(Copyright 2003 The Blacklisted Journalist)


Subject: Sunday Herald
Date: Sun, 4 May 2003 12:11:20 -0700
From: "Shirley Pena" 

  US Troops Encouraged Ransacking

By Ole Rothenborg and Dagens Nyheter

Thursday 11 April 2003

[This is a translation of an article from April 11 from Dagens Nyheter, Sweden's largest newspaper, based in Stockholm. The article was written by Ole Rothenborg and translated by Joe Valasek. Khaled Bayomi, has taught and researched on Middle Eastern conflicts for ten years at the University of Lund where he is also working on his doctorate. He has given his permission for this interview to be widely disseminated.]

Khaled Bayomi looks surprised when the American officer on TV complains that they don't have the resources to stop the plundering in Baghdad. "I happened to be right there just as the American troops encouraged people to begin the plundering."

Khaled Bayomi traveled from Europe to Baghdad to be a human shield and arrived on the same day that the war began. About this he can tell many stories but the most interesting is certainly his eyewitness account of the wave of plundering.

"I had gone to see some friends who live near a dilapidated area just past Haifa Avenue on the west bank of the Tigris. It was the 8th of April and the fighting was so intense that I was unable to return to the other side of the river. In the afternoon it became perfectly quiet and four American tanks took places on the edge of the slum area. The soldiers shot two Sudanese guards who stood at their posts outside a local administration building on the other side of Haifa Avenue. Then they blasted apart the doors to the building and from the tanks came eager calls in Arabic encouraging people to come close to them. "

"The entire morning, everyone who had tried to cross the road had been shot. But in the strange silence after all the shooting, people gradually became curious. After 45 minutes, the first Baghdad citizens dared to come out. Arab interpreters in the tanks told the people to go and take what they wanted in the building."

"The word spread quickly and the building was ransacked. I was standing only 300 yards from there when the guards were murdered. Afterwards the tank crushed the entrance to the Justice Department, which was in a neighboring building, and the plundering continued there".

"I stood in a large crowd and watched this together with them. They did not partake in the plundering but dared not to interfere. Many had tears of shame in their eyes. The next morning the plundering spread to the Modern Museum, which lies a quarter mile farther north. There were also two crowds there, one that plundered and one watched with disgust."

"Are you saying that it was US troops who initiated the plundering?'

"Absolutely. The lack of jubilant scenes meant that the American troops needed pictures of Iraqis who in different ways demonstrated hatred for Saddam's regime."

"The people pulled down a large statue of Saddam?"

"Did they? It was an American tank that did that, right beside the hotel where all the journalists stay. Until lunchtime on April 9, I did not see one destroyed Saddam portrait. If people had wanted to pull down statues they could have taken down some of the small ones without any help from American tanks. If it had been a political upheaval, the people would have pulled down statues first and then plundered."

"Isn't it good that Saddam is gone?"

"He's not gone. He has broken his army down into very small groups. That's why there hasn't been a large battle. About the official state, you could say that Saddam dissolved that already in 1992 and he's built a parallel tribal structure that is totally decisive in Iraq. When the US began the war, Saddam abandoned the state completely and now depends on the tribal structure. That was why he abandoned the large cities without a fight."

"Now the US is compelled to do everything themselves because there's no political body within the country which will challenge the existing structure. The two who came in from outside the country were annihilated at once. (The reference here is to General Nazar al-Khazraji, who returned from Denmark and the Shiite Muslim leader, Abdul Majid al-Khoei.) They were cut to pieces with swords and knives by a furious crowd in Najaf because they were thought to be American puppets. According to the Danish newspaper BT, al-Khazraji was brought from Denmark to Iraq by the CIA."

"Now we have an occupying power in place in Iraq that has not said how long it intends to remain, has not given any plan for civilian rule and no date for general elections. Enormous chaos is now to be expected."

: t r u t h o u t 2003

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Sunday, May 04, 2003

Posted on Fri, Apr. 11, 2003

Looters grab priceless objects from Iraqi museums


Knight Ridder Newspapers

BAGHDAD, Iraq - (KRT) - Gold and silver from ancient royal tombs, a priceless harp from 2,600 B.C., a solid bronze bust of King Naram-Sin.

These and countless other artifacts from the collective birthplace of Christianity, Judaism and Islam were left defenseless Friday as Iraq descended into chaos.

At the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad, where a tank shell had blackened the museum's ornate facade, Baghdadis came and went through the night by firelight, cradling loot.

Broken pottery and overturned statues lined the museum's ground floor and two men were seen carrying off an ancient portal.

