September 29, 2006


Blue Shield Working Conference in The Hague

On September 28-29, the annual Blue Shield Working Conference, titled Towards a Solid Organization: Infrastructure and Awareness, was held in The Hague (the Netherlands). Blue Shield is an international organization active in cultural-heritage protection and preservation in cases of natural disaster, war, etc. I would be esp. interested to hear from any participants about the following lectures:

Disaster Relief for Museums, by Thomas Schuler, Chair of ICOM DRFM Task Force
The profile of an active member of Blue Shield, introduction by René Teijgeler

Anything else relating to IW&A would of course also be welcome...

September 28, 2006


McGovern-Polk plan

Democratic Party éminences grises George McGovern and William R. Polk have written a book, Out of Iraq. A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now. It will be out shortly. They published an excerpt article in the October issue of Harpers magazine which is unfortunately not available online yet but the Prairie Weather blog is helping us out:

... that phased withdrawal should begin on or before December 31, 2006, with the promise to make every effort to complete it by June 30, 2007.
The decision to withdraw at least does not call for additional expenditures. On the contrary, it will effect massive savings. Current U.S. expenditures run at approximately $246 million each day, or more than $10 million an hour, with costs rising steadily each year.
... the Iraqi government would be wise to request the temporary services of an international stabilization force to police the country during and immediately after the period of American withdrawal. ... We imagine that the Iraqi government, and the Iraqi people, would find the composition of such a force most acceptable if it were drawn from Arab or Muslim countries.... It would benefit both Iraq and the United States if we were to pay for this force. Assuming that a ballpark figure would be $500 per man per day, and that 15,000 men would be required for two years, the overall cost would be $5.5 billion. That is approximately 3 percent of what it would cost to continue the war, with American troops, for the next two years.

This is what they propose regarding archaeology:

Removal of military facilities from cultural sites

Astonishingly, one American camp was built on top of the Babylon archaeological site, where American troops flattened and compressed ancient ruins in order to create a helicopter pad and fueling stations. Soldiers filled sandbags with archaeological fragments and dug trenches through unexcavated areas while tanks crushed 2,600-year-old pavements. Babylon was not the only casualty. The 5,000-year-old site at Kish was also horribly damaged. We need to understand that Iraq, being a seedbed of Western civilization, is a virtual museum. It is hard to put a spade into the earth there without disturbing a part of our shared cultural heritage. We suggest that America set up a fund of, say, $750 million, or three days' cost of the war, to be administered by an ad-hoc committee drawn from the Iraqi National Museum of Antiquities or the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, the British Museum, the World Monuments Fund, the Smithsonian Institution, and what is perhaps America's most prestigious archaeological organization, the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, to assist in the restoration of sites American troops have damaged. We should not wish to go down in history as yet another barbarian invader of the land long referred to as the cradle of civilization.

• "Just published: Detailed, positive and authoritative Democratic plan for withdrawal from Iraq," in Prairie Weather, online, September 17, 2006


"We just didn't understand what was going on, and we couldn't coordinate our own people"

I just came across an article about an Army Reserve Captain I hadn't heard about before: A. Heather Coyne. "She arrived in Baghdad with the 354th Civil Affairs Brigade in April 2003 ..." "Having earned a degree in strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, Coyne was working on counterterrorism and Special Operations issues at the White House's Office of Management and Budget when she decided to join the Army Reserve. ... Army recruiters weren't exactly thrilled with her inquiry ... especially because she wanted an unusual direct commission to be an officer in civil affairs, specializing in the interaction of military units with the local civilian population, especially in peacekeeping and similar missions. ... After two years, and an appeal from the White House to a general at the Pentagon, Coyne was allowed to join the Army in 1999. ... When 9/11 hit, Coyne was studying Arabic at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif. ... on her own dime, she polished her language training in Cairo and got ready to deploy. She was an enthusiastic supporter of the invasion back then. ... Coyne's first suspicion that the occupation wouldn't go as she hoped came on her first mission, which involved looking into the possible theft of archaeological finds. She came away worried by the confusion inside the U.S. military about the task and how to do it. 'We just didn't understand what was going on, and we couldn't coordinate our own people,' she remembered." "... the summer of 2003, ... she transferred to the Coalition Provisional Authority, ..." "'It wasn't until the fall of 2003 that I really began thinking, 'This is a disaster -- we are never going to pull this together,'' she said. 'It was amateur hour.'" "For Coyne, the breaking point came in the spring of 2004, when news of the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal emerged. ... Coyne was approached by the U.S. Institute of Peace -- an independent conflict resolution office sponsored by the federal government -- to run its Baghdad office and work on reducing sectarian violence through dialogue. She did that for the 18 months, ..." So I guess she must have been on Col. Matthew Bogdanos's team investigating the looting of the National Museum in Baghdad in 2003? She doesn't seem to cherish the memory though... Another piece of the puzzle.

• Th.E. Ricks, "The Road to Disillusionment. Army Reserve Captain 'Anxious and Depressed' Over Iraq," in The Washington Post, September 20, 2006

September 27, 2006


Destruction of ancient minaret in 'Ana

Let me tell you a sad but interesting story: the old town of 'Ana was originally located on the middle Euphrates, about 80 km east of the Syrian border and 310 km west of Baghdad. It was already mentioned in Babylonian and Assyrian cuneiform texts and prospered as a station on the east-west traderoute. One of its prized possessions was an ancient minaret. Dr. Alastair Northedge: "The minaret of 'Ana is commonly attributed to the Uqaylid[ dynasty] and the 5th/11th century [AH/AD], though ... more probably of the 6th/12th century [AH/AD]. It was situated on the island at 'Ana and belonged to ... the congregational mosque. When the valley was flooded by the Qadisiyya Dam at Haditha in 1984-5, the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities cut it into sections, and removed it to the new 'Ana where it was re-erected at the end of the 1980s." The Uqaylids ruled in northern Iraq and northern Syria. Dr. Muayad Said described the structure before the filling of the reservoir: "It has an octagonal body enhanced by alcoves, some of which are blind. ... Conservation work on the building was undertaken in 1935 and again in 1963 and 1964, and today it stands 28 metres high and fully restored. Inside is a spiral stairway encircling a ribbed stone column, ... Around the building lie the remains of a mosque and some stone buildings." Unlike the picturesque and historical town of 'Ana in its fertile river valley, the hastily constructed new town, 14 km to the west, is located on a barren plateau. This town and its minaret obviously have not had much luck as of late.

The 1st picture shows the minaret on el-Qal'a island in 1909, photographed by Gertrude Bell (courtesy of the Gertrude Bell Project), the 2nd photo (from the The Threat to World Heritage in Iraq web site) depicts it after restoration but before the building of the dam, the 3rd one (from in its current condition after the attack: it's pretty much destroyed. The explosion took place on june 22. The Iraqi Accord Front, a mainly Sunni Arab Islamist Iraqi political coalition, accuses Shi'ites of staging a deliberate campaign of destroying national and esp. Sunni-origin monuments: the top of the Malwiyyah minaret in Samarra (also a famous monument built by a Sunni dynasty, this time the Abassids), the monument of el-Mansur in Baghdad, etc.

• M. Said, "The Ancient Sites in the Basin of the Haditha Dam on the Euphrates," in Monumentum, 17 (1978), pp. 85-92
• U. Ghaidan and N. Al-Dabbagh, "Iraq. State of Ecology and Built Heritage After Four Decades of Adversity," in M. Truscott, M. Petzet and J. Ziesemer (eds.), Heritage at Risk/Patrimoine en Péril/Patrimonio en Peligro. ICOMOS World Report 2004/2005 in Monuments and Sites in Danger/ICOMOS rapport mondial 2004/2005 sur des monuments et des sites en péril/ICOMOS informe mundial 2004/2005 sobre monumentos y sitios en peligro, München, 2005, pp. 111-121
• A. Janabi, "Mosque blast blow to Iraq treasures," in (Qatar), June 24, 2006
• A. Northedge, "Minaret at 'Ana," in Iraqcrisis, online, June 25, 2006
• Ch. Jones, "Photos of the minaret at 'Anah before destruction," in Iraqcrisis, online, September 3, 2006

