- R. Cohen, "The
in the Baghdad Museum," in The
New York Times, April 2, 2006: "For the director of a shuttered
museum in a country at war, the imaginary can be a welcome refuge.
Condemned to contemplate his own and his country's fate in great halls
emptied of visitors, Donny George paces past showcases of ancient
vessels and jars and clay tablets, and he dreams. In his mind's eye,
the museum director sees the grand opening: the courtyard filled with
1,000 guests, succulent lamb and sumptuous dates on tables beneath the
palms, a Baghdad chamber quartet playing, the spirited talk of
civilized people ... Under Saddam Hussein, he learned to live a double
life: praising the dictator in public, worrying in private. He was a
member of Mr. Hussein's now-disbanded Baath Party. Not to be, he says,
would have meant dismissal and the abandonment of archaeological
excavations, his great love. Compromise is woven into the texture of
his life. Now, as the director general of Iraqi museums, his new title
[actually, he was subsequently promoted to chairman of the whole State
Board of Antiquities and Heritage], he inhabits a labyrinth. The
Interior Ministry has been urging him to reopen the National Museum,
saying it will provide him with 1,000 guards if necessary. 'But then
it's no longer a museum,' Mr. George said. 'It's a barracks.'"
"'Everyone, deep in himself, is grateful to the United States that they
helped us get rid of this regime,' Mr. George said. 'But the
uncontrolled situation [i.e., the looting of the Museum in April 2003],
that is another thing. Why was it not controlled?' In Baghdad today, as
the concrete blast walls multiply, control seems almost unimaginable.
Since 2003, three museum employees — an archaeologist, an accountant
and a driver — have been killed."
"Mr. George was sitting in a comfortable office with cellphones, a
computer, the Internet. American money and American experts have
produced results. More than $2 million from the State Department, the
Packard Humanities Institute of Los Altos, Calif., and the Iraqi
Culture Ministry have gotten the roof repaired, the telephone system
transformed, the fences upgraded, guard houses built, the plumbing
fixed, the windows washed, locks coordinated, the air-conditioning
upgraded, surveillance cameras installed and an electronic security
system activated. After years of gradual decay under Mr. Hussein, the
museum has had a face-lift. 'The assistance we have asked for from the
State Department we have had, and we are grateful,' Mr. George said.
Asked whether he thought guilt drove this American largess, he joked,
'I would love them to feel that.'" "Most of the approximately 10,000
artifacts still missing [from the Museum] are smaller items: gems,
jewelry, terracotta figurines and cylinder seals. ... Mr. [John]
Russell said that the smaller artifacts 'are easy enough to sell if you
clean off the acquisition numbers.' Still, over time, he said, they may
be identified and recovered if customs and law enforcement officials
step up their efforts." [this article is similar to Cohen February 25, 2006]
All photos: "Max Becherer/Polaris, for The New York Times"
Photo 1: "Donny George admires the detail of Assyrian reliefs at the
National Museum in Baghdad, which remains closed to the public."
Photo 2: "Donny George, the head of Iraqi museums, at the National
Museum in Baghdad."
Photo 3: "In another room stands a statue of Nabu, the Babylonian god
of wisdom and literature."