The Iraq War & Archaeology
Reviewed Articles Archive Seven: First 1/2 of July 2003





This is the seventh archive of the reviewed articles of The Iraq War & Archaeology web site.


Francis Deblauwe, Ph.D.




The articles and other information are listed chronologically, most recent first. Almost all are accessible for free (or after a free registration) on the internet.  Each time, I try to draw attention to the most relevant tidbits of information, esp. things that were not mentioned before; occasionally, I provide some comment.  The usual warning applies: many links become defective with time.  Inclusion in the list does not in any way mean that I necessarily agree with the opinions expressed in an article.  But for a few exceptions, the occasional photos and figures accompanying reviewed articles are just hotlinked images on other web sites, in other words: do not download them or request permission to publish them from me, for I do not own the copyright to them in any way!  Please do contact the rightful owners if you would like to use them for publication purposes. Finally, for the sake of convenience, all articles and so on are assumed to have been published on US web sites unless indicated otherwise.

  • B. Rosenthal, "Iraq's Nippur Easy Prey for Looters. Ancient Mesopotamian City Which Boasts Temple of Enil is in State of Total Decay After Standing Sacked by Looters," in Middle-East-Online.com (UK), July 10, 2003: "Perhaps this is the greatest indignity inflicted on the city abandoned by its denizens in the ninth century AD. 'The gang of thieves come armed in the night,' says Jamil Fadhel, a retired professor living in the small village of Afak, seven kilometres (four miles) south of the archeological site. In the midday heat, the site is empty, not a US soldier around, ..." "Mohammed Abdel Hadi, a 44-year-old labourer, said only once did US helicopters swoop down and try to scare off the looters. Villagers from Afak say they will not travel to the site with armed escorts but admit that some looters operated even under Saddam's rule. 'At night, I hear the thieves,' says Abbas Karmod, the site guard for the team from the University of Chicago that had conducted digs here periodically since 1980." "Professor Munir Buchenaki, deputy cultural director for ... UNESCO), sounded alarm over the state of Nippur and other historic sites Saturday. 'We were also sadly surprised by the decay, the lack of maintenance ... of historic buildings and monuments,' ..." "Isin, another Mesopotamian site, is also completely destroyed, he said. 'It is total destruction of an archaeological site. The site was supposed to be protected,' Buchenaki said. The head of the University of Chicago team, Mcguire Gibson, visited a month ago and since then a UNESCO team has toured the site."


Photo: "UNESCO sounded alarm over the state of Nippur"
  • "Museum Loot," in Defend America, online, July 9, 2003
Photo: "Artifacts found by the 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion sit on the floor during a house raid in Baghdad, Iraq, July 7, 2003. The 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion found the artifacts as well as a small weapons cache and money during a raid to recover stolen artifacts from the Baghdad Museum. U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Jacob H. Smith" [see also Defend America July 10]

  • Sch. Faramarzi, "Tenth of Missing Iraq Artifacts Returned," in The Tuscaloosa News (Alabama), July 8, 2003: "However, deteriorating security and lack of electricity are hampering the work of drawing up inventories of what is missing, experts said. Looters smashed many artifacts, making it difficult for the 44 staffers [aren't there 170 or so?] at the Baghdad museum to reassemble them and determine what has been stolen and what is damaged, said Nawal al-Mutawalli, director of Iraq's museums. She said the list of items missing from storage rooms of Baghdad's museum alone now stands at 13,000. In addition, 47,000 [aaah! sic; should of course be 47, and of those 15 have been recovered already, I think, unless this would be a new, higher number] pieces are missing from the museum's exhibition hall, several of them major masterpieces." "Donny George, ... said about 1,000 missing objects were returned by Iraqi people and about 200 items by political groups and customs. 'Maybe we got back one-tenth,' he said, adding that at least seven pieces had been taken home by Iraqis for safekeeping and then returned. Sifting through the broken artifacts is difficult, especially in the 122-degree heat, said al-Mutawalli. Staffers had only recently been supplied with generators for air conditioning." "... priority must be given to guarding the [archaeological] sites - 70 of which are in former ancient capital cities. Many are so big they need an army to protect them, the experts said. The site in Babylon is 8.9 square miles, while the one in Samara to the east is 35 square miles, Damerji said. In the last week, he said, local tribesmen were recruited as guards, and U.S. and British military helicopters were also patrolling." "'We evacuated the museum many times, beginning with the Iran-Iraq war' of 1980-88, said Damerji. The tactic, he said was never to tell other staff, 'not even the minister of culture,' when or where they were moving something. 'Only 10 people who were under oath knew,' he said. 'This time, five were under oath.'"
Photo: "Muayyad Damerji, a member of the Cultural Cabinet in Iraq, left, and Nawalla al-Mutawalli, director of the Baghdad Museum, attend at a press conference in the British Museum, London, Tuesday, July 8, 2003. The visiting Iraqis spoke of the ongoing work in Iraq to recover missing historic items following the wave of looting in their museums after the recent war. (AP Photo/John D. McHugh)"

