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April 13, 2003

John Quiggin notes this report from a leading British paper:
The British view is that the sight of local youths dismantling the offices and barracks of a regime they used to fear shows they have confidence that Saddam Hussain’s henchmen will not be returning to these towns in southern Iraq.

One senior British officer said: “We believe this sends a powerful message that the old guard is truly finished.”

As Quiggin observes:
I thought I’d better record this before it went too far down the memory hole. When we come to allocate the responsibility for the destruction of archeological treasures and so on, it will be important to recall that this was the product of deliberate policy, not mere neglect.
Oh, and the British newspaper Quiggin is quoting? Warbloggers won’t have read down this far, having already concluded that it was the wicked Guardian or the evil, Robert Fisk-publishing Independent. Unfortunately for these folks, this report appeared in the conservative, Murdoch-owned London Times.

Anyway, as Quiggin says: Deliberate policy. Remember this. You can bet that Iraq will. [09:48 PM]

Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on John Quiggin:

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 10:32 PM:

It's not like they didn't have warning beforehand from a very old, very credible, rather conservative American institution. This from the National Geographic Website, dated March 21, 2003:

According to McGuire Gibson, that preservation will require quick and concerted effort to bolster the skeleton staff and protective measures that the Iraqi government has in place. "If there is a period of even a day of chaos, without firm control, there is a very good chance that the Iraq Museum, or other sites, could be looted," he said.

"They have to rehire the guards immediately," Gibson added, "bring them back up to strength. That's necessary to drive off looters whose desperation has made them all the more daring."

The rest here:


Tom T. ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 11:57 PM:

Ms. Hayden: I certainly understood that the comment that offended me came from Michael Lind, and not from Mr. Hayden. My apologies if I implied otherwise.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 12:51 AM:

There's a really scary line buried deep in that story sinboy cites:

US forces have also encountered what Mr Rumsfeld said was a considerable number of foreign fighters, the largest group of them from Syria.

Oh God.


Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 12:58 AM:

Actually, MKK, read this.

Kevin Drum ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 03:40 AM:

And of course Instapundit weighed in with his praise of this policy days ago:

"Some people think the looting is bad, but I think that a certain amount is good."

Barry ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 06:54 AM:

Instapundit is the Rush Limbaugh of Blogistan, pure and simple.

Arthur D. Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 08:15 AM:

I wish the Middle East weren't starting to look like a row of dominoes.

--k. ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 09:32 AM:

"If all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a row of dominoes--"

I dunno. That's not how you play dominoes where I come from.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 10:56 AM:

Gee thanks Patrick. I feel so much better now. (Okay, okay, I try to read TPM every day or so and would have seen it anyway, but still.)


Thomas Nephew ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 12:58 PM:

I think what Iraqi exile Kanan Makiya wrote on April 10 is worth reading, both about looting (in passing) and more importantly about what Iraq will remember:

Yesterday was also a special day for the people of the United States. Their army triumphed. It fought a just war more or less alone and in spite of opposition from countries that put commercial and other interests before the destruction of tyranny. We will remember those who stood by our side.
(I'll take the liberty of correcting Mr. Makiya's oversight in the emotion of the moment, and adding the UK, Australia, and other combatant allies to that list.)

Re museums and hospitals: the war is even now not fully over in Baghdad. To put American troops and vehicles near hospitals and museums too soon might well have drawn combat to those buildings, divided and endangered American forces or both. All of these risks were arguably worse prospects than looting.

I'm not there, so I'm not in a good position to judge those tradeoffs on an hour-to-hour basis, even if I had the training to do so. Neither, of course, is Mr. Quiggin.

Thomas Nephew ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 01:22 PM:

As a minor side note, I'll also suggest that someone who loots a museum or a hospital -- a country's patrimony and health -- may also be someone who helped loot a whole country for the preceding years, more often than would randomly be the case. People who looted Saddam's palaces, or ministries of oppression, on the other hand, may not.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 01:31 PM:

Iraqis (well, those who didn't get killed or maimed) sure are lucky that destroying their local tyrant happened to be in line with the Bush administration's view of their commercial and other interests.

Thomas Nephew ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 03:02 PM:

Tell it to Kanan, Avram. I rate his stature as a spokesman for Iraqis slightly higher than yours, Patrick's, or mine. Patrick bet what Iraq would remember, Makiya says what he and those he believes he speaks for will remember. They're probably both right.

What happened to the museum was sad, what happened to this father is terrible; I think I'd go crazy if that happened to me, and I have just one little girl. This warblogger, if I must accept the term, doesn't feel very triumphant at all. But I'm not impressed by Quiggins' Monday morning quarterbacking about museum security measures either.

Right: tell it to Quiggin. I'm off.

Tora ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 03:11 PM:

Fisk is a brilliant reporter.

Kaj ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 01:07 AM:

"To put American troops... near hospitals and museums too soon might well have drawn combat to those buildings, divided and endangered American forces or both."

Well, gee whiz, we have troops near oil wells, as well as a whole company of marines guarding the Oil Ministry and others at the Irrigation Ministry and the Interior Ministry. That might draw combat, but I think the forces that just conquered the country are going to defend those locations successfully... just as they could have defended the hospitals and the National Museum of Antiquities. Let's face it: someone just didn't think of protecting the museum, or just didn't think it was very important.

Bill Woods ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 04:03 AM:

Kaj: "Let's face it: someone just didn't think of protecting the museum, or just didn't think it was very important."

