The Antiquities Trade and the Looting of Iraq


It has been called the worst cultural disaster to happen since the Second World War, and one archaeologist likened it to a “lobotomy of an entire culture.” [1] To the consternation of archaeologists throughout the world, the toppling of the Iraqi government unleashed a wave of looting and destruction of Iraq’s national patrimony.  Despite pleas for action from outraged scholars, the culturally blinkered Bush Administration belatedly only acted after media coverage had mushroomed into a public relations fiasco that threatened to upend the manufactured image of benign liberation.  Although the scale of loss from the looting of the National Museum in Baghdad was less serious than initially indicated, it was nevertheless a crippling blow, while elsewhere in Iraq the situation ran alarmingly out of control. Read More »

Can You Spot the War Crime?


I have long held the opinion that patriotism is one of the most abominable vices affecting the human understanding… In its active manifestation –it is fond of shooting — patriotism would be well enough if it were simply defensive; but it is also aggressive, and the same feeling that prompts us to strike for our altars and our fires impels us likewise to go over the border to quench the fires and overturn the altars of our neighbors… Patriotism is fierce as a fever, pitiless as the grave, blind as a stone and irrational as a headless hen.

Ambrose Bierce, Civilization (Collected Works, 1909-12) 

As the invasion of Iraq drew to a close, the Bush Administration set about planning to prosecute former Iraqi officials for war crimes. It was announced that hundreds of Iraqis would be put on trial, and thousands more could be granted amnesty in return for their confessions.  As U.S. Ambassador for War Crimes Pierre-Richard Prosper explained it, “There must be credible accountability.  For crimes committed against U.S. personnel, we, the United States, will prosecute.”  Offences committed against Iraqi citizens are to be judged by Iraqis, acting under American guidance and control.  “Atrocities and abuses by the regime of its own people should be tried by Iraqis,” a high-ranking U.S. official declared.  “We’re prepared to provide support which could range from financial aid to legal experts to judges, to make it credible.”  The obvious premise was that only American control would result in a “credible” process. [1] Read More »