Saturday, November 22, 2003

Super Secret Update: The Iraqi National Library

You may recall the debates that raged shortly after our invasion of Iraq concerning the looting of the Museum and the destruction of the National Library. There was some discrepancy concerning what was stolen, what was destroyed and what was lost. It was estimated that as many as 30,000 pieces were looted form the museum, while some claimed that "only" 30 were stolen. As if "only" 30 were somehow better. Imagine of the Smithsonian Institute had "only" 30 pieces stolen from it. It was pretty quickly determined that no, in fact, 30,000 was an inaccurate estimate, however it was a lot closer to the mark than 30 pieces. Whichever way you slice it, large selections of archeological and cultural artifacts, all of them of an historical weight and heft, were missing. As for the Library, it was feared utterly destroyed.

However, I've just received an e-mail from Lynne, a friend who works at the Library of Congress:

We just had the Iraq report from our three person investigative team now returned from Baghdad. It was fascinating. In the National Library building, the books (stacks) were messy and neglected, but not burned. Looters mainly took computers and furniture.A very specialized force (from the Baath party) had infiltrated and incinerated all of the archives relating to Saddam's regime. Go figure.

There is a remarkable story of librarians saving the rarest and oldest, the Islamic archives. They moved 50,000 manuscripts from Saddam's House of Archives into a bomb shelter. They enlisted the neighborhood to help with security. Women would sit on balconies and ululate if strangers approached and the men guarded the facility at night. They were completely saved.

Most of the Ottoman records were stored in a basement full of leaking sewage. Those have been removed to freezers and about 20% were destroyed.?Not a fun cleanup project.

Two clerics removed quantities of modern archives (1920's-70's) and machinery to several mosques. Those items are now being returned. The new National Library of Iraq will be housed in the former Senior Officers Club. A large, opulent building full of marble and sculptures- a better use to be sure.

So it's good to see that someone was looking after the priceless historical treasures from the cradle of civilization. Notice, however that it wasn't George II, King of the Philistines or any of the Visirs in Washington but the Iraqi people. You know those backward folk who had to have Democracy foisted upon them at gunpoint. Of course these are the same people who left the Ministry of Oil building completely unguarded, forcing our brave soldiers to completely encircle it. Otherwise I'm sure they would have sent more than just one tank and two PFCs to guard the Museum and Library.

It's all about perspective.


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