In Mosul, considered by Iraqis the country's most civilized city, home to Iraq's equivalent of Harvard University, gangs stormed a museum storeroom containing ancient Assyrian and Babylonian stone tablets. A curator held them off, at least temporarily.

As news of looting spread Friday, some archaeologists lashed out at the military for not better protecting artifacts from the cradle of civilization. Especially important is Baghdad's national museum, central repository of Iraq's greatest cultural treasures.

"They've known the importance of this museum, I showed them where it was. There's no reason this should be looted," said McGuire Gibson of the University of Chicago, one of the world's top Mesopotamia scholars.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Owens, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, said he was unaware of any damage to museums.

"We haven't targeted anything, nor are we firing at these precious sites," Owens said.

Saving artifacts and quelling looting could not yet be the military's highest priority, he added. "We are doing our best to protect our forces. We are still engaged with people who want to kill us."

Late Friday, military officials said they could not determine whether U.S. forces were in control of the area around the national museum or whether the looting of it had been serious.

Gibson, who has traveled more than 30 times to Iraq, said he met repeatedly in January with Pentagon officials to map Iraq's museum and excavation sites. The meetings were to assure that the sites were spared from coalition bombing. Post-war looting was always the bigger concern, Gibson and others said.

Seven of Iraq's 12 regional museums were looted and 4,000 artifacts stolen during the lapse of authority that followed the 1991 Gulf War.

Before the bombing began this time, Gibson said, Iraqi officials moved nearly every artifact that could be safely carried from museums and storerooms around the country to the museum in Baghdad. The museum is the largest and most modern in the Middle East.

Thousands of the museum's artifacts were wrapped and placed in storage before the war, Gibson said. Some may have been placed in underground vaults. In 1991, Saddam used vaults of Baghdad's Central Bank for safekeeping the artifacts.

The protection has proven porous, however. Even under Saddam's tight rule, many of Iraq's treasures turned up on the black market.

"I fully expect to see some of these looted items show up on eBay in coming weeks," Gibson said.

It may never be known what artifacts have been lost.

"If the records are destroyed, we won't know they ever existed at all," said David Shillingford, a director at the Art Loss Register in New York, which maintains a worldwide database of missing and stolen art and artifacts.

[Davis reported from Washington, Brown from Baghdad. Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondents Mark McDonald in Mosul, Iraq, and Jessica Guynn at the Pentagon contributed to this report. 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.]  ##

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US accused of plans to loot Iraqi antiques                   

By Liam McDougall, Arts Correspondent

FEARS that Iraq's heritage will face widespread looting at the end of the Gulf war have been heightened after a group of wealthy art dealers secured a high-level meeting with the US administration.

 It has emerged that a coalition of antiquities collectors and arts lawyers, calling itself the American Council for Cultural Policy (ACCP), met with US defence and state department officials prior to the start of military action to offer its assistance in preserving the country's invaluable archaeological collections.

The group is known to consist of a number of influential dealers who favour a relaxation of Iraq's tight restrictions on the ownership and export of antiquities. Its treasurer, William Pearlstein, has described Iraq's laws as 'retentionist' and has said he would support a post-war government that would make it easier to have antiquities dispersed to the US.

Before the Gulf war, a main strand of the ACCP's campaigning has been to persuade its government to revise the Cultural Property Implementation Act in order to minimise efforts by foreign nations to block the import into the US of objects, particularly antiques.

News of the group's meeting with the government has alarmed scientists and archaeologists who fear the ACCP is working to a hidden agenda that will see the US authorities ease restrictions on the movement of Iraqi artefacts after a coalition victory in Iraq.

Professor Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, leading Cambridge archaeologist and director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, said: 'Iraqi antiquities legislation protects Iraq. The last thing one needs is some group of dealer-connected Americans interfering. Any change to those laws would be absolutely monstrous. '

A wave of protest has also come from the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), which says any weakening of Iraq's strict antiquities laws would be 'disastrous'. President Patty Gerstenblith said: 'The ACCP's agenda is to encourage the collecting of antiquities through weakening the laws of archaeologically-rich nations and eliminate national ownership of antiquities to allow for easier export. '

The ACCP has caused deep unease among archaeologists since its creation in 2001. Among its main members are collectors and lawyers with chequered histories in collecting valuable artifacts, including alleged exhibitions of Nazi loot.

They denied accusations of attempting to change Iraq's treatment of archaeological objects. Instead, they said at the January meeting they offered 'post-war technical and financial assistance', and 'conservation support'.  ##



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