Reporters' Sources: April 14, 2003

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Monday, April 14, 2003.

David Blair, “Thieves of Baghdad rob museums of priceless treasure,” Daily Telegraph, April 14, 2003.
Jonathan Steele, “Museum's treasures left to the mercy of looters,” Guardian, April 14, 2003.
Bill Marx, “Iraq’s National Museum Looted,” WBUR, April 14, 2003.
Mary Wiltenburg and Philip Smucker, “Looters plunder in minutes Iraq's millennia-old legacy,” Christian Science Monitor, April 14, 2003.
“Pluenderer stehlen Iraks Erbe,” Netzeitung, April 14, 2003.
Anne Garrels, “Looting Decimates Iraq Museum Collection,” All Things Considered, NPR, April 14, 2003.

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David Blair, “Thieves of Baghdad rob museums of priceless treasure,” Daily Telegraph, April 14, 2003.

Article

Sources:

1. Abdul Rahman
2. Raid Abdul Ridha Mohammed
3. Mr. Nasser

1. Abdul Rahman
The attack on the museum began on Thursday, a day after the arrival of American troops. Abdul Rahman, 57, a guard at the museum, watched as thousands of people surged inside the building.

Many carried AK47 assault rifles, which they fired in the air. Women and children were among the crowd. "There is no government - we want to steal. There is no Saddam Hussein - we will do what we like," they were shouting, said Mr Rahman.

2. Raid Abdul Ridha Mohammed
A few museum officials watched as the mob ransacked the exhibition halls and the vaults. Raid Abdul Ridha Mohammed, 35, a museum archaeologist, said: "A country's value is in its history. If a country's civilisation is looted, then that country is ended."

The mob continued its destructive work, with people carting away their loot in cars and lorries for two days, ending only on Friday when there was little left to steal or destroy.

Mr Mohammed tried to remonstrate with the mob, but they accused him of being "Saddam's spy" and threatened him with death. After several hours of pillaging on Thursday, he accosted an American tank that was driving past the museum and asked for help.

The tank's crew of five responded immediately and drove away the mob by firing in the air. The American soldiers stayed for about half an hour, during which no looter dared return. Then the Americans departed and the destruction resumed with renewed vigour.

Mr Mohammed blamed the United States. "America promised liberty to the Iraqi people, but this looting is not liberty. If we had stayed under the rule of Saddam Hussein, it would have been much better," he said.

Mr Mohammed was especially distraught that among the missing items is an intricate plaque, dating from 720 BC, depicting a lioness killing a woman in an ivory carving overlaid with solid gold.

"Mr Bush should bring to account every looter and everyone who stole any relic. Without our relics, our antiquities, we have no roots, no existence," he said.
Shocked Iraqis gathered beside the ruined halls of the museum. Mohammed Nasser, 44, said that he had come to defend the artefacts after hearing of the looting. He also blamed America for failing to curb Baghdad's lawlessness.

"These huge forces come to the country and they can't protect these places? Impossible. Didn't they think of this before they invaded the country?" he asked.

3. Mr. Nasser, (man-on-the-street)
Mr Nasser, an American-educated technician from Iraqi Airways, added: "After what I have seen, I wish Saddam Hussein to stay. We don't want this kind of democracy. Democracy cannot come through guns and looting."

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Jonathan Steele, “Museum's treasures left to the mercy of looters,” Guardian, April 14, 2003.

Article

Sources:

1. Abdul Rehman Mugeer
2. Raeed Abdul Reda

1. Abdul Rehman Mugeer
Abdul Rehman Mugeer, a senior guard, was shaking with anger yesterday at the destruction. He praised the US for at least parking four tanks in front of the museum when they took control of Baghdad last Wednesday. But they were later removed, leaving the museum to the mercy of rampaging Iraqis.

"Gangs of several dozen came," he said. "Some had guns. They threatened to kill us if we did not open up. The looting went on for two days."

2. Raeed Abdul Reda
The Americans returned with tanks at one point on Friday and sent the looters fleeing, but as soon as the tanks rumbled away, the gangs came back to finish the job.

"I asked them to leave one tank here all the time but they have refused," said Raeed Abdul Reda, an archeologist.

For months before the war began the archaeologist curators crated and stored some of the most valuable items in the building's basements.

The museum escaped the bombing, but it has been stripped almost bare. "Eighty per cent of what we had was stolen," Mr Reda said, standing in the glass-littered compound.

"They prised open the special chambers which are protected behind thick doors like safes. They came with crowbars and prised them open."

At more or less the time the world was watching Saddam Hussein's statue being torn from its plinth, looters were vandalising statues from the great civilisations of Nineveh and Babylon with equal energy.

Heads of ancient stone now lie on the museum floor. The bodies from which they came have been pockmarked by powerful blows.

"They were too heavy to move to the basement, and stood there until the vandals came and laid into them with iron bars," Mr Reda said.

It was clear from his description of the frenzy of destruction that these were not professional thieves with an eye on the auction markets of the world but people out for whatever they could get their hands on, and if it was too big to cart away, they smashed it to vent their frustration. Display cases are empty, pottery shards litter the floor. In the vault for archeological fragments drawers that once held evidence of Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian culture have been pulled out and stripped.

"There were hundreds of looters, including women, children and old people. They were uneducated. We know who they are," Mr Reda said, in a way that left little doubt they were from the poor slums of the Shia quarter.