  • "'One in 10' Iraqi Treasures Looted," in BBC News (UK), July 8, 2003: "At least one in ten of the objects in Iraq's national museum are missing, its director has said. Dr Nawalaal Mutawalli [sic; should be "Nawala al-Mutawalli," similar to writing "Paulmc Cartney" instead of "Paul McCartney"] told a press conference at the British Museum in London that some 13,000 objects had gone missing from the Baghdad institution's storage room [sic; should be "rooms"] in the days following the fall of Saddam Hussein." [so is she putting the estimate for the total loss at 10% of the collection with 13,000 then being the running tally? and is that 10% of 170,000 (inventory nos.) or 501,000 (artifacts)? also, I wish Bogdanos and the Museum people would give joint press conferences with numbers that they agree upon, with the kind of detail I try to work with in my estimates; correction: after reading other reports of the same press conference accompanying the scholarly Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale conference in London–not mentioned in this article here at all–, it is clear that this journalist got it wrong: it was said that maybe 10% of the looted objects were recovered so far]; "Staff have only recently been able to start a thorough search of the museum because they had no electricity until they obtained a generator." [I didn't realize that this was still so much a problem]; "Archaeology professor Elizabeth Stone, from Stony Brook University in New York, added that most of the 10,000 historic sites across Iraq had been looted in one way or another, although Babylon and Ur had remained untouched." [surely, the writer conflated things a little here: I doubt that Dr. Stone stated for certain that most of the 10,000 sites have been looted as this is impossible and unfeasible to ascertain for the time being]; "[Dr. Stone] said antiquities were being traded in markets - souks - but the US military were 'too scared to go in there because people were going to get killed'. 'It's not an easy thing to do to shut these down,' she said." "But John Curtis, of the British Museum's ancient near east department, said it was doubtful that all the pieces [at the National Museum] could be restored."


Photo: "Muayyad Damerji, with an example of a missing object" [unfortunate choice of words: if it were missing, he couldn't show it, now could he? looks like a cuneiform tablet]
  • A. Massie, "Babylonian Dreamer," in The Scotsman (UK), July 7, 2003: "This was [Frank Lloyd Wright's] 'Plan for Greater Baghdad,' dedicated in part to the great ancient cities of Sumeria and Babylon. ... Imagine a world in which Camelot met the Arabian Nights and you get some idea of what America’s greatest 20th-century architect had in mind - and of why his last dream has been left unbuilt. His plans were just too ambitious, too outlandish to be considered. Today his determination to build bridges between past and present, Islam and the West, might have been welcomed; when they were submitted they seemed dangerously close to the last lunatic ravings of an architect whose genius had faded." "'Iraqis think we want to kill their culture,' [Mina Marefat, Rockefeller Fellow in Islamic Studies at the Library of Congress in Washington DC,] told the Washington Post last week, 'yet when America’s greatest architect drew a plan for Baghdad, where did he turn for inspiration? Not to American or European modernism which was so fashionable at the time, but to Arab and Persian architecture, which had shaped the famous Baghdad of the eighth and ninth century.' Marefat hopes that Wright’s example can be an inspiration today, ... Back in the late 1950s, when oil production was bringing Iraq great wealth, King Faisal determined to bring his desert country into the 'modern age', hiring the greatest western architects as a means of demonstrating Iraq’s progress and increasing sophistication." "He spelt out his hopes - and fears - for the project: 'I happen to be doing a cultural centre for the place where civilisation was invented - that is Iraq,' he wrote. 'Before Iraq was destroyed it was a beautiful circular city built by Harun al Rashid but the Mongols came from the north and practically destroyed it. Now what is left of the city has struck oil and they have immense sums of money. They can bring back the city of Harun al Rashid today. They are not likely to do it because a lot of western architects are in there already building skyscrapers all over the place and they are going to meet the destruction that is barging in on all big western cities. So it seems to me vital over there to try and make them see how foolish it is to join that western procession.'" "Harun ... remains an immortal figure in the Arab consciousness, forever associated with the glorious days when Arab scholars safeguarded the accumulated knowledge of Greece and Rome during Europe’s Dark Ages. 'Baghdad, the city of wisdom. It’s a defining narrative,' argues James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute." "In the event his fantastic designs - featuring ziggurats and other nods to the glories of ancient Babylon and Assyria - were widely derided, not just by the modernist architects then in vogue but by the Arab world itself."