September 25, 2006


The National Museum as the canary in the coal mine

Frank Rich just published an op-ed column in the New York Times (Sep. 24, Stuff Happens Again in Baghdad) which eloquently puts the plight of the National Museum in Baghdad in the context of the larger Iraq War. Let me summarize by means of excerpts:

It's not just about torture. Even if there had never been an Abu Ghraib, a Guantánamo or an American president determined to rewrite the Geneva Conventions, America would still be losing the war for hearts and minds in the Arab world. Our first major defeat in that war happened at the dawn of the Iraq occupation, before 'detainee abuse' entered our language: the 'Stuff happens!' moment at the National Museum in Baghdad." ... Our blindness back in April 2003 seems ludicrous in retrospect. As the looting flared, an oblivious President Bush told the Iraqi people in a televised address that they were 'the heirs of a great civilization that contributes to all humanity.' Our actions ? or, more accurately, our inaction as the artifacts of that great civilization were carted away ? spoke louder than those pretty words. ... That disaster might have been mitigated if our leaders had not dismissed the whole episode as a triviality. But Donald Rumsfeld likened the chaos to the aftermath of a soccer game and joked that television was exaggerating the story by recycling video of a single looter with a vase. ... Of course, dear old Rummy’s what-me-worry take on the museum was the tip-off to how he would be wrong about everything that would follow: he reacted with exactly the same disdain and indifference to the insurgency happening under his own nose and to Abu Ghraib. There would be a hasty corrective to the looting, at least: a heroic Marine Reserve colonel, Matthew Bogdanos, commanded a team that ultimately tracked down a bit more than a third of the vanished objects. ... The cavalier American reaction to the museum looting was mimicked in the $22 billion reconstruction effort, an orgy of corruption and waste that still hasn’t brought Iraqis reliable electricity. ... Speaking before the United Nations last week in what may be the run-up to our new war, Mr. Bush was still on his battle-for-civilization kick, flattering Iranians much as he has the Iraqis. 'We admire your rich history, your vibrant culture, and your many contributions to civilization,' he said. All Iranians have to do is look to the Baghdad museum today to see that such words are worth no more now than they were in 2003. It’s symbolic of the anarchy throughout Iraq’s capital that the museum’s entrances are now sealed with concrete to keep out new hordes of killers and thieves. ... More revealing is the other half of the museum’s current plight: it is now in the hands of Iraq’s version of the Taliban. That sad denouement is another symbol, standing for our defeat in the larger war of ideas. The museum changed hands in August, when Donny George, its longtime administrator and the chairman of Iraq’s official antiquities board, fled the country fearing for his life and for the treasures in his care, both at the museum and the country’s many archaeological sites. Mr. George is a Christian and had good reason to fear. The new government minister placed in charge of the museum, a dentist, is an acolyte of the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, whose goal is to make Iraq a fundamentalist theocracy. To Mr. Sadr and his followers, the museum’s legendary pre-Islam antiquities, harking back to the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, are infidels’ idols to be sacked. ... But he is instead a major player in the 'democracy' we have installed in Iraq, controlling at least 30 of 275 seats in the Parliament and six government ministries, including the power centers of transportation and health. ... One of the first Westerners to warn strongly of the dangers of someone like Mr. Sadr was Gertrude Bell (1868-1926), the legendary archaeologist, explorer, author and British political officer who masterminded the unlikely cobbling together of the modern Iraq state after World War I. She warned that a Shiite theocracy in the new country would be 'the very devil.' As it happened, it was also Bell who created the Iraqi National Museum in 1923. The fortunes of her museum, once considered the finest in the Middle East, have been synonymous with the fate of Iraq ever since. That’s because, like any such national institution, it is not merely some building that houses art but a repository of a country’s heart and soul.[my own emphasis] That America has stood helplessly by as Mr. Sadr folds the museum into his orbit of power is as ominous a predictor of what lies ahead in this war as was our callous reaction to the looting of 2003. For all of America’s talk of stamping out a 'murderous ideology' and promoting civilization and democracy in Iraq, we are now handing the very devil the keys.

