sunlight Meskalamdug holds the writing implement and slowly, with great
care, presses the tool into the wet clay. With the last of the light it is
done, Meskalamdug makes his final mark, the story he has spent a quarter of
his life carefully entrusting to the clay is finished at last, it only
remains for the tablet to be fired in the morning and his thoughts and
dreams will be preserved for eternity. He stands up stretches, yawns, gets
off his stool and heads toward his sleeping place, before sleeping he smiles
In the years ahead the people of Ur are enchanted by the story that
Meskalamdug has given their city. It survives through the long ages, through
wars, great and small, through the leadership of tyrants and heroes, through
the first decline of Sumer, the Akkadian kingdom, the time of Sargon, and
the rise of Sumeria again, the Cassite dynasty, the Mitani and the Assyrian
empire. The story written in a language now unknown, Meskalamdug long lost to the
past, continues on locked into the tablets it was written on. It is the
time of Alexander, in the distant west the Roman people flourish,
then the Persians fall at the hands of the Muslims, the Abassid Caliphate comes
and goes, it survives the Mongol invasion now buried in the depths of a long forgotten
city, the Ottoman Empire rises, then is broken apart with the end of the First World War
and a new nation is founded, the Second World war passes...
Then one day a team of archeologists make a discovery, first they come
across the remnants of a town deserted many centuries in the past and after
many long months of excavation, in one part of the town they find a
storehouse that contains hundreds of stone tablets. They are carefully
catalogued, packed and taken to the museum where they wait for someone to
take them from their packaging to begin to process of unlocking their
secrets. The story of Meskalamdug awaits, it has waited for five thousand years, it
can wait a little longer.
But now we shall never know what Meskalamdug had to tell us, for the tablets
which had travelled so far across the ages to meet us now lie in shattered
ruins across the vault of the museum in Baghdad, his words are lost to us
forever along with the words of countless others, their work crushed to dust
under the feet of barbarians.
To see inside the museum today is to look upon a scene of utter devastation,
it is as if it had been hit by a hurricane or perhaps a tornado, in hall after hall
it is the same, display cabinet after display cabinet smashed and emptied of
their contents, there is broken glass everywhere along with empty and broken
wooden crates. Entire galleries echo hollowly, their contents gone, the rooms now
just forlorn looking shells. What wasn't taken by the looters has either been defaced
or smashed. Statue after statue and figurine after figurine are strewn, broken apart
on the gallery floors. The degree of devastation is the same in the vaults which had
been locked to prevent thieves from gaining access, but someone with a key had
opened them. Within them lying scattered across the floor are an array of artifacts,
smashed to pieces, probably beyond the ability of the most skilled conservator to
restore. There is not one gallery, not one vault, not one room that has not received
a visit by the looters.
There is really no way to know how much of the collection has been lost or destroyed,
all of the museum's records have been burned, the museum staff have given an estimate
that approximately 170,000 items have been taken. The staff are distraught at the
destruction that has been wrought.
The curator of the museum said that a large part of the cultural identity of a country is
tied up in its history and artifacts and in the destruction of those artifacts Iraq itself
has been destroyed. Some of the most famous artifacts to be lost are the 4000 year
old silver harp from Ur, the Sumerian vase from Uruk and the Akkadian bronze statue
Yesterday ITN news managed to get the Curator of the Baghdad museum in contact
with his counterpart at the London museum, via their satellite phone, to give
them an initial assessment of the damage that's been done, some of the most
important artifacts in the world have been lost, perhaps for all time and
even worse now that there has been some time to look at what has been taken
the Curator's assessment is that the items were stolen to order, there are a
number of copies of artefacts (which are currenly on loan to other museums)
that were left completely untouched. Donny George, director of research and studies
points to some glass cutters as proof that the mob attack was a cover for a much
more organised operation.
The Curator of the London Museum said that they will be making every effort
to arrange for the interception of any items from the Baghdad museum before
they can reach the hands of private collectors but there is no way that they
can assure that every item can be recovered, the scale of the disaster makes
it simply impossible.
There's also something unsavoury that's come to light which has a disconcerting bearing on
what has happened to the antiquities in Iraq: http://www.sundayherald.com/print32895
The pattern of devastation is not only limited to Baghdad, but is spread
throughout the country. It's known that priceless artefacts from the museum
at Mosul have also been stolen and its Islamic Library has been ravaged by
fire, the University at Basra has been set alight and the thousands of
archeologically important sites across the country remain unprotected.
The National Library and Archives in Baghdad which contain priceless documents
from the Ottoman Empire along with many other unique and incredibly valuable books
has been razed along with the Library of Quorans at the Ministry of Religion, thousands
of years of history has been erased, yet another grievous loss to our heritage and yet
again the Americans did nothing.
