Saturday, June 09, 2007

Robbing the cradle of civilization

By Libby

In March of 2001, the world watched in horror while the Taliban destroyed Afghanistan's ancient Bamiyan Buddhas. Far less attenion has been paid to the systematic destruction of Iraq's historical artifacts.

The devasting human toll of war rightly receives the bulk of the coverage but the wholesale looting of Mesopotamia is no less tragic and it started the day we arrived.
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. ...

...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.
But it's not just the looters who carelessly destroyed Iraq's priceless antiquities.
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.

The fabled city of Babylon suffered a similar fate. Coalition forces set up a base there shortly after the invasion, allegedly to protect the city. Instead, in what has become a hallmark of the occupation, it caused more harm than good.
According to a January 15, 2005 article in the UK’s Guardian and a British Museum report, Camp Babylon and operations ran out of Camp Babylon caused “widespread damage and severe contamination to the remains of the ancient city of Babylon.”

The report claims that heavy military vehicles crushed some archaeologically significant sites and vast amounts of sand and earth were removed from the site in order to fill sandbags. Also, because the city was home to a coalition military base it became the site of frequent insurgent attacks which caused further damage to the ancient site.

In September 2003 the base was passed to a Polish-led force, which held it until January 2005 when the site was handed over to the Iraqi culture ministry. In January 2005 Polish forces transferred control of Camp Babylon to the Iraqi Culture Ministry. Polish forces moved to a nearby area. Polish officials said that the moving out of Camp Babylon was as a result of security reasons and not because the base was allegedly damaging the ancient city.
The damage has nonetheless been done and the British Museum has documented the extent of the heartbreaking losses.
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.

Meanwhile our troops are dying daily, essentially to protect oil pipelines.

This is Bush's legacy. He destroys the past and robs future generations of the lessons of history. In seeking to rewrite his own history as a glorious war president, he erases thousands of years worth of answers to present day questions, without a thought. I don't see how that is any less egregious than what the Taliban did to the Buddhas.

No comments: