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Context of 'June 13, 2003: Neoconservative Columnist Claims Only ‘33’ Artifacts Looted from Museum'

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The Baghdad Museum is evacuated and locked by its curators, who anticipate Baghdad being overrun by American troops within the next few hours. The last three on the grounds are the director, Dr. Jaber Khalil; the director of the State Board of Antiquities, Donny George; and the curator in charge of the museum’s collections, Dr. Nawala al-Mutawalli. They are forced to flee the grounds because Iraqi militiamen have sought cover around the museum, and they fear a firefight. The entire area is under US control by April 9; by April 10, the Army has left the area without posting guards. George pleads for the Army to return to prevent looting, but is ignored. Much of the looting that ravages the museum’s collection takes place on April 12 (see April 13, 2003). The international outcry against the looting is so fierce that the Army will begin posting guards on April 16. [United Press International, 6/23/2003]

Entity Tags: Nawala al-Mutawalli, Jaber Khalil, National Museum of Iraq, Donny George, Iraqi State Board of Antiquities

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Unchecked looting of Iraqi ministries.Unchecked looting of Iraqi ministries. [Source: Representational Pictures]Widespread looting and general lawlessness breaks out as the security forces of the Baathist regime fade away. Countless age-old treasures are lost when museums are looted (see April 13, 2003). [Associated Press, 4/10/2003; CBC News, 4/11/2003] US officers at Central Command in Qatar tell CBC news it is up to Iraq’s own civil authorities to stop the looting. “At no point do we really see becoming a police force,” says Brigadier General Vincent Brooks. “What we see is taking actions that are necessary to create stability.” [CBC News, 4/12/2003; Washington Post, 8/18/2005] The Coalition Provisional Authority later estimates the cost of the looting at around $12 billion. According to reporter George Packer, the looting canceled out the “projected revenues of Iraq for the first year after the war. The gutted buildings, the lost equipment, the destroyed records, the damaged infrastructure, would continue to haunt almost every aspect of the reconstruction.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 302]

Entity Tags: Coalition Provisional Authority, Vincent Brooks, George Packer

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Deputy curator Mohsen Hassan sits amidst the wreckage in the National Museum.Deputy curator Mohsen Hassan sits amidst the wreckage in the National Museum. [Source: Getty Images / Salon]The New York Times reports that in the four days of looting in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities (see April 9, 2003 and After April 9, 2003), the National Museum of Iraq has been almost completely pillaged. Over 170,000 artifacts have been stolen or destroyed from the museum, which once boasted an irreplaceable collection of artifacts from Mesopotamia dating back as far as 7,000 years. The Times reports that archaeologists and specialists once regarded the museum as “perhaps the richest of all such institutions in the Middle East.” Only today have museum curators and government officials been able to start cataloguing the losses, as the waves of looting have begun to ebb, and fires set in dozens of government buildings begun to burn themselves out. While some treasures may have been stored in safes and vaults, the 28 galleries of the museum, and the museum’s main storage vaults, have been “completely ransacked,” the Times reports. What could not be taken was vandalized; 26 huge statues were methodically decapitated. Museum officials are enraged that US troops refused to protect the building (with one exception, a single intervention on April 10 that lasted about half an hour). The museum’s corridors are littered with smashed ceramics and burned-out torches of rags soaked in gasoline. “All gone, all gone,” one curator says. “All gone in two days.” Iraqi archaeologist Raid Abdul Ridhar Muhammed describes a crowd of thousands of looters armed with rifles, pickaxes, knives, clubs, and hunks of metal torn from automobiles. He watched as they stormed in and out of the complex, carrying precious antiquities away in wheelbarrows and handcarts. Deputy curator Mohsen Hassan watched helplessly as men with sledgehammers smashed glass display cases to get at the valuables inside. Some of the looters were from the impoverished districts of Baghdad, Hassan recalls, but many were middle class citizens who seemed to know just what they were looking for. “Did some of them know the value of what they took?” Hassan says. “Absolutely, they did. They knew what the most valued pieces in our collection were.” Muhammed blames the Americans for not securing the museum, as do many other Iraqis. “A country’s identity, its value and civilization resides in its history,” he says. “If a country’s civilization is looted, as ours has been here, its history ends. Please tell this to President Bush. Please remind him that he promised to liberate the Iraqi people, but that this is not a liberation, this is a humiliation.” [New York Times, 4/13/2003; St. Petersburg Times, 2/6/2005] Later investigations prove that many of the antiquities thought looted were actually hidden away by museum curators (see June 13, 2003).