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Bill Marx, “Iraq’s National Museum Looted,” WBUR, April 14, 2003.

Article / Audio

1. Paul Zimansky
According to Professor Zimansky, the looting of the museum's ancient artifacts is the greatest cultural disaster of the last 500 years.


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Mary Wiltenburg and Philip Smucker, “Looters plunder in minutes Iraq's millennia-old legacy,” Christian Science Monitor, April 14, 2003.

Article

Sources:

1. Mohsin Kadhun
2. Paul Zimansky
3. McGuire Gibson
4. James Armstrong

1. Mohsin Kadhun, archaeologist
He could see the mob coming, and feared not for his life, but for the treasures of Iraq's ancient past - some of them 7,000 years old - that had been left in his care.

"I took my white underpants off and put them on a stick and ran up the street to the US Marines," says archaeologist Mohsin Kadun. "I asked them - no, begged them - to help me preserve our treasures, but they would not drive down the street."

This past weekend, the frenzy of looting that has engulfed Baghdad since US troops took control of the city last Wednesday spread to the one place archaeologists worldwide hoped might be spared: the Iraqi National Museum. As hundreds of looters ran down the halls, stealing or smashing almost 70 percent of the repository's valuable statues, carvings, and artifacts, Mr. Kadun, a 30-year museum employee, stood helpless at the gates, screaming.


2. Paul Zimansky, professor of Near Eastern archaeology at Boston University
Iraq has been called one giant historic site, and for 80 years its national Museum has been the repository of irreplaceable records and collections of ancient art and artifacts from the country's Babylonian, Assyrian, and Mesopotamian past. The ransacking has caused incalculable loss to Iraq's, and the world's, cultural heritage, experts say. "If Iraq has anything besides oil, any meaning for humanity, it is in this history," says Paul Zimansky, professor of Near Eastern archaeology at Boston University.

Sunday, with the threat of more vandalism, US forces still had not arrived to secure the museum. "It reflects badly on us as Americans," says Dr. Zimansky. "We've behaved like absolute barbarians. OK, you can blame a mob, but they looted because law and order was broken down, and we broke it down. Then we stood by and watched."

3. McGuire Gibson, University of Chicago, the leading US researcher in Mesopotamian archaeology,
Before the war began, Kadun was in charge of moving artifacts into two giant vaults to prevent them from crashing off their pedestals as US bombs shook Baghdad. Other archaeologists also took protective measures. A group of scholars, conservators, and collectors, including MacGuire Gibson of the University of Chicago, the leading US researcher in Mesopotamian archaeology, drew up a list for the Pentagon of more than 4,000 crucial Iraqi museums, monuments, and archaeological digs, urging commanders to spare them. "The museum was at the top of that list," Dr. Gibson says.

Dr. Gibson learned of the looting on Friday, when the mob had only sacked the museum's first floor, and not yet its vaults. "That's as if somebody had gotten into the Metropolitan [Museum in New York] and taken everything out of half of it," he said, his voice shaking.

4. James Armstrong, assistant curator of Harvard University's Semitic Museum
James Armstrong, assistant curator of Harvard University's Semitic Museum, says he hopes that once order is restored in Iraq at least some of the stolen treasures can be recovered. In postwar Afghanistan, authorities set up checkpoints and caught some of the smugglers trying to take Buddhist artifacts into Pakistan. Iraqi artifacts will be more valuable to international collectors, but scholars say some stolen items are so well-known that they'll be impossible to sell and could in time be returned.

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“Pluenderer stehlen Iraks Erbe,” Netzeitung, April 14, 2003.

Article

Using Washington Post article:
Am Wochenende kehrten die Angestellten des Museums zum ersten Mal zurück, um die Schäden zu begutachten, berichtet die «Washington Post». Die Zerstörungen hätten ihre schlimmsten Erwartungen übertroffen. Unter anderem ist der Katalog verloren, in dem sämtliche Kunstschätze des Museums aufgelistet sind. Ein Lagerraum, in dem Tausende noch unklassifizierte Stücke aufbewahrt wurden, ist fast vollständig verwüstet – viele der Stücke werde man wohl nicht mehr restaurieren können, so ein Archäologe.


Sources:

1. Nabhal Amin
Viele Stücke waren vor Beginn der Bombardierung ausgelagert worden, doch viele der unersetzlichen Stücke waren dazu zu groß. Sie wurden mit Sandsäcken, Kisten und Schaum geschützt. «Wir waren auf Bomben vorbereitet», zitiert die «Post» Nabhal Amin, den stellvertretenden Direktor des Museums, «nicht auf Plünderer».

Nach ersten Schätzungen wurden 170.000 Kunstwerke zerstört oder gestohlen, Teile einer der wichtigsten und größten kulturgeschichtlichen Sammlungen der Welt. «Unser Erbe ist vernichtet», sagte Amin. «Warum haben sie das getan? Warum? Warum?»

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Anne Garrels, “Looting Decimates Iraq Museum Collection,” All Things Considered, NPR, April 14, 2003.

Article / Audio

The looting of Iraq's National Museum is so extensive that curators say it will be easier to catalogue what remains than to document what was stolen or destroyed. Museum staff are bitter that American troops were only a few hundred yards away when the looting started, but did nothing to stop it. NPR's Anne Garrels reports.


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