Issue of April, 21, 2003
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Accents
A Crime Against the Culture of Humanity
By Tierramérica Editor's Desk

The worst predictions about the consequences of the war on the immense cultural legacy that Iraq has possessed throughout more than 7,000 years of history have unfortunately proved correct.

MEXICO CITY, (Tierramérica).- More than the thousands of bombs and missiles dropped by U.S. and British forces over the Arabian country causing the destruction of ancient artifacts, it was the Iraqi citizens who plundered the priceless objects of Iraq's and humanity's history -- while the occupying troops looked upon the spectacle without doing anything to stop it.

Preliminary assessments indicate that 50,000 to 170,000 artifacts have been stolen or broken into a thousand pieces. Many of these objects were thousands of years old.

On Apr 13, U.S. troops began to arrest suspected thieves in Baghdad, a first step towards imposing order in the chaotic capital and in other Iraqi cities in the wake of the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime.

The first protests by Iraqi civilians erupted as well, angered that the occupying forces had restarted the operations of oil wells and refineries while vital services like water and electricity remained paralyzed.

"You protect the oil, but forget about the universities, hospitals and businesses," read one of the signs carried by the protesters.

While looting continued and insecurity persisted -- as different groups tried to settle accounts -- in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Mosul, Basra, and Al Kut, the U.S. military initiated operations to try to restore order.

Too late. The National Library in Baghdad was stripped bare and set ablaze on Apr 13 and continued smoldering 48 hours later. The so-called Palace of Knowledge held texts from throughout history -- an incalculable loss

An estimated million documents -- books, maps, photos, microfilm and archives -- including ancient copies of the Koran and the first newspaper published in Iraq in Persian in 1869 -- were stolen from the library or burned in the aftermath.

This cultural tragedy occurred two days after the famed National Museum of Iraq was emptied by looters. The museum housed collections from the Sumerian, Acadian, Babylonian and Assyrian cultures, as well as unique Islamic works. Now all of that is gone, perhaps forever.

During the 1991 Persian Gulf War regional museums were sacked, and some 4,000 artifacts were stolen. Of that total, just 10 have been recovered, point out archeologists.

Photographs and televised images of display cases with the glass broken and pieces of ceramic scattered about the floor have demonstrated the grim and dramatic destruction of the treasures of the cradle of western civilization.

Golden vessels, ritual masks, royal headdresses, jewel-encrusted lyre and other priceless artifacts of ancient Mesopotamia were taken from the museum, some whisked away on carts, according to press reports.

In vain, the museum curators had wrapped some pieces prior to the war in the hopes of protecting them from the U.S.-British bombardments that were sure to come. The storerooms and basement were broken into by the looters.

"Now we are only distant witnesses to what occurs," Mounir Bouchenaki, deputy director of culture at UNESCO, had said in a conversation with Tierramérica just days before the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime.

"We can hope there is some sensitivity on the part of the military" about the value of the historic wealth in Iraq, he said.

But his pleas, like those of archeological experts around the world, fell on deaf ears.

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