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Tales From The Vitrine: Battles Over Stolen Antiquities

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Author Topic: Tales From The Vitrine: Battles Over Stolen Antiquities  (Read 502 times)
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« on: January 09, 2009, 02:59:52 pm »

Catastrophe! includes a day-by-day retelling of the looting of the Iraq Museum, an event that also features prominently in Thieves of Baghdad (2005), Marine Col. Matthew Bogdanos's first-person account of leading the museum's restoration effort.

According to Donny George, a former director of the museum (he fled Iraq in 2006), the first looters were professional thieves who knew exactly what to target, and it's likely that many of them were linked to former or current museum employees. Later waves appear to have been more local, casual and indiscriminately destructive.

Many of the writers of Catastrophe! blame the US Army for not securing the museum and Iraq's archaeological sites quickly enough or with sufficient manpower. Gibson and Russell describe the days leading up to the invasion and the years since as a frustrating series of memos ignored, phone calls unreturned. Atwood tells the story of a group of Iraqi curators and their two guards trying to defend the 3,500-year-old city of Nimrud from looters in the first days after Saddam's fall. After weeks spent dodging Kalashnikov bullets and watching as the looters carved slices of Assyrian friezes out of the walls with stonecutting tools, the Iraqis requested additional American protection; an infantry battalion finally showed up in May, too late to save the most important pieces.

Bogdanos, on the other hand, details his exasperation with archaeologists who assumed the Army had total mobility throughout Iraq in the early days of the occupation. He points out that Saddam's army had used the museum as a fortress, and that securing it immediately would have required its bombing.

But everyone from Bogdanos to Russell, except Cuno, agrees that the vast illegal antiquities trade is the major impediment to curtailing looting in Iraq.

Russell tells us that "as long as an unfettered worldwide market for Iraqi antiquities is allowed to provide the funding for this 'Iraqi problem,' the problem will not go away."

Bogdanos, an assistant district attorney in Manhattan, disdains museums and dealers who buy stolen antiquities as having "no honor, no code, no rules." There is also a security argument against abetting antiquities smuggling, as smugglers who carry weapons and drugs out of Iraq often deal in antiquities as well, and the sale of antiquities appears to help fund the insurgency.

Bogdanos mentions the discovery of a weapons cache in Anbar province in 2005: along with guns and armor, marines found more than thirty pieces from the collection of the Iraq Museum.
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