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Profile: Mohsen Hassan
Mohsen Hassan was a participant or observer in the following events:
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).
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