Olive Branch Optimism
what a wonderful world...
Friday, July 08, 2005
Looting of History
I just read this great/sad article, decided I couldn't do better, its not my area. So here it is, and to Mark, whose' comment on my blog said "Out of curiosity, What lesson should the G8 Take from this?" - I say:

The G8 should learn, that inaction despite their potential to do so much good in the world is unacceptable. Allowing the oppression of people is one thing, and will make them angry. But supporting their oppressive governments openly (ie, Saudi's, African Govt's, Israel, Indonesia, just to name a few) will reap serious consequences...

And unfortunately, for me and you, for my mother and father, for mothers and fathers and daughters and sons, WE WILL BE THE VICTIMS. We will be made to feel the suffering felt daily by the millions around the world, not the millionaires. Because they have helicopters, jets and hotels. They have private security and fences for a kilometer around them. We, like the rest of the world, will not stand for suffering on behalf of a few powerful men. G8 leaders or not, we the people will not be bombed to get a message to the G8 without some repercussions for the G8 themselves.

enjoy this below article

[olivebranch out]

More looting of Iraq's riches

Michael Jansen

Iraq's rich cultural heritage continues to be stripped of archaeological sites in the countryside while in Baghdad, the doors of the Iraq National Museum, the fifth most important in the world, remain closed to the public because of fears that its treasures could be stolen in a raid by the well organised antiquities mafia.

On the sidelines of celebrations marking the reconstruction of a16 th century palace and mosque at Rada, in Yemen, this correspondent was briefed on what is happening in Iraq on the archaeological front by Dr Macguire Gibson of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. Gibson, who dug for many seasons at the Sumerian site of Nippur in southern Iraq, is president of the American Academic Research Institute.

He was one of the US scholars who warned the Bush administration ahead of its 2003 war that a great deal of the ancient and Islamic history of the Land Between The Two Rivers could be lost and Iraq's museums could be looted during a conflict. Tragically, the administration did not listen to warnings and pleas of experts like him. As a result, Iraq's artefacts and documents are being dug from sites where they have lain for millennia, sold to dealers, provided with false provenance, and installed in collections of unscrupulous individuals and institutions.

Although he has not visited Iraq since May2003 , when he took part in the UNESCO mission investigating the looting of the Iraq National Museum, Gibson closely follows what is happening in the museums and in the field. He was recently briefed by Dr Donny George, the head of Iraq's museums, who paid a visit to Chicago.

Gibson asserted: “The Americans are not doing anything [to prevent pillage in Iraq], they went into Iraq with too few troops and did nothing to stop looting as soon as the regime fell. Once it began, it became impossible to stop it. The Italian and Dutch contingents are trying to help but they can do very little. We have reports that Muqtada Sadr [the powerful Shiite cleric based in Kufa] is getting a cut. There was a fatwa [clerical ruling from Najaf] condemning looting but there was a counter-fatwa from Iran saying that looting pre-Islamic items is acceptable.

“Looting has become such an industry that in towns like Samawa and Nasiriya, truck drivers take groups of people to sites in the morning and take them back in the afternoon. US and other foreign troops could stop the looting if they confiscated or destroyed the trucks carrying looters to and from sites.”

Gibson said there has been “little improvement” in recent months due to the deployment of guards at key sides by the Department of Antiquities. There is one influential Iraqi personality in Nassiriya who has been very active along with Italian art squad teams based in that area. They raided homes and shops and seized material stolen from both major and distant desert sites. But the Italians have departed so it is not clear whether the Iraqis will carry on. His life has been threatened but he belongs to a powerful family so he has been spared so far.

The ongoing pillage began on the very day US troops crossed the border from Kuwait into Iraq in March2003 . Farmers promptly commenced digging on behalf of local dealers who took up the antiquities trade in the wake of the 1991 US war on Iraq. Until then, there was “only a trickle” of Iraqi antiquities leaving the country because the trade had been suppressed in the1930 s when Iraq asserted its sovereignty over its territory. Under Saddam Hussein, antiquities were preserved and protected because he felt a strong connection with Iraq's past. Theft was punishable by death.

“Now Iraq, the country with the best record of controlling antiquities, is prey to looters,” Gibson stated.

One of the major figures in the looting is Saddam's brother-in-law, who emerged in the90 s as a major antiquities trader. He was caught and dismissed from all his posts for involvement in the trade, but was not executed as some persons were. Gibson said the US is not interested in him although it is rumoured he could be funding insurgents with the proceeds of looting.

Gibson said the market for Iraqi antiquities developed “during the 1991 conflict when nine of the13 provincial museums were looted and more than5 ,000 objects were stolen. Only 45 were recovered. The looting coincided with a boom in the antiquities trade after the stock market dip in the late80 s. Interest in Iraqi antiquities was sparked by the sale of the Erlenmeyer collection [which was accumulated legally in the20 s and 30 s] in four separate auctions. Universities and museums could buy this stuff, because it was clean.”

But the downside of this sale was that there was a “huge spike in the prices of Mesopotamian antiquities. A cylinder seal which sold for $ 500before brought $15,000. Dealers [in Iraq] had the catalogues and knew the prices”. After the US and Britain established the no-fly zones, the Iraqis could not protect the sites and the looters moved in.

Gibson gave the example of what happened at one location. “Earlier and earlier tablets from Umma, a wonderful desert site, showed up as the looters dug deeper and deeper. The Antiquities Department managed to halt this illegal digging by sending in the army to drive away the thieves and setting up its own excavation.”

A splendid new temple and ancient buildings were found. “But,” he said, “during the first 60 days of the US occupation there were200 - 300people digging on the site.”

He continued: “By September2003 , over half the sites were destroyed. Since then, we have lost most of the major Sumerian sites. Only Ur and Uruk are OK. The others are very badly dug up. Sites are riddled with holes. No site south of Baghdad is safe and the looters are heading north. We don't know what is happening in the provinces because [the antiquities] people are not going out.”

The authorities, he revealed, “say things are improving but they must put the best face on [the situation] that they can”.

The situation of the museum remains precarious. Extra guards have been hired and security equipment has been installed. Gibson said: “Most objects ... remain sealed up. The gold is back in storage in the Central Bank. The department is trying to safeguard [the treasures] as much as possible while computerising the records. It still does not have a final count of what is missing. One storeroom has not been catalogued.”

He explained that it was raided during the looting which took place between April 9 and13 , when Baghdad fell. Items, stored in this room had been arranged on shelves set aside for specific excavations. They were identified by dig documents. When looters entered this room, objects were swept from the shelves. Many items were broken and crushed, most lay in confusion on the floor. This room will take much longer than the rest to catalogue. It is not air-conditioned and the women who do the work often do not show up because of the lack of security.

“At least15 , 000pieces are missing,5 , 000have been returned,” Gibson said.

“But the outpouring from the sites dwarfs what is lost from the museum. We are losing the context of objects, 80 per cent of the information they provide about the societies which produced them.... Iraq is losing its culture and its wealth. Iraqis are depriving themselves of employment in the future as well as revenue from tourism.... No one wants to go to holes in the ground.”

Thursday, July7 ,2005
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