The country and people of Iraq have experienced many calamities in recent decades: the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War (a.k.a. 1st Gulf War), the 1991 Gulf War (a.k.a. 2nd Gulf War or 1990-1991 Kuwait War) and now the 2003- Iraq War (a.k.a. 2nd or 3rd Gulf War depending on when you start counting). War in this Cradle of Civilization, beyond the horrendous, almost invisible casualties—always somebody's husband, always somebody's son—and downplayed "collateral damage"—always somebody's wife, always somebody's child—, inevitably takes its toll on the archaeological heritage as well. After all, this fertile flood plain and surrounding mountains gave birth to agriculture, to writing, to cities, to laws, to the 24 hours in a day, and many more things we take for granted. Innumerable material remains of these steps on the path of humankind, from prehistory to the present, still lie buried in the soil. Some emerge just a little, like beacons, reminders of what once was. But, most still lie hidden beneath. Archaeologists, hand in hand with cuneiform specialists, have however been able to painstakingly piece together a picture of what Mesopotamia looked like: the make-up of the inhabitants, their economy and trade, their social and political organization, the ebb and flow of states and empires, the awe and tedium of religious practices, etc.
The objects found are not, cannot be the goal, only the means by which to understand what made the ancient Mesopotamians tick. However, without the objects, no building blocks, no house of knowledge. Also, the most exquisite of these objects take on a role of their own. They speak to us directly through the centuries. Their beauty, their design, their true-to-life-ness, their slice-of-life quality can be more eloquent than a hundred excavation reports. Rational, quantitative data and eminent objets d'art together with cuneiform tablets, together they provide the least incomplete picture. The National Museum in Baghdad was the supreme depository of all three. Thousands and thousands of tablets, still unstudied, lay side by side with tons of excavation data, the minutiae of excavations, quantitative and qualitative observations and facts. On top of it all, the most visually-eloquent pieces appealed to the lay visitor and specialist alike. None may have been safe for the storm of ignorance, greed, revenge, zeal and mayhem that swept through the Museum. The US government bears a grave responsibility. The ongoing plunder of archaeological sites throughout Iraq too was a predictable and predicted catastrophe. The Masters of War did not in any way plan for this either.
One thing before I go on. I wish to be absolutely clear: no epic Sumerian cuneiform tablet, majestic Neo-Assyrian lamassu sculpture or any other Mesopotamian artifact is worth a human life, be it Iraqi, American, British or other.
Archaeology, antiquities smuggling, nationalism, colonialism, politics and related issues have always been closely intertwined in the Land Between the Two Rivers. This site serves to explore, expand and encourage the study of and dialogue about these issues. From April 2003 through May 2006 I gathered the most interesting articles and sundry bits of info. They can be found on semi-monthly archive pages. Bear in mind that some of the links have gradually become obsolete as web sites either were taken down or articles/photos/videos moved or materials shifted to paying sections of their sites. For copyright reasons, I generally could only link, not provide actual copies or downloads. Third, I review the relevant web sites. On a separate page, The Iraq War & Archaeology. Satire & Humor, I gathered some of the subtle and less-subtle examples of satire and cartoons on the subject. A list of professional organizations' appeals to the powers that be in 2003 is to be found on another separate page. Finally, IW&A contains the following special features (now outdated): best guess of the losses at the National Museum in Baghdad; the editor's online articles, interviews, etc.; relevant web sites; running tally of sites looted and damaged in the course of the Iraq War; writing/petition actions.
From 2006 to 2008, the IW&A site became focused mainly on the IW&A Blog and the digital series IW&A Documents.
The project remains online and is still frequently consulted as an archive of the damage to the archaeological heritage of Iraq as a result of the Iraq War.
Francis Deblauwe, Ph.D.
fdeblauwe [at] gmail [dot] com
Editor's online articles, interviews, etc. (outside the project web site)(no longer updated)
- D. Zuñiga, "'Tesoros arqueológicos de Irak se venden por internet.' El especialista belga Francis Deblauwe ..." in Las Últimas Noticias (Chile), April 9, 2006
- "Online-Dokumentations-Projekt zur Kulturgüter-Situation im Irak nun am Server der Universität Wien," in DieUniversitaet-online.at. ... (Austria), online, September 12, 2005
- "Der Golfkrieg, das Kulturerbe des Irak und der Kampf der Wissenschaft gegen die Antike-Kunsthandel-Lobby in den USA," in DieUniversitaet-online.at. ... (Austria), online, [September 12, 2005]
- "Operation Iraqi Freedom und Danach: Das archäologische Erbe des Irak und der Kampf der Wissenschaft gegen die internationale Kunsthandel-Lobby," in Forum Archaeologiae. ... (Austria), online, 36 (September 2005)
- "Mesopotamian Ruins and American Scholars. Two Years Later: Some Lobbying Successes But the Devastation of Iraq's Cultural Heritage Continues," in The Bible and Interpretation, online, August , 2005
- "Der Golfkrieg und das kulturelle Erbe des Irak. Der Kampf der Wissenschaft gegen die Antike-Kunsthandel-Lobby und wie das IWA-Projekt nach Wien kam. ...," in GÖAB-Bulletin, 3, 2005 [July]
- R. Strobel, "[Interview with Dr. Francis Deblauwe]", in Morning Magazine (KGNU radio; Colorado), with online audio, May 25, 2005
- "Preserving the Past From the Vandals of History. [Book review of] Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World By Roger Atwood. ...," in National Catholic Reporter, May 20, 2005
- S. Walsh, "War exposes history," in [Gary] Post-Tribune (Indiana), February 6, 2005, with a sidebar by F. Deblauwe
- "American graffiti. We cannot avoid responsibility for this destructive legacy of the war, writes Francis Deblauwe," in The Guardian (UK), January 15, 2005
- "Melee at the Museum. International Whodunit Lingers over Looting of Iraq's National Museum in Baghdad," in National Catholic Reporter, October 17, 2003
- "Iraq Update," in Archaeology Odyssey, September-October 2003
- "Plundering the Past: The Rape of Iraq’s National Museum," in Archaeology Odyssey, July-August 2003
- with B. Wetherill, "Prohibit Imports of Looted Treasures," in The Kansas City Star, June 6, 2003
- "Iraq: Looting of Cultural Treasures," in WashingtonPost.com. Live Discussion, online moderated chat, April 21, 2003
Editor's other academic materials
A Mac OS X screen saver using Dr. John M. Russell's photos taken in the aftermath of the looting of the National Museum in 2003. You can download it here (> 2 MB).