Reporters' Sources: April 13, 2003

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Sunday, April 13, 2003.

Richard Brooks and Nicholas Rufford, “Looters walk off with antiquities,” Times Online, April 13, 2003.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran, “’Our Heritage Is Finished,’” Washington Post, April 13, 2003.
Elizabeth Day and Philip Sherwell, “Looters strip Iraqi National Museum of its antiquities,” Daily Telegraph , April 13, 2003.
Robert Fisk, “A Civilization Torn to Pieces,” Independent, April 13, 2003.
Bill Glauber, “Artifacts survive war – not chaos,” Chicago Tribune, April 13, 2003.

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Richard Brooks and Nicholas Rufford, “Looters walk off with antiquities,” Times Online, April 13, 2003.

Article

Sources:

1. Nabhal Amin
2. Muhsen Kadhim

1. Nabhal Amin
Staff blamed American forces for not protecting the museum. Nabhal Amin, the deputy director, wept as she claimed the thieves had looted or destroyed 170,000 items “worth billions of dollars”. Other sources suggested 10,000 items had been on display.

Amin said: “The Americans were supposed to protect the museum. If they had just one tank and two soldiers nothing like this would have happened. I hold them responsible.”
2. Muhsen Kadhim
Muhsen Kadhim, a museum guard for 30 years, said: “We know people are hungry but what are they going to do with these antiquities?” Kadhim, who said he had been overwhelmed by the looters, added: “As soon as I saw the American troops near the museum I asked them to protect it but the second day looters came and robbed or destroyed all the antiquities.”

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Rajiv Chandrasekaran, “’Our Heritage Is Finished,’” Washington Post, April 13, 2003.

“Staff writers Mary Beth Sheridan in Baghdad and Guy Gugliotta in Washington contributed to this report.”

Article

Sources:

1. Nabhal Amin
2. Sherko Jaf
3. Sgt. Mark Grice
4. Anonymous US official
5. Lt. Erik Balascik
6. Roland Huguenin-Benjamin
7. Saad Tuema
8. Mehdi Zuemi
9. Amir Kadhim
10. John Russell

1. Nabhal Amin
"Our heritage is finished," lamented Nabhal Amin, the museum's deputy director, as she surveyed a Sumerian tablet that had been cracked in two. "Why did they do this? Why? Why?"

"If there were five American soldiers at the door, everything would have been fine," Amin said about the museum. "They're supposed to be here to protect us. They should be protecting us."

At the National Museum of Antiquities, Amin said she wants American soldiers -- and lots of them. Today, as she led a small group of journalists through the museum, five looters armed with an ax sneaked into one of the rooms, prompting several of the journalists to give chase. "They will keep coming here until there is nothing left to take," she said.

"We were ready for the bombs," Amin said. "Not the looters."

As she quickly walked through more than three dozen rooms, Amin did not catalog what was missing or damaged. There was just too much. But every few minutes, she would stop in front of an empty pedestal or a decapitated statue.

"This was priceless," she sobbed as she pointed to two seated marble deities from the temple at Harta that had been defaced with a hammer. Later, after observing more damage, she broke down again. "It feels like all my family has died," she wept.
Even storage rooms and workshops were trashed. An old Babylonian wooden harp was broken in two and its gold inlay scraped off. But most inexplicable to her was the destruction of rooms that contained no artifacts, just archaeological records and photographs.

"I cannot understand this," she said. "This was crazy. This was our history. Our glorious history. Why should we destroy it?"

2. Sherko Jaf (man-on-the-street)
"The bombing was terrible for sure, but it is not ruining our city like these looters are," growled Sherko Jaf, a dentist, as he watched a band of young men hauling rolls of carpet out of the 10-story Foreign Ministry building and placing them inside a yellow dump truck. "How will this ministry ever work again? You know, even if we don't have Saddam Hussein, we will still need a foreign ministry."

"Why just the oil ministry?" Jaf asked. "Is it because they just want our oil?"

3. Sgt. Mark Grice, US Marines
U.S. military officials said the Marines have been guarding other sensitive installations, including the Interior Ministry and the Irrigation Ministry, and have stepped up patrols of commonly looted areas, dispatching troops in small convoys of Humvees to deter and apprehend thieves. But during a lengthy drive though the capital today, such patrols could only be seen in two wealthy neighborhoods.

In one of those areas, the Arresat district, a boy on a bicycle flagged down a Marine unit after noticing four men trying to enter a photography shop. The Marines arrived, brandished their M-16 rifles and ordered the men to lay face down on the sidewalk.
As a crowd gathered around, the men insisted they were entering the shop at the owner's request to remove merchandise before looters got to it. Their keys did open the front door. But Marine Gunnery Sgt. Mark Grice, 31, was unconvinced. He noticed a hammer and anvil near the door, and he pointed out that the men's truck had no license plates.

As the men started arguing with some of the Marines, Grice sighed. "Three days ago, we were mortar men," he said. "Now we're babysitters."

