.
Retired Army Col William Taylor called the assertion "dead wrong," saying American forces could do more even though combat continues.

"Infantry soldiers can be given the mission of blocking the doors of any facility to keep looters out," said Taylor, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"They don't have to shoot, don't have to beat anybody, but you can darn well use your assault rifle to push them away."
Marine commanders in Iraq acknowledged confusion so far in confronting the job. U.S. troops and tanks guarded only a few hotels, key intersections, overpasses and apparently at least one hospital, but a Marine commander said he didn't have enough men to do more.

Other soldiers said it was not their job to do police work.
The Brookings Institution's Ivo Daalder said it was, since it was U.S. forces that toppled the regime structure that previously provided security, food and so on.

"They should be doing something because it destroys our image as the liberators and the people who are going to bring a new order to Iraq," Daalder said.

Aid organizations urged the government to quickly get control of the capital, after their representatives in the region reported "the humanitarian situation is worsening as a consequence of widespread lawlessness," said a statement from Washington-based InterAction, a coalition of more than 160 U.S. aid groups.

In-country workers for the charity CARE reported that hospitals are "in absolutely dire straits," with some looted and others closed to prevent looting, said the group's spokeswoman in Atlanta, Alina LaBrada.

Daalder said he worried that the next step could be a wave of revenge killings against former members of the regime that tortured and killed its political enemies.

"We cannot stand by and let that happen," Daalder said. "If there is a tradeoff between providing security and finishing off the war, then it exists for one reason only... we don't have enough troops there." (Wire reports)


The threat to world heritage in Iraq


Treasured past once again at risk
Many Iraqis convinced U.S. wants to blunt resurrection of Babylon

Robert Collier, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Babylon, Iraq -- If many Western anti-war protesters believe America's real motive for invading Iraq is its oil, many Iraqis point to another treasure they are convinced lies behind U.S. war aims: Babylon.

This ancient city was the cradle of world civilization thousands of years ago and hit its golden era during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II in the sixth century B.C. Now, it is a repository of the Iraqi regime's ambition and fears.

"We are sure that the Americans, like they were in the Gulf War, are intent on occupying Iraq for religious purposes," said Muayad Damerji, who was in charge of Babylon as director of Iraq's Antiquities Department from 1977 to 1998 and is now an adviser to the minister of culture.

Many Iraqis, from high officialdom down to average folk, seem obsessed with the idea that the Americans want to invade Iraq to stop the rise of Babylon as an Islamic counterpart to Jewish Jerusalem. And archaeologists, from Baghdad to the United States, are worried that a U.S. invasion could put many of Iraq's ancient treasures at risk.

In his speeches, President Saddam Hussein constantly refers to Iraq's ancient glory, as if to drum into average citizens the fact that their country deserves an exalted spot on the world stage, and he has long envisioned a grand reconstruction of the ancient city of Babylon.

By the 1970s, little remained of the storied site. Centuries of sand and wind had eroded the walls and buildings of mud brick. No trace remains of the Hanging Gardens -- one of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World -- nor of the Tower of Babel.

But since he took power in 1981, Hussein has rebuilt large sections of the ruins, leaving his fingerprints everywhere. Every rebuilt wall in the central temple has a brick at the center with a message stating, "This was built by Saddam Hussein, son of Nebuchadnezzar, to glorify Iraq."

Reconstruction work was halted due to lack of funds after the Gulf War, but hovering over the Babylon site is a monstrous presidential palace, built on a man-made 100-foot-high hill during the past decade, as if to show who is the new emperor.

As the likelihood of U.S. invasion has grown stronger, American archaeologists have raised loud warnings that Iraq's historical treasures -- as politicized as they may be -- could be in danger from bombs, fighting and subsequent rioting.


By all accounts, protecting this country's archaeological treasures will not prove easy. During the Gulf War, heavy damage was done at Ur, in southern Iraq, which was occupied by U.S. troops for several weeks. American bombing raids left 400 holes in one side of the pyramid, or ziggurat, which dates from 2142 B.C. And at the nearby unexcavated site of Tell al-Lahm, U.S. soldiers dug trenches in what they thought were hills but were actually ancient mounds containing ruins.

During the Gulf War, U.S. officials accused the Iraqis of deliberately moving military equipment close to archaeological sites in an attempt to make the Americans shy away from targeting the war materiel. In fact, the Iraqis seem somewhat reckless in choosing sites of military bases. At Ur, for example, a major military base is only a mile way, and at Nineveh in northern Iraq, the seventh century B.C. palace is adjacent to a radar tower guarded by the Iraqi military.

But far more severe than bomb damage was the postwar looting by anti-Hussein mobs. Nine regional museums were ransacked, Damerji says, and 4,000 artifacts were stolen -- including antiquities from the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad, which had come under heavy bombing as U.S. warplanes targeted a telecommunications facility across the street.


John Russell, an archaeologist at the Massachusetts College of Art, and other U.S. experts praise and defend their Iraqi counterparts, saying the Iraqi researchers' inability to prevent deterioration in the country's cultural heritage is a result of the economic crisis brought on by U.N. sanctions.

"The absolutely, positively stupidest thing I can think of that the United States could do for archaeology in a . . . postwar scenario would be to try to take over the operation of the antiquities department or to change Iraq's state-of-the-art antiquities policies," Russell said. "The smartest thing would be to ask the department what it needs and then make sure they get it."

In a recent petition to the Pentagon, dozens of prominent American archaeologists and museum curators appealed to U.S. war planners to prevent damage to Iraq's historical treasures.

The Defense Department requested further information, and the petitioners supplied a list of the locations of over 5,000 known sites. The State Department has indicated that it would establish a working group on antiquities and heritage as part of its "Future of Iraq" project.
"These are good omens for the preservation of archaeology in a possible war, " said Russell, who has excavated at Nineveh and is one of the petitioners, "but the follow-through will be crucial."

Many Iraqi museums have taken their treasures off display and have crated them in secure basements to protect them from bombing and looting. In addition, the roofs of museums have been painted with the logo of UNESCO, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
"We just hope the American pilots know what the logo is," said Damerji. "But then again, they'll probably be firing their missiles from 50 kilometers away, so it might not help anyway."


Iraq's illustrious history is treasured by Iraqis and cited often as proof of their destiny. Around 3500 B.C., the Sumerians developed the world's first great civilization in the area that is now Iraq, and cuneiform writing on clay tablets was developed 300 years later. Empires rose and fell in ancient Mesopotamia, from the Akkadians to the Babylonians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Parthians and Romans.
Abraham, the patriarch of the Torah and Old Testament, came from the southern Mesopotamian city of Ur. Hammurabi, who virtually invented the concept of law, ruled in Babylon, as did Nebuchadnezzar, the conqueror of Jerusalem, and Alexander the Great.

Baghdad became the richest city in the world under the Abbasid Caliphs for 500 years. Arabic numbers, the decimal system and algebra were invented there, and important advances were made in medicine. But everything was destroyed in A.D. 1258, when the Mongols conquered and destroyed Baghdad -- an event frequently alluded to by Saddam Hussein, who compares the United States under President Bush to the Mongol hordes.

E-mail Robert Collier at

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