Photo: "Though his designs for the rebuilding of Baghdad would have preserved the national and historical integrity of Iraq’s capital, Frank Lloyd Wright was overlooked. © Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation"
  • K. Miller, "A Military Life Was Meant to Pay for College for Minnesotan Killed in Iraq," in Star Tribune (Minneapolis - St. Paul), July 6, 2003: "'He was a "terrific, free-spirited kid -- just all-around loving' Beth Herrgott said." "'He was doing what he wanted to do,' [his mother] said. 'He had a real passion for it. It was exciting, that boy thing of the whole military scenario. He got to learn how to shoot all these different kinds of guns. He got to learn how to drive these tanks.'"
Photo: "Pfc. Edward J. Herrgott - Associated Press" [age 20]

  • "UK Journalist Killed in Iraq Named," in BBC News (UK), with online video, July 6, 2003: "... had spent six months in the London office of ITN as a picture researcher. Richard's father Robin said the family had tried to persuade him not to go to Iraq before he set off 12 days ago." "After school he became a Lieutenant in the King's Regiment for a year, then went to Jesus College, Cambridge, where he read history, and did an MPhil in medieval history."
Photo: "Richard Wild had been in Iraq less than a fortnight" [age 24]

  • R. Collier, "Iraq Puts Once-Lost Treasures on Display. GI Dies in Attacks on Americans -- Reward Offered for Hussein," in San Francisco Chronicle, July 4, 2003: "In an  event stage-managed and much hyped by U.S. authorities but nonetheless  emotional, ..." "Many other items that were feared lost also reappeared, either found in  safekeeping, returned by remorseful looters or recovered in police raids in  Europe and the United States." [I'd like some more information on those raids!]; "... Thursday's two-hour opening was mobbed by thousands of  journalists, American officials and hand-picked prominent Iraqis." "'The looting is still going on across the country [at archaeological sites], and the U.S. government  needs to take this a lot more seriously,' said Zaineb Bahrani, ... But this highbrow debate seemed almost pretentious as blood flowed on the streets only a few blocks away -- just one day after President Bush taunted anti-American fighters in Iraq, saying, 'Bring 'em on.'" [and his report was too early still to cover the US soldier guarding the Museum who was killed by a sniper a couple of hours later; correction: that soldier was killed at the Folklore Museum, see Deblauwe February 29, 2004]
Photo 1: "Iraqis take a close look at the new exhibition of Iraqi treasures at the National Museum in Baghdad. Associated Press photo by Mikhail Metzel"

Photo 2: "Iraqis walk through the new exhibition of Iraqi treasures at the National Museum in Baghdad. Associated Press photo by Mikhail Metzel"



  • Photo: "A U.S. Army soldier sits atop his Bradley fighting vehicle as he patrols streets along the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad Friday, July 4, 2003. On Thursday evening, a sniper shot and killed a U.S. soldier manning the gunner's hatch of a Bradley fighting vehicle outside the national museum [correction: that soldier was killed at the Folklore Museum, see Deblauwe February 29, 2004]. Hours before the attack, the national museum displayed several artifacts that were looted after the fall of Baghdad and later recovered. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)" [Yahoo! News Photos]

  • Photo: "A U.S. Army soldier with the 1st Armored Division stands atop his M1-A1 Abrams tank as he guards the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad on Friday, July 4, 2003. Thursday evening, a sniper shot and killed a U.S. soldier manning the gunner's hatch of a Bradley fighting vehicle outside the national museum [correction: that soldier was killed at the Folklore Museum, see Deblauwe February 29, 2004]. Hours before the attack, the national museum displayed several artifacts that were looted after the fall of Baghdad and later recovered. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)" [Yahoo! News Photos]

  • Photo: "A U.S. Army soldier with the 1st Armored Division sits atop his M1-A1 Abrams tank as he guards the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad, Iraq ( news -web sites ), Friday, July 4, 2003. Thursday evening, a sniper shot and killed a U.S. soldier manning the gunner's hatch of a Bradley fighting vehicle outside the national museum [correction: that soldier was killed at the Folklore Museum, see Deblauwe February 29, 2004]. Hours before the attack, the national museum displayed several artifacts that were looted after the fall of Baghdad and later recovered. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)" [Yahoo! News Photos]




Photo: "These 1st Armored Division soldiers are posting guard outside the treasure room at the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, July 3, 2003.  U.S. Army photo by Spc. Matthew Willingham"