Entity Tags: National Museum of Iraq, Raid Abdul Ridhar Muhammed, New York Times, Mohsen Hassan

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Many neoconservatives join President Bush in celebrating “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq (see May 1, 2003). Foreign affairs adviser Richard Perle, in a USA Today article entitled “Relax, Celebrate Victory,” calls it “the most important military victory since World War II,” and writes: “This was a war worth fighting.… It ended quickly with few civilian casualties and with little damage to Iraq’s cities, towns, or infrastructure (see Early April 2003-April 9, 2003, April 9, 2003, April 13, 2003, May 20, 2003, and October 10, 2004). It ended without the Arab world rising up against us, as the war’s critics feared, without the quagmire they predicted (see April 28, 2003, June 9-13, 2003, and October 19, 2003, among others), without the heavy losses in house-to-house fighting they warned us to expect” (see July 3, 2007, January 10, 2007 and March 24, 2008). While advising readers to “relax and celebrate,” he also makes his case to invade other countries: “The idea that our victory over Saddam will drive other dictators to develop chemical and biological weapons misses the key point: They are already doing so. That’s why we may someday need to preempt rather than wait until we are attacked. Iran, Syria, North Korea, Libya, these and other nations are relentless in their pursuit of terror weapons. Does anyone seriously argue that they would abandon their programs if we had left Saddam in power? It is a little like arguing that we should not subdue knife-wielding criminals because, if we do, other criminals will go out and get guns. Moreover, this argument, deployed by those who will not take victory for an answer, confuses cause and effect: Does any peaceful state that neither harbors terrorists nor seeks weapons of mass destruction fear that we will launch a preemptive strike against it? Who are they? Why would they?” [USA Today, 5/1/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 305]

Entity Tags: Richard Perle, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Lieutenant General William Wallace tells the Financial Times that, contrary to reports, there was very little looting of antiquities from Baghdad’s National Museum. “[A]s few as 17 items were unaccounted for,” Wallace says. Curators and archaeologists have reported massive looting and vandalism, with over 170,000 artifacts and priceless objects either missing or destroyed (see April 13, 2003). [United Press International, 6/23/2003]

Entity Tags: William Wallace, National Museum of Iraq

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, whom author and media critic Frank Rich calls “a reliable unofficial spokesman for the [Bush] administration’s foreign adventures,” confidently declares that only 33 artifacts were looted from Baghdad’s National Museum, not the 170,000 originally reported stolen or destroyed (see April 13, 2003) or even the 2,000 or 3,000 now considered lost (see June 13, 2003). Krauthammer never explains how he arrives at the conclusion that 33 artifacts were taken, and does not mention the figure in subsequent columns. He does take the opportunity to lambast war critics such as Rich, who decried the looting, as indulging in “narcissism” and “sheer snobbery” typical of “Upper West Side liberalism.” Krauthammer writes that since the looting has been revealed to be less endemic than originally reported, leftist war critics have “simply moved on to another change of subject: the ‘hyping’ of the weapons of mass destruction.” [Washington Post, 6/13/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 86]

Entity Tags: National Museum of Iraq, Frank Rich, Charles Krauthammer

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

The National Museum of Iraq, which was extensively looted and vandalized in the weeks after the US invasion (see April 13, 2003 and June 13, 2003), reopens, though the public cannot yet visit. Many of the stolen items have been returned, the vandalism has been repaired, and the museum refurbished and updated. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other dignitaries receive a private tour before the museum is opened to the public. The opening generated some controversy, with the Ministry of Tourism pushing for a gala reopening celebration and the Ministry of Culture arguing that security remains too tenuous for such a high-profile event. The state minister for tourism and antiquities, Qahtan Juboori, says that of about 15,000 pieces stolen from the museum, 6,000 have been returned. They include 2,466 items brought back from Jordan, 1,046 from the United States, and 701 from Syria. It is unclear when the public will be allowed back into the premises. [Los Angeles Times, 2/23/2009]

Entity Tags: Iraqi Ministry of Tourism, Iraqi Ministry of Culture, Qahtan Juboori, National Museum of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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