Enough said.


Lyre of Ur replica finished

From my backlog: in an e-mail dated May 4 Andy Lowings told me that the 1st playable replica of the famous gold bull's head lyre of the royal graves at Ur is finally finished. It was truly a multidisciplinary and international effort that at times ran into seemingly unsurmountable obstacles. The replica was constructed with reasonably-close-to-the-original materials (gold, lapis lazuli, bitumen, cedar wood, pearl shell, pink limestone, sheep gut). Unfortunately, we don't have sufficient knowledge of ancient Mesopotamian music notation to allow for confident interpretation of the extant "music scores" on cuneiform tablets. Even before the replica's decoration was completely finished, it was already being played in concert, e.g., at the Stamford Harp Festival in 2004 by Iraqi musician Tara Jaff, and at the Live8 at the Eden Project in 2005 by Kenyan musician Ayub Ogada. Click on the video at the end of this post to watch a brief clip of Andy Lowings playing the lyre accompanied by Barnaby Brown on the pipes (also copies of ones found in Ur). A project like this may not by itself bring back any smashed archaeological artifact or protect any archaeological site in Iraq but it is very useful in making the very distant Sumerian past come back to life just a little bit again. In order to rally support for the protection of the archaeological heritage of Iraq, it must after all become more than a few pictures in a text book. The project also involved a lot of people and institutions that otherwise would not have been exposed to ancient Mesopotamia...



Some alphabet soup to start the week. The British School of Archaeology in Iraq or BSAI was founded in 1932 and aims to "encourage, support and undertake research into the archaeology (and cognate subjects) of Iraq, and the neighbouring countries, from the earliest times to c. AD 1700." It sponsored archaeological expeditions in Iraq till the 1980s but nowadays it is limited to providing grants twice a year of up to £1,000 normally. From an e-mail I received: "While the focus of the School is on archaeology, applications are especially welcome in the following subject areas, on any period from prehistory to the present day: intellectual history; political change; and Iraq in its Middle Eastern context." The next due date for applications is October 15. Applicants must be residents of the UK or British Commonwealth citizens. The BSAI also publishes the well-known scholarly journal Iraq.

The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq or TAARII, formerly the American Association for Research in Baghdad (AARB), was founded in 1989 "to promote scholarly research on and in Iraq, ancient Mesopotamia." Rather than a society with members like the BSAI, TAARII is a "consortium of American universities, colleges, and museums in order to promote scholarly research in and on Iraq and exchange between American and Iraqi scholars." The resident director, Dr. Lucine Taminian, is currently stationed in Amman rather than Baghdad for obvious reasons. One of the current research projects sponsored by TAARII is Rescuing Iraqi Archaeological Reports, i.e., "to prepare for publication in Arabic and English reports on important excavations and surveys carried out by Iraqi expeditions in the past thirty years but not published." This is indeed more urgent than ever in light of the loss of some documentation during the ransacking of the offices and archives of the SBAH/National Museum in 2003. Furthermore, there are also fellowships available for Iraqi as well as US scholars to conduct research in Iraq. The current deadline is December 15. US or Iraqi citizenship is required.

These are the only two organizations solely focused on Mesopotamia/Iraq. Let me quickly mention a European one which has a branch with a similar function: the venerable Deutsches Archäologisches Institut or DAI, a precursor of which was founded in 1829. The actual Baghdad Branch was set up in 1955. It s biggest claim to fame is the continuation of the excavation of Uruk. They have no presence in Iraq at the current time but provide some assistance.