  • Photo: "Thu Jul  3, 8:32 AM ET - Iraqis gaze at the new exhibition of Iraqi treasures in the National Museum in Baghdad, on  Thursday, July 3, 2003. The Iraqi National Museum briefly opened its doors to the press Thursday.  Looting at the museum provoked an international outcry after Baghdad fell on April 9, but U.S. occupation authorities say many of the museum's most important items  including the world-famous treasures of Nimrud  have been accounted for. Still, scores of items remain missing, said museum director Donny George. The museum won't open to the public for about two years, George said. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)" [Yahoo! News Photos]
  • Photo: "Thu Jul  3, 8:32 AM ET - Italian Carabinieri guard the new exhibition of Iraqi treasures in the National Museum in Baghdad, on  Thursday, July 3, 2003. The Iraqi National Museum briefly opened its doors to the press Thursday. Looting at the museum provoked an international outcry after Baghdad fell on April 9, but U.S. occupation authorities say many of the museum's most important items  including the world-famous treasures of Nimrud  have been accounted for. Still, scores of items remain missing, said museum director Donny George. The museum won't open to the public for about two years, George said. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)" [Yahoo! News Photos]

  • Photo: "Thu Jul  3, 9:03 AM ET - An emotional Iraqi man bursts into tears as he visit the Assyrian gallery July 3, 2003 during a brief re-opening of the Baghdad museum to display the ancient Nimrud treasures. One of the most significant archaeological finds of the 20th century, the Nimrud treasures, excavated in the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud near present day Mosul, was found safe and undamaged in a Baghdad bank vault earlier this week. The Nimrud treasures date back to 900 BC consisting in gold artifacts and precious gems have not been seen since the early 1990's. REUTERS/Radu Sigheti" [Yahoo! News Photos]

  • Photo: "Thu Jul  3,10:04 AM ET - Two Italian carabinieri guard golden objects, part of the ancient Nimrud treasures July 3, 2003 as the Baghdad museum briefly re-opens. One of the most significant archaeological finds of the 20th century, the Nimrud treasures, excavated in the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud near present day Mosul, was found safe and undamaged in a Baghdad bank vault earlier this week. The Nimrud treasures date back to 900 B.C. consisting in gold artifacts and precious gems have not been seen since the early 1990's. REUTERS/Radu Sigheti" [Yahoo News Photos]

  • Photo: "Ahmad Chalabi, right, is escorted by a U.S. soldier as he arrives at the Iraqi National Museum during its reopening Thursday July 3, 2003 in Baghdad, Iraq ( news -web sites ). The Museum houses rare Nimrud treasures believed to be one of the most significant collections of works of art of the 20h [sic] century that includes unique jewelry articles. (AP Photo/Samir Mezban)" [Yahoo! News Photos] [a few centuries before or after JC, what's the difference?]

  • Photo: "US civilian administrator in Iraq ( news -web sites ) L. Paul Bremer looks at the display at the reopening of the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad on Thursday July 3, 2003.  The museum briefly opened its doors the the press Thursday. Looting at the museum provoked an international outcry after Baghdad fell on April 9th. While many items are said to have been recovered the museum will not open to the public for another two years said museum director Donny George.   (AP Photo/Samir Mezban) " [Yahoo! News Photos]

  • Sh. K. Dewan, "Iraq Museum Reopens With Assyrian Treasures," in The New York Times, July 3, 2003: "The Nimrud treasures were not among those stolen after the war. They were found last month in a submerged bank vault." [a good idea to include this clear reminder; however, even "found" is too big a word as the ORHA people knew all along where they were, they just couldn't spare the people and equipment to pump out the underground areas of the Central Bank]; "Col. Matthew Bogdanos, ... said today that only about 12,000 items had been stolen, mostly objects primarily of archaeological significance like shards of pottery and individual beads of lapis lazuli." [from the interview on the McNeil Lehrer News Hour on PBS that night, I don't think he played down the significance of the missing artifacts to such an extent: for example, he also mentioned figurines and seals, I remember, and stressed that any one object stolen is a disaster]
Photo 1: "Photo: "Tyler Hicks/The New York Times - A golden crown from Assyria weighing more than two pounds went on display in Baghdad yesterday for the first time in a decade"

Photo 2: "Radu Sigheti/Reuters - Mural sculptures accompanying the display of the Nimrud treasures, which were excavated near Mosul, Iraq, by British scientists in 1845 and by Iraqis in 1988-92. An American adviser said that looting of the Iraq Museum had been less extensive than feared, and that many stolen pieces had been recovered."