Finally, he compromised. The men would have to put the merchandise back in the shop, lock the keys inside and promise never to be seen by Grice again. Grice wondered aloud whether he was making the right call. He figured one of the men was an employee of the shop but that the removal of the goods was unauthorized. By letting them go, he mused, would they just hit another shop?

"How are you supposed to transition from being a warrior to King Solomon?" he said.

4. anonymous U.S. official
Privately, some U.S. officials involved in reconstruction have expressed concern that failure to quickly crack down on looting could have worrisome, long-term consequences for the transitional government that the Bush administration wants to set up here. "By not being more aggressive now, there is the risk of bigger problems later," one official said.


5. Lt. Erik Balascik, US Army Third Infantry Division
Some military officers believe some of the gun battles that have recently erupted among different groups of Iraqis may be turf wars over places to loot or an escalation of long-standing conflicts in the new lawless environment.
"Once the Americans allowed this, it was 'Game On,' " said Lt. Erik Balascik of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division.

6. Roland Huguenin-Benjamin, spokesman for International Committee of the Red Cross
Many Iraqis and some of the few Western aid workers in the capital expressed wonder that the U.S. military was not more prepared to handle civil disturbances stemming from Hussein's downfall and evaporation of his once-pervasive security forces. "It was predicted," said Roland Huguenin-Benjamin, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross. "Everyone knew it was coming."

7. Saad Tuema, (man-on-the-street)
"I tell the United States, 'You wanted to overthrow the government so you should have taken responsibility and put one soldier in front of every government building,' " said Saad Tuema, a portly, middle-aged engineer who claimed not to have slept in three days because he has been hunting looters. "Instead, they just stood by and let it happen."

8. Mehdi Zuemi, clerk in the Foreign Ministry
"They wanted to let these robberies happen so the Iraqi people will be bankrupt and they will need American assistance," said Mehdi Zuemi, a clerk in the Foreign Ministry who observed his office being destroyed today. "They'll use our oil to pay for it."

9. Amir Kadhim, general surgeon, Yarmouk Hospital
At the Yarmouk Hospital, which was hit by a U.S. tank shell during a street battle Wednesday, doctors said they have no interest in getting protection from U.S. troops. "We just want them to leave us alone," said Amir Kadhim, a general surgeon. "We don't need their protection. We'll do it ourselves."

But a promised contingent of armed guards from the surrounding Karkh neighborhood has not yet materialized. Until they arrive, Kadhim said, the doctors are too nervous to work in the building, so they perform minor surgery, without the benefit of anesthetics or sterilized equipment, on the hospital's portico.

"Yesterday, the looters came with knives and stole our only working ambulance," he said. "How can we feel safe here?"

10. John Russell, archaeologist at Massachusetts College of Art
For the past 70 years, the museum has served as the showcase for records and collections of art and artifacts from the beginnings of ancient Sumer in 3,500 B.C. to the end of Islam's Abbasid Caliphate in 1258 A.D. "There are thousands of one-of-a-kind objects," said John Russell, an archaeologist and art historian at the Massachusetts College of Art. "This material is absolutely irreplaceable."

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Elizabeth Day and Philip Sherwell, “Looters strip Iraqi National Museum of its antiquities,” Daily Telegraph , April 13, 2003.

Article

Sources:

1. Nabhal Amin
2. Dominique Collon
3. Kazem al-Fartisi, (man-on-the-street)
4. Mohammed al-Shamai, (man-on-the-street)
5. Khazen Hussein, (man-on-the-street)
6. Hazem Shami, (man-on-the-street)
7. a senior minister (UK)

1. Nabhal Amin
Surveying the smashed display cases at the museum last night, Nabhal Amin, the deputy director, struggled to hold back the tears. "They have looted or destroyed 170,000 items of antiquity dating back thousands of years," she said. "They were worth billions of dollars."

Ms Amin said: "The Americans were supposed to protect the museum. If they had just one tank and two soldiers nothing like this would have happened. I hold the American troops responsible."
She added: "They know that this is a museum. They protect oil ministries but not the cultural heritage."

2. Dominique Collon
Dominique Collon, the assistant curator of the British Museum's Near Eastern Department, called the events "an absolute disaster".

"Tanks should have been posted outside the museum to protect it and there has been no explanation about why this has not happened.

"The losses will be felt worldwide, but its greatest impact will be on the Iraqi people themselves when it comes to rebuilding their sense of national identity."

3. Kazem al-Fartisi, (man-on-the-street)
"Of course we miss Saddam Hussein now," said Kazem al-Fartisi, 52, who owns several electronics and clothing stores in the al-Arabi market area which was torched Thursday.

"Under him this would never have happened. The police would have stopped the thieves. The Americans are only here to occupy us and drive us into ruin," he said.

