Iraqi heritage lost

If culture represents the soul of a nation, then it’s no wonder Iraq is shattered and lost.

A new book — Milbry Polk & Angela Schuster, eds. The Looting of the Iraqi Museum, Baghdad: The Lost Legacy of Ancient Mesopotamia — documents the sad fate of the Iraq Museum, looted on 14-15 April 2003.

The museum is only half the story. The National Library and Archives also suffered badly, and as I write, looters are carving up Iraq’s archaeological sites looking for antiquities (and rendering them useless for future investigation).

“The toll on the Sumerian city-states located along the ancient river-beds in southern Iraq has been devastating,” write journalists Micah Garen and Marie-Hélène Carleton.

“Sites such as Isin, Adab, Zabalam, Shuruppak and Umma have been so badly damaged that almost nothing remains of the top three metres… Flying by helicopter over the site [of Umma] reveals an unimaginably grim reality, a scene of complete destruction that unfolds before you as a sea of holes in the desert…

“Looking down at the succession of holes that was once Umma, one can only wonder at the loss of history, the untold number of looted artifacts and documents of our collective past that will never make it to the Iraq Museum and into the world’s consciousness.”

Donny George, former director of the Baghdad Museum and president of the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, is now living in exile in Damascus. All conservation work in Iraq has now ceased and there is no money to pay the salaries of the archaeological police.

I am trying to imagine what it would mean if the British Library was ransacked and existed now only behind a concrete barrier. What it would mean if Stonehenge was wrecked. What it would mean if HMS Victory was burned.

It would be devastating.



  1. My heart aches. I never saw the museum, but I suspect it was truly amazing before it was looted. Especially a museum sitting in the heartland of where it all began — a treasure trove of findings have been lost.


  2. The dimunition of the Iraq Museum will be the legacy of George Bush. Scholars will be writing about that episode for centuries.

    The looting was the beginning of the end. Not only did the looting more damage to Iraqi infrastructure than a dozen years of sanctions, it signaled to every criminal in the country that they could get away with anything. Immediately, organized crime focussed on the kidnapping and car jacking trade.

    Our opponents knew that we could not stop them. Our supporters knew that we could not protect them.

    When we permitted the looting to continue for weeks, in effect, we advertized our impotence.


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