  • S. Zekri, "Der 3000 Jahre alte Schatz von Nimrud. Das Gold der Semiramis," in Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany), July 3, 2003: the 57 kg of gold treasure is so valuable that no insurance company in the world is willing to insure it, so found out the Römisch-Germanische Museum in Mainz (Germany) when they tried to organize an exhibition some years ago; interview with Dr. Michael Müller-Karpe: the only other find you can compare the Treasure of Nimrud with is the Tomb of Tutankhamun; there are 1,000s of artifacts; burials of Mullissu-mukannishat-Ninua, wife of Assurnasirpal II (9th cent. BC), Yaba, wife of Tiglatpileser III, and Atalia, wife of Sargon II; under the embargo, the Iraqis were afraid to allow the Treasure to travel abroad because they feared it might be confiscated; it will be interesting to find out more, hopefully, about the origins of individual pieces, e.g., only now did we learn that the golden pitcher was made in a region north of the Caucasus
Photo: "Helm ab vor den Schätzen: die kurzfristige Ausstellung der Kostbarkeiten fand unter hohen Sicherheitsvorkehrungen durch amerikanische Soldaten statt. Quelle: AP" [helmet off for the treasures: American soldiers provided top-security measures for the brief exhibition of the valuable artifacts]


Photo 1: "This goldwork is part of a crown - one of the Treasures of Nimrud - displayed in Baghdad on Thursday for the second time in 3,000 years"

Photo 2: "The Nimrud gold was on view to journalists and diplomats for just a few hours before being rushed to the city's central bank for safekeeping"

Photo 3: "The museum was ransacked after the war. Nearly all its treasures were feared looted, but most have since been returned or found in storage"

Photo 4: "Some items, including the ancient Vase of Warka which dates back to Sumerian rule in 3200 BC, were returned to the museum broken" [probably not a photo from the exhibition; most likely picture from when it was returned]

Photo 5: "Curators have been left with the painstaking task of trying to piece together shattered carvings and pottery"

Photo 6: "Investigators looking into the looting are pointing to someone with 'inside knowledge'. It is not clear when the museum will reopen to the public"

Photo 7: "The museum will not open to the public for some time"








Photo: "Thu Jul  3, 8:18 AM ET - An Iraqi museum curator with Paul Bremer next to a gold crown of the Treasures of Nimrud at Baghdad's National Museum. (AFP/Marwan Naamani)"


  • [J. Tarabay], "Recovered Treasures Back on Display in Iraqi Museum," in MSNBC News, July 3, 2003: "The sacred, 5,200-year-old Vase of Warka lies on its side in 15 pieces — a casualty of war." [I like it that they didn't try to patch it together in a hurry but let the facts speak for themselves]; "So far, officials have recovered 10 of the 42 items [displayed in that were stolen from] the public galleries and 3,000 of the 12,000 objects [in that were stolen from] storage, said Col. Matthew Bogdanos, ..." [the writer didn't take good notes here]; "... the thieves were unable to open the last vault because they dropped the keys, so they took boxes carrying less valuable seals, ... Even though the mother lode was untouched, museum director George said the stolen pieces were valuable. 'One single piece is valued at 100 Mona Lisas,' he said." [Dr. George was in high form again <chuckle>]; "It will be about two years before the Baghdad museum is ready for the public, [George] said." [at the same event, Cordone said November!?!] "U.S. troops have been criticized for not protecting the museum from looters, a sore point with Bogdanos, who lost his temper when a reporter raised the issue with him. 'It broke my heart when I came into this museum and saw the destruction of these things, from places including my beloved Athens,' ..." "Gazing at the Vase of Warka, ... But the tip of the vase ... lay fragmented, apart from the rest of the white limestone body."
Photo: "Civilian administrator in Iraq L. Paul Bremer looks at the display at the reopening of the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad - Samir Mezban / AP"

  • B. Rosenthal, "Nimrud Treasure Unscathed. US-Led Authorities Show Off Near 3,000-Year-Old Jewellery in Brief Opening of Baghdad Museum to Dispel Looting Rumours," in Middle-East-Online.com (UK), online, July 3, 2003: "... rumours persisted the gold treasure had been sold off or stolen by looters. In a carefully choreographed public relations exercise, the US-led authorities threw open the doors of the Iraqi National Museum for three brief hours to a select group of dignitaries and journalists, ..." "Just 3,000 of some 170,000 items originally reported missing still remained unaccounted for. 'Of 8,000 items of world-class value, we can now only not account for 47,' a coalition spokesman said." [at least still 6,000 missing if not double that; odd that the valuable missing ones now have gone up again to 47]; "'Some water and sewage got in but they found that the Treasure of Nimrud was very largely unscathed and that with a bit of cleaning and polishing there should be no long-term damage.' The first of the treasure was found by Italian [sic; should be Iraqi] archaeologists excavating the tombs of Assyrian queens and princes in 1988. Cordone said he hoped the museum would be able to open to the general public in November."
Photo: "A priceless collection of 650 bracelets, necklaces, royal tiaras and semi-precious stones"

  • J. Arraf, "Iraq Briefly Reopens Looted Museum," in CNN, with online audio slide show, July 3, 2003: "The recent war has left the museum battered. A hole still remains outside the building from a U.S. tank round fired at snipers near the roof." "Another 10,000 items -- most of them tiny and some of them fragments -- are missing as well." [talk about trying to downplay numbers without the benefit of any knowledge of archaeology]
Photo: "The exhibition of Iraqi treasures is guarded by coalition forces"


