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Restoration Of Treasures

The people of Iraq still remember the day… April 9, 2003! On that day, the last staff at the Iraq Museum in Baghdad left the building. Before leaving the museum, they repeatedly asked the British and US military commanders to take charge of the Iraq Museum, as they knew that miscreants would target the museum during political turmoil, and loot the traditional Sumerian, Assyrian, Babylonian and ancient Islamic artefacts. They also requested the two commanders to protect the museum from shelling. However, the British and US military commanders, seemingly, ignored this particular request.

The Museum after the fall of Baghdad

The miscreants looted the museum between April 10 and 12, 2003. Many of the staff returned to the museum on April 12, and tried to prevent the looters from entering the museum. However, they had to wait until April 16 for the US troops to be deployed around the Iraq Museum. One of the most valuable items looted was a headless stone statue of Sumerian King Antemena of Lagash. It was around 4,400 years old. Most of the artefacts of the Sumerian Gallery at Iraq Museum were either stolen, lost or broken. The 5,000-year-old Sumerian Warka Vase was one of them, as the miscreants looted more than 17,000 ancient artefacts and majority of them were around 4,000 years old.

The Warka vase

Later, some of those artefacts were recovered. The US Army, conducting a clandestine operation, recovered the headless stone statue of King Entemena from Syria, and turned it over to the Iraqi officials in 2006. The Entemena statue was reportedly taken across the border to Syria, and put on sale on the international antiquities market. It was the first significant artefact returned from the US and by far the most important piece found outside Iraq.

The headless statue of King Entemena

The US was heavily criticised for not protecting the Iraq Museum after taking control of Baghdad. Dr Irving Leonard Finkel (b. 1951), a British Philologist and Assyriologist, reportedly said that the looting was completely predictable, and could have been easily stopped. The then US cultural adviser, too, resigned over US military failure to stop looting.

A couple of weeks after the miscreants ransacked the museum, former Director General of Research Studies of the Iraqi Antiquities Board Dr Donny George Youkhanna (October 23, 1950 – March 11, 2011) stressed: “It is one of the greatest crimes of the century because its origins are part of the heritage of all mankind.” After the US Marines set up their headquarters at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, he visited the hotel to request the Marines to guard the museum. However, the US Marines took three days to make security arrangements outside the museum.

Dr Youkhanna

The Army Generals do not understand the value of history. Asked why US troops did not guard the museum after taking control of Baghdad, 15th Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Bowman Myers was heard saying: “This is a transition period between war and what we hope will be a much more peaceful time.” The then Defence Secretary of the US, Donald Rumsfeld, backed his General, stressing: “The looting was not as bad as some television and newspaper reports have indicated, and said there was no major crisis in Baghdad, the capital city, which lacks a central governing authority. The looting was part of the price for what the US and Britain have called the Liberation of Iraq.” Civil Affairs expert William Sumner, too, admitted that post-war civil affairs planners did not inform the Marines about possible situations in the coming days, triggering a blame game.

Bronze head of an Akkadian ruler, discovered in Nineveh in 1931, presumably depicting either Sargon or, more probably, Sargon’s grandson Naram-Sin

During a war, the civilians, soldiers, and history have to suffer the loss. The only good piece of news is that the Iraq Museum reopened in 2015.


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