Current Issues in Archaeology
Looting in Baghdad
As U.S. Troops entered Baghdad on April 12th 2003, The National Museum of Iraq saw its worst nightmare materialize. As the Regime was being toppled, the museum was being plundered. An estimated 170,000 artifacts were taken from the museum right through the front doors. Helpless museum employees could do nothing to stop the hundreds, if not thousands, of plunderers as they went from room to room smashing exhibits and taking everything that could be carried away. One employee ran to a nearby U.S. military unit and asked for assistance. They dispersed the crowd only to leave a half hour later. When all was clear, the throngs of looters re-appeared and started looting again. The museum arguably housed the most significant collection of Middle Eastern cultural and historical collections in the world. Abdul Muhammad, a Museum official, stated, "A country's identity, its value and civilization reside in its history. If a country's civilization is looted, like ours has been here, its history ends." Indeed this loss is immeasurable on any scale and what was lost can never be replaced.
This unfortunate calamity could very well be an embarrassment for the United States as well as a loss to the world. Robert Kelly, the President of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA), sent Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense, a letter (February 27, 2003) in which he expressed his concern for the welfare of the artifacts housed in Baghdad if America had to resort to military action. He reminded Rumsfeld of the looting that took place in 1991 during Desert Storm and referred to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and the 1999 Second Hague Protocol. In response, the Military Assistant to the General Council stated that the United States was not party to either of the conventions, but that the U.S. would help protect the cultural property of Iraq. SAA also sent President George W. Bush a letter with the same concerns on April 16th, 2003. They reminded President Bush of his duties to protect the Iraqi cultural past. They were pleased that bombing did not target any cultural sites, but urged Bush to use any means under his control to stop the ongoing looting. They fear that if he does not step in, all will be lost. Judge for yourself how well you think they did (http://www.saa.org/goverment/index.html).