  • F. Deblauwe, "Plundering the Past. Rape of an Iraqi Museum," in Archaeology Odyssey, July-August 2003: written mid-May, hence the use still of the 170,000 total artifacts instead of the correct 501,000; "Furthermore, it is extremely difficult to know the full extent of the National Museum’s collection. As any curator of a reasonable-size museum will tell you, a detailed, up-to-date inventory of a museum’s holdings is usually nothing but an ideal. More common is a system that has information about pieces that have entered a collection since a certain date. The backlog is something to be dealt with when there is time, which, more often than not, is never found. The National Museum was not only understaffed but it was forced to deal with a constant influx of artifacts coming from ongoing archaeological excavations. It should also be said that some scholars, upset by the rumors and images of museum looting, simply threw caution to the wind and gave panicked assessments of the destruction of Iraq’s cultural patrimony. But, then, they were dealing with media people out for sensational stories—and it is not every day that your Assyriologist gets to prime time. The scholars universally felt that it was urgent to impress upon the public the value of the National Museum collection and Mesopotamian archaeology in general. So they inadvertently exaggerated the damage." "The National Museum’s collection consists of several categories of artifacts. First, there are all the display artifacts in the public galleries: statues, carvings, jewelry, seals, manuscripts, ceramic pots, and so on. A second group consists of more than 150,000 artifacts stored in the museum’s underground spaces, mostly objects from recent archaeological excavations and objects sent to Baghdad by the provincial archaeological museums. Third, around seven thousand valuable and vulnerable artifacts were stored in the vaults of the Central Bank, such as a gold-covered bull’s head from a lyre found at Ur (the one on display in the museum was a replica). Finally, a few thousand  objects were stored elsewhere outside the museum. The objects discussed in media reports are mostly confined to the first group—the display artifacts."
Cover photo: "Disfigured and abandoned, this turbaned head gives stark testimony to the devastation of Iraq’s National Museum in the aftermath of the war. During the second week of April, mobs of looters ransacked the museum, smashing some objects and stealing others. It also appears that professional thieves, under cover of chaos, made off with some of the museum’s most valuable artifacts. In 'Plundering the Past,' Francis Deblauwe assesses the damage. Photo courtesy of AFP/Patrick Baz/Corbis"

Photo 2: "Authors"; yours truly



  • M. Rose and J. Hill, "Paradise Lost. Will a Cultural Garden of Eden Vanish in the Fog of War?," in Art & Antiques, Summer [= July-August] 2003: editor's notes updated the text with some of the latest developments such as the return of the Warka Vase; it still states, however, mistakingly that nearly all of the cuneiform-tablet collection was stolen or destroyed: they are safe



