The Iraqi Museum Heist

Fact: AP and Knight Ridder both report that the losses at the Iraqi Museum appear to be the result of a well organized theft and not the result of random looting. BBC World Service reports that the Iraqi museum pieces are showing up in Paris.

Opinion: The moral unseriousness of people who raise this issue as a legitimate objection to the war or even an objection to the conduct of the war is apalling.

Hat tip to Village Idiot who notes:

So, lets think about this. The Museum, full of priceless antiquities, is located in a country run by a ruthless tyrant who has treated the country and its treasures as his personal playthings. It has been closed to the public for years. War has been threatened for months, and the tyrant knows that the city will be bombed, so does the museum staff. Rumors abound that the tyrant, his henchmen and their families are stashing treasure in foreign countries against the possibility of flight. When the army of liberation arrives, the Museum is empty, its displays and vaults ransacked. The staff blames an anonymous mob of civilians.

Motive, Means, Opportunity; isnít that what Miss Marple would wonder about? The tyrant would certainly have them in spades.


From Knight Ridder on April 16:

Iraqi museum officials and U.S. military authorities now think that the much-publicized looting of antiquities from the world-renowned Iraq Museum was most likely a well-executed theft, perhaps planned before Baghdad fell. Museum officials have determined that most of the looting that did take place at the museum, . . . was focused on office machines and furniture, . . . and that only selected antiquities were taken.

“The people who came in here knew what they wanted. These were not random looters,” Donny George, the director general of Iraq’s state board of antiquities, said Wednesday . . . He pointed out that replica items – museum pieces that would have looked every bit as real to an angry mob as authentic items – were left untouched. The museum’s extensive Egyptian collection, which is valuable, but not unique to the world, also was left alone. . . American soldiers on guard duty here said that while the damage in the museum areas seemed bad, the appearance was deceiving. “It looked pretty bad inside, much worse than it was,” said 2nd Lt. Erik Balascik, 23, of Allentown. Pa. “The administration building, the library, they are a mess. In the museum, there is broken glass and papers on the floor, but a lot of the collection was pulled before the war. And not as much is missing as first thought.”

In fact, in the main collection, it now appears that few items are missing, and very little seems to have been the victim of mob violence. . .

The military perspective is that it did all it could to protect the museum at the time. During the looting, “the fighting was still going on. The Republican Guard headquarters are across the street, and they were far from secure,” Army Maj. Michael Donovan said. “Frankly, we were here to protect people and property, but in the early days we had to choose, and we chose people.” . . .

ON April 17, AP Reports:

Professional thieves, likely organized outside Iraq, pillaged the nation’s priceless ancient history collections by using the cover of widespread looting — and vault keys — to make off with irreplaceable items, art experts and historians said Thursday. The bandits were so efficient at emptying Iraqi libraries and museums that reports have already surfaced of artifacts appearing on the black market, some experts said.

But the real hypocricy here is that much of what is in Western museums was taken/saved by looters in wartime and has never been returned. The further hypocricy is of course the French who apparently operate the biggest market for the stolen art. From Jeff Jarvis

As I drove home tonight listening to the BBC World Service on the radio, someone from the British Museum said that some of the antiquities stolen from the looted museums of Baghdad are already showing up… where?… in Paris. He said Paris is the headquarters of this trade. He also made clear that much of what is being portrayed as mob looting is, instead, an organized theft ring with a market.
So the fault for the looting of the museums rests in great measure in the laps of those who are criticizing us for not stopping it: with the French.
If the French had agreed to join in the war, perhaps they could have guarded the museums. But we were busy. We were protecting people.
Maybe we didn’t stop the looting of the museums.
But we also didn’t cause it.
Did the European antique trade? Did the French?

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