In the past week there has been more damage done to the world's cultural
heritage than has taken place over the entirety of the last century, while
not ratified by the US and UK both countries have violated numerous articles
of the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event
of Armed Conflict (1954). During the Second World War the Nazis removed
countless museum collections and works of art, however they were packed
carefully and inventories were kept which made their return much easier once
the war was over, even more ironically when Iraq invaded Kuwait they were
condemned for entering the Kuwait museum but they packed everything
professionally, kept inventories of the items taken and informed UNESCO that
the museum collection had been taken to Baghdad for safekeeping.
Despite pleas for the Coalition to do something, the calls coming from many
quarters inside and outside of Iraq, despite warning after warning after warning
about what would happen, no preparations were made, the Coalition's response
to the breakdown of law and order was described as 'Shockingly inadequate' by
Amnesty International. Even now they are still standing idly by while looters carry
out their heinous acts. It has not gone unnoticed that while the troops did nothing
to protect the people, their homes, shops, hospitals and culture from the looters,
2 platoons, a tank and several lighter vehicles had been assigned to protect the
Ministry of Oil which is a source of a great deal of anger amongst the population
Archeologist Muayyed Said al-Damergi said that US tanks were standing at the
gates of the museum when the looters broke in a few yards away, but the US
troops did nothing.and he went on to say that when he approached the tank
crew manning the first tank in the column and asked for help he was told
that they had no instructions to interfere.
Jaber Khalil Ibrahim, head of the General Directorate of Antiquities in Iraq
said he was promised help by US officers when he visited their HQ at the
Palestine Hotel, but so far no help has materialised.. Secretary Powell's
comments in regards to preserving Iraq's culture carry absolutely no
credibility whatsoever in Baghdad.
The desperate humanitarian situation across the country and the rapidly
worsening security situation is another source of anger, in Saddam City
(now renamed Sadr city) there is complete anarchy at night with roving
gangs shooting at people indiscriminately, which again is a situation that
is being repeated across the country (Tikrit in particular being extraordinarily
dangerous). There are daily protests by a small number of Iraqis taking place
outside the Palestine Hotel where the foreign media are based, they're
expressing their anger at the inability of the US troops to restore order
and provide basic services. If the US doesn't act quickly the growing
anti-US sentiment may spiral out of control.
Kirkuk is a tinderbox with widespread violence and looting and the Kurds are
continuing to expel Arabs from their homes in the city and in the
surrounding villages. There is also widespread fighting between Kurds and
Arabs in Mosul, around sixty people have been killed so far and two or
possibly three hundred people wounded in the fighting.
The story that is starting to come out from Basra at this point almost entirely
contradicts what the British were saying during the seige and assault on the city.
When the use of human shields by the Iraqi troops is mentioned the questioner
is greeted by confused stares, yes, they say, the Fedayeen were in the city and
the people were afraid of them, but the population learned to stay out of the
way of the Fedayeen and the Fedayeen stayed out of the way of the population.
There is also a great deal of anger and resentment there at what is seen as the
use of overexcessive force by the coalition, the humanitarian crisis and the
continuing problems in controlling the wildly criminal element that is terrorising the city.
In failing to prevent the looting and in failing to establish the rule of
law the Coalition is in breach of section 4 of the Geneva Convention
"Article 18. Civilian hospitals organized to give care to the wounded and
sick, the infirm and maternity cases, may in no circumstances be the object
of attack but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties
to the conflict."
"Article. 20. Persons regularly and solely engaged in the operation and
administration of civilian hospitals, including the personnel engaged in the
search for, removal and transporting of and caring for wounded and sick
civilians, the infirm and maternity cases shall be respected and protected."
"Article 27. Protected persons are entitled, in all circumstances, to
respect for their persons, their honour, their family rights, their
religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs. They
shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially
against all acts of violence or threats thereof and against insults and
"Article 50. The Occupying Power shall, with the cooperation of the national
and local authorities, facilitate the proper working of all institutions
devoted to the care and education of children."
"Article 55. To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the
Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of
"Article 56. To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the public
Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring and maintaining, with the
cooperation of national and local authorities, the medical and hospital
establishments and services, public health and hygiene in the occupied
territory, with particular reference to the adoption and application of the
prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of
contagious diseases and epidemics. Medical personnel of all categories shall
be allowed to carry out their duties."
In removing a regime the Coalition has shattered a nation, as with the
destruction in the Baghdad museum it remains to be seen whether something
can be salvaged from the remnants. So far it has been a dismal start. With
the largest Shia group refusing to attend the Coalition sponsored meeting in
An-Nasiriyah, the continuing humanitarian crisis, the security problems
including rivalries between various religious and political factions which could erupt
into civil war, the formation of anti-US resistance groups, the
declaration of Jihad against the Coalition by Iraq's Shi'ite authority Mohammad
Mahdi al-Khalisi,with questions over the candidates the US is proposing will run
the country and the deep suspicions surrounding the motives of the US, a long,
difficult, dangerous and fractious road lies ahead.
Edited by Shaun, 17 April 2003 - 01:35 AM.