  • R. Atwood, "Inside Iraq’s National Museum. A Reporter on the Scene in Baghdad Describes How and Why the Looting Happened," in ARTnews, 102, 7 (Summer [= July-August] 2003): this is one of the better and more comprehensive articles of late so I'm including a lot of it: "A white marble statue of Poseidon had been chopped up, its torso and upper legs thrown to the floor and its head gone. A life-size stone statue from Hatra, brought to the museum three weeks before for safekeeping, had lost its head and its left arm to the looters’ saw." "During a week in May in Baghdad, I interviewed about 30 people concerning the looting: Iraqi museum officials, the U.S. troops accused of failing to protect the museum, members of the U.S. team investigating the thefts, foreign archeologists who led international protests against the U.S. role, and more than a dozen people who lived in the neighborhood and who witnessed the looting and the combat that preceded it. The most striking fact to emerge from dicussions with those living or working around the museum is that, in the days before and during the looting, they saw the museum being turned into a major military defensive position by Iraqi forces ... used it as a combat position for at least three days after museum staff had fled. Neighborhood residents ... said that Saddam Hussein’s forces had turned the museum into a small arsenal. 'The Ba’athists were in there, shooting at the Americans. Many people saw it,' said Jabar al-Azawi,  ... An elderly man wearing a gray robe, he offered me a cold drink in his garden on a quiet street around the corner from the museum. He said that the fighting was so intense that everyone on the block except him fled. 'I loved the museum, and I blame the Americans and the British forces because they didn’t stop the looting,' he said. U.S. forces have cited armed resistance from inside the complex as the main reason they could not seal off the museum and prevent the looting. In the end, they protected it only after they had defeated the last remnants of Saddam’s forces in the area. The looting began on Thursday, April 10, and lasted two days, as the battle between U.S. and Iraqi forces raged through the city. Ibrahim Taha and his colleague were guarding the office of the bus company where they worked when they saw people rushing into the museum, a few doors down. Taha followed them in and came to a small concrete building at the back of the museum, where he saw something that surprised him: weapons. Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers were propped against the wall, more guns were hanging from hooks, and there were boxes of ammunition on the floor. The Iraqi fighters who had brought this arsenal had fled, and looters were busily helping themselves to the weapons. 'I didn’t take one because I already had a Kalashnikov,' said Taha, a compact, solidly built man. Speaking through an interpreter, he told me that a few yards from the weapons cache was a smashed window in the back wall of the museum’s main building, through which looters had entered. Taha saw looters rushing out of the building, some holding clay pots and heavy boxes. 'I heard people saying to them, 'Stop, you are destroying our heritage, you are stealing what belongs to the Iraqi people.' But no one listened to them. You would have had to shoot them to stop them,' said Taha. ... About a week before American tanks rolled into Baghdad, Iraqi forces dug three trenches in the museum’s front lawn and covered them with corrugated metal and earth. Partly camouflaged by the overgrown lawn, these trenches—underground bunkers, the Americans called them—were later used to store weapons and launch attacks on U.S. tanks on the avenue in front of the museum. Identical to combat pits dug in parks, vacant lots, and soccer fields all over Baghdad, the trenches in front of the museum are about five feet deep and seven feet long—large enough to accommodate three or four people lying down with weapons. American forces found an unexploded grenade in one of the trenches. There were at least five sandbag emplacements on the museum grounds and on the sidewalk in front. I asked museum director Nawala al-Mutawili [sic] what the trenches were for. 'They were dug long ago,' she said, declining to elaborate. Elsewhere in the museum complex, snipers fired at American forces from at least three locations: a storage room in the main building and the roofs of two other museum buildings. Weapons or ammunition were found later at all three spots. A fourth building in the rear of the museum was used as an arsenal and reloading station, with easy access to an avenue that saw some of the heaviest fighting in Baghdad. The door that connected that building to the avenue was, in fact, the door through which most of the looters entered the museum. The use of the museum as a military position by Iraqi forces literally opened the door to its looting. 'It was that side door,' said Khalil Ibrahim, who lives nearby. 'All the fighting was over there, and that’s where the thieves were carrying out things from the museum.' On Tuesday, April 8, as American tanks pushed into central Baghdad, people living in the bustling Al Alawi neighborhood around the museum found themselves for the first time in the middle of war. American tanks occupied a long intersection on the south side of the neighborhood, while paramilitary fedayeen and Republican Guards blasted them with rocket-propelled grenades and submachine-gun fire from alleys, balconies, and behind buildings. From the roofs, Iraqis fired anti-aircraft guns at American tanks, which fired back. On the west side of this key intersection is Baghdad’s central train station. The museum is on the north side. Controlling access routes to two bridges over the Tigris and points north of Baghdad, this junction was crucial for the Americans to capture and just as crucial for the remnants of Saddam’s forces to hold. The museum was in the middle of one of the city’s main military objectives. Mohsun Abbas, an archeologist, was the only staff member who stayed on the museum grounds during all the combat and looting that followed. 'I have never seen a battle like this, and I was in the war with Iran,' he said. With his two sons and a family friend, Abbas stayed in their cottage behind the museum while the bombs fell. Fearing for their lives, they ventured out rarely. The two highest-ranking officials inside the museum as the battle began were National Organization of Iraqi Antiquities director Jaber Khalil and research director George. They had been in the museum for three days. But now the battle was upon them. Before noon, they told me later, Khalil came to George and told him that Iraqi fighters were climbing over the fences into the museum grounds. They left at once, along with the few other remaining employees in the museum except Abbas. ... Three U.S. Army platoons, with four tanks and 16 soldiers each, rolled into the immediate vicinity of the museum that day under heavy fire. It was a big force, attesting to the importance of the junction and the strength of Iraqi resistance. The commander of the operation was Captain Jason Conroy. I asked Conroy why his troops didn’t make more of an effort to guard what he must have known would be a tempting target for looters. 