4. Mohammed al-Shamai (man-on-the-street)
In Al-Rasafi market, a merchant, Mohammed al-Shamai, fired his pistol in the air as he saw a band of young looters nearing his seven-storey clothing store.
"We want law and order and we want the Americans to protect our stores," said Mr Shamai, who complained that $50,000 worth of his merchandise had already been stolen.

5. Khazen Hussein, (man-on-the-street)
"If the Americans don't defend us then we'll defend ourselves with our own weapons," added another merchant, Khazen Hussein. Young people were also seen with iron bars running after potential thieves. Almost everything has been considered fair game, from the luxurious homes of regime officials to hospitals and diplomatic missions.

6. Hazem Shami, (man-on-the-street)
“If the Americans don't do anything, we'll fight against them," said Hazem Shami, a merchant from Baghdad. "Why don't they force the police to come back to work?"
He said that while countryside tribes had organised ways to keep order, "here there's nothing, so we will defend ourselves".

7. a senior Minister
A senior minister told The Telegraph: "We were very concerned at the looting. We agreed on the need both for the Ministry of Defence police and the police force to help them."

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Robert Fisk, “A Civilization Torn to Pieces,” Independent, April 13, 2003.

Article

Sources:

1. Abdul-Setar Abdul-Jaber
2. Jaber Khalil

1. Abdul-Setar Abdul-Jaber, museum guard
"This is what our own people did to their history," the man in the gray gown said as we flicked our torches yesterday across the piles of once perfect Sumerian pots and Greek statues, now headless, armless, in the storeroom of Iraq's National Archaeological Museum. "We need the American soldiers to guard what we have left. We need the Americans here. We need policemen." But all that the museum guard, Abdul-Setar Abdul-Jaber, experienced yesterday was gun battles between looters and local residents, the bullets hissing over our heads outside the museum and skittering up the walls of neighboring apartment blocks. "Look at this," he said, picking up a massive hunk of pottery, its delicate patterns and beautifully decorated lips coming to a sudden end where the jar perhaps 2ft high in its original form had been smashed into four pieces. "This was Assyrian." The Assyrians ruled almost 2,000 years before Christ.

Mr Ibrahim has vanished, like so many government employees in Baghdad, and Mr Abdul-Jaber and his colleagues are now trying to defend what is left of the country's history with a collection of Kalashnikov rifles. "We don't want to have guns, but everyone must have them now," he told me. "We have to defend ourselves because the Americans have let this happen. They made a war against one man so why do they abandon us to this war and these criminals?"

2. Jaber Khalil (interviewed earlier)
Only a few weeks ago, Jabir Khalil Ibrahim, the director of Iraq's State Board of Antiquities, referred to the museum's contents as "the heritage of the nation". They were, he said, "not just things to see and enjoy we get strength from them to look to the future. They represent the glory of Iraq".

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Bill Glauber, “Artifacts survive war – not chaos,” Chicago Tribune, April 13, 2003.

Article

Sources:

1. Nidal Amin
2. McGuire Gibson
3. Gil Stein
4. Raid Abdul Mohammed

1. Nidal Amin,
"This is the history of Iraq," said Nidal Amin, the museum's deputy director, moved to near tears of rage. She was furious that the museum wasn't secured by U.S. forces gathered in a city overrun by mobs stealing at will.

"If just one American tank stayed outside, just two American police stayed in the door," the looting wouldn't have happened, Amin said.

"They don't know this is a museum?" she cried. "They don't like a museum?"

2. McGuire Gibson
"In all the lists, I stressed that the most important site of all, the No. 1, is this museum," Gibson said. "Because of this, I assumed that it would be secured as soon as they [soldiers] were in the neighborhood."

After nine museums elsewhere in Iraq were looted during the first Persian Gulf war, what was left from them was sent to the National Museum for safekeeping. Given what occurred in 1991, this week's plundering "was absolutely predictable," said Gibson, who has been going to Iraq since 1964 as an archeologist and expert.


3. Gil Stein, director, Oriental Institute, University of Chicago
Another American expert, Gil Stein, director of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, noted that the museum housed the masterpieces of Mesopotamian culture.

"Mesopotamia is the world's first civilization. It's the first place to develop cities, the first place where writing was invented," Stein said. "And the artifacts from the excavations from there are the patrimony for our entire civilization and absolutely irreplaceable."

The Iraqi Department of Antiquities, which oversaw the museum, was never corrupted by Hussein's Baath Party "and had done everything they could to keep these artifacts safe," Stein said. "It's not their failure. The failure is ours."

Assessing the damage from the recent plundering, Stein echoed the frustration of Iraqi museum officials, saying a couple of U.S. soldiers standing outside the museum could have secured it.

"They have gone to great lengths to protect the oil wells," he said. "But the treasures of Iraq's past are immeasurably more valuable."

4. Raid Abdul Mohammed,
"The looting looked organized," said Raid Abdul Mohammed, a museum worker deeply upset at the theft of artifacts that are the building blocks of human history.

"This is civilization--the civilization for you and me," he said.


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I'm currently working on additions for April 14. Updates soon.


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