'That building was being used as a defensive position. They were fighting out of it. It wasn’t like you came here and there was no enemy. The area was completely saturated by enemy positions, and they weren’t abiding by the rules we were abiding by,' he said. An engaging, articulate man, Conroy seemed more bewildered than angry at the charges that his troops could have stopped the plunder. 'I mean, you’re talking about one little building. Yes, it’s an important building, but you have to think back to what point we were at. We were just moving into Baghdad, and just to get to this area was a major undertaking.' According to Conroy, U.S. forces came under rocket-propelled grenade fire from the roof of the Children’s Museum, which is inside the antiquities museum complex, and from the roof of the museum’s library annex. A gaping hole in the Children’s Museum shows where a U.S. tank projectile hit, and there were bloodstains on a ladder where a wounded Iraqi sniper had climbed down. Boxes of live grenades were later found on the roof of the Children’s Museum and on the library roof. Behind the battle lines, looting was well under way by Thursday, April 10. According to Abbas, a group of seven men smashed open the museum’s glass front door and went inside. Most of the shelves were empty, but there were still some choice works, like the Warka Vase, a copper bull from the Tell Ubaid site, and a 4,400-year-old diorite statue of an early Babylonian king. Abbas told me that he had taken a white cloth and walked out to an American tank to ask for help guarding the museum. His request was made to the American troops’ Arabic translator. Neither Conroy nor any of his men I interviewed remembered hearing anything about it. When Abbas walked back to the museum, he said, he realized that looters had swept in through a back entrance, near the weapons cache that Taha saw. Armed with assault rifles and knives, this mob directed its fury at the administrative offices before hitting the galleries. They ransacked desks, opened safes with crowbars, and emptied file cabinets. One of them found money. A month’s payroll of about $14,000 was inside a looted safe, according to someone close to the investigation. By Saturday, April 12, other employees began returning to the museum and chased out some of the looters. Abbas put up a large sign in the entrance saying in Arabic: 'The American army is in control of the museum. Those who enter will be killed.' It was a lie, of course, but it helped. They were able to block the doors and hold looters at bay. George and Khalil, ... [o]n Sunday, April 13, ... ventured out of their homes and went to the Palestine Hotel, where there was a U.S. command post, and got what they thought was a commitment from a U.S. Marine colonel to get troops to secure the building. None came. By then, the marines had largely withdrawn from the west side of the Tigris, where the museum was located, and the U.S. Army had taken over all operations in that area. Conroy said his forces took sporadic fire for four more days, until Tuesday, April 15, when they withdrew to refuel. The next day, with news of looting all over the world’s media, he finally received orders to return and 'secure' the museum, but by then the battle was over and the pillage had ended. They returned expecting to find Iraqi armed defenders and instead found only reporters. Conroy told me that he had no idea the museum had been looted. He, George, and Khalil inspected the museum for booby traps, finding none but coming across discarded Republican Guard uniforms. ... One of [the storage rooms], on the first floor, suffered particularly heavy vandalism and the loss of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of small objects. That room was connected to another room on the second floor by a spiral staircase. And in the upstairs room there was evidence of an Iraqi sniper position: an AK-47 magazine, an empty ammunition box, pieces of a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, a dud grenade, and a smashed-out window facing the intersection. The sniper fired while lying among ancient treasures. Holes in the wall showed where American bullets had hit. The most obvious explanation for how the looters entered those two connected storage rooms was that they followed the sniper in. The door was unforced, meaning the sniper either had the key or it had been left unlocked. Looters also bashed out the cinder blocks covering the back entrance to a basement storage area. There was no electricity, so the looters lit papers to use as a torch and went through the area picking out the most valuable and portable items. 'In the storerooms, it seems the looters had some knowledge about where to find the best things. These people were prepared,' said George. He said there was no evidence that museum employees were involved, but he couldn’t explain why the doors weren’t forced. 'Clearly there was a group of people who went through the museum filling in a list of things to steal,' said U.S. Marine Corps colonel Matthew Bogdanos, who until late May led the 13-man U.S. team investigating the looting. ... Made up mostly of U.S. Customs art-theft experts, the American team has been billeted inside the museum complex since late April. The team officially has the cooperation of museum staff, though relations are occasionally prickly, as when the U.S. team asked to fingerprint museum employees. The Americans resent the charge that they could have prevented the looting, and museum officials are incensed by insinuations that their staff allowed or even profited from it. 'The museum is in armadillo mode. They’re paranoid and terrified that they’re going to get blamed for what happened,' said McGuire Gibson, ... 'The museum people did exactly what they should do. They put all the material they could in storage and locked it up. They assumed the Americans wouldn’t bomb it, which they didn’t, but then they assumed the Americans would protect it from looters.' 'I think they should have guarded it, whatever it took,' said Major Eric Holliday, who is in charge of protecting cultural sites in northern Iraq. 'If there was a war in Washington, would we have protected the Smithsonian? Yeah, we would have, no matter what.' Investigators are now wondering why the looters did not make off with more than they did. One neighborhood resident said he had heard that the first group of looters kept later groups at bay, at gunpoint, while the first group took the choicest objects. Taha suggested that the crowds lost interest in the artifacts when they found the weapons. In lawless Baghdad, a Kalashnikov is a hotter property than a statuette."


Photo: "U.S. Army captain Jason Conroy in front of the museum. ©ROGER ATWOOD"


This site is edited by Belgian archaeologist Francis Deblauwe, Ph.D., living in Streamwood, Illinois (USA), who is affiliated with Archaeos, Inc., and a research associate of the University of Vienna (Austria).