That seems right. It's not as if there were a lot of US soldiers standing around doing nothing. (Which gets back to the argument about whether there were too few soldiers assigned to the operation.) But the looting of the museum was not, pace Messrs. Nielsen Hayden and Quiggen, deliberate policy.

Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 09:16 AM:

I don't think that anybody has claimed that there were American and British Special Forces scattered around the city in disguise, accosting passers-by and saying "Yo, Hasan! Let's go loot a museum!"

What has been claimed is that British and American forces (and Cabinet secretaries) winked at people looting the offices and residences of the former regime. Which is an exceptionally stupid policy, rampaging mobs of looters not being noted for their discrimination and self-control once they're set into motion.

Paul ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 09:26 AM:

But the looting of the museum was not, pace Messrs. Nielsen Hayden and Quiggen, deliberate policy.

The looting of the museum wasn't deliberate policy, except perhaps by a few looters. But no one--neither The Times story, nor Messrs. Nielsen Hayden and Quiggen--ever said it was. The Times story says that commanders urged "local residents to loot buildings belonging to the Iraqi Army and the ruling Baath Party" and it's not farfetched to believe that this encouragement emboldened some Iraqis to loot offices, hospitals, museums, and libraries as well.

That's the deliberate policy. Not encouraging looters to specifically loot museums. It's a fine point, but a pretty clear one.

Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 09:41 AM:

We won't be seeing looting and other inconvenient stories much longer.

"U.S. Marines looking for hardcore Iraqi fighters searched rooms early Tuesday in the hotel that serves as headquarters for most foreign journalists in Baghdad, apparently taking some people into custody. The Marines had keys to the rooms, but in cases where the doors were bolted, they kicked them down, rousting journalists from their beds and pointing M-16s in their faces, footage from Associated Press Television News showed."


Bertram Klein ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 01:52 PM:

I would like to contrast the complete disregard of the American military for the cultural treasures in Iraq with the behavior of the American military towards cultural treasures in Europe during World War 2. During the liberation of Germany, the American army was much more concerned with the preservation of famous buildings and art, to the extent that there were actually special units with the task of securing works of art, and a lot of planning had gone into this. For example, in the city of Wuerzburg in Northern Bavaria, a young American army captain is still fondly remembered for his role in securing and preserving the invaluable frescos by Tiepolo in the duchal residence, which had been badly damaged in a bombing attack and the resulting fire.

By looking at history, we see that it is not impossible to care about the cultural heritage of a country, even in times of war, if one puts some thought into it. The events in Iraq show that the American military leadership either does not care about Iraq's cultural treasures (out of cultural bias or a lack of education), or is thoughtless and incompetent. I would view this more as a failure of planning, than fault the troops in Iraq for not taking appropriate measures, since despite many warnings their superiors seem to have not anticipated this at all.

CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 03:17 PM:

Thomas Nephew says:
Tell it to Kanan, Avram. I rate his stature as a spokesman for Iraqis slightly higher than yours, Patrick's, or mine. Patrick bet what Iraq would remember, Makiya says what he and those he believes he speaks for will remember. They're probably both right.

That's part of the problem. Many of the Iraqi exiles are not the favorites right now among the vast majority that stayed behind; it's questionable just who the exiles speak for. Worse, too many of the Iraqi exiles have bought into the notion that the USA will use them to form the next government (cf the various conferences of exiles in the past several months). Under the circumstances, anything an exile says that puts the USA in a good light has to be taken with a grain of salt: what is that exile's personal agenda and does he think he'll get further with it if he sucks up to the main power broker?

Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 04:22 PM:

The Iraq National Library was burned to the ground. Nothing survives.

Chuck Nolan ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 06:44 PM:

Bertram, look at who was in charge then compared to who's in charge now.

Alex Steffen ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 09:06 PM:

This destruction of Iraq's cultural is truly appalling. Add it to the long list of accomplishments of the man Helen Thomas accurately has called "the worst president in all of American history."

rhc ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 05:43 PM:

Kevin, the Natl Geographic site has refused to yield the article. do you have another address for it or perhaps the full article? thanks.


rhc ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 06:04 PM:

Correction Kevin--if you take and copy the web address and paste it into a new page, the Nat. Geographic article will show up. Most interesting! thanks.


Thomas Nephew ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2003, 03:16 AM:

The more I read about the museum and library, the sadder I get. I don't mean to soft-pedal what happened, and I accept that there may well be American responsibility, even by military standards under the circumstances. I don't know.

Even if the war was "not in our name" -- but especially if we supported it: what, if anything, can we help do about these losses? I imagine none of us want Iraqis permanently associating their new liberties with the loss of their heritage. Even if we "just" care about retrieving the lost artifacts, we should support whatever grass-roots efforts come along to help restore these antiquities to the Iraqi people.

Mark Kleimann is probably not the only one to suggest a combination of payments and amnesty to just get the stuff back, if possible. Money collected for this purpose might also serve as a reward for information helping catch and convict the more organized thieves and fences.

Via Moira Breen, I see that Archaeology Magazine is following the story, of course; maybe they will organize some way for us to help retrieve the looted artifacts.

yehudit ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2003, 04:21 AM:

"I'll also suggest that someone who loots a museum or a hospital -- a country's patrimony and health -- may also be someone who helped loot a whole country for the preceding years, more often than would randomly be the case. People who looted Saddam's palaces, or ministries of oppression, on the other hand, may not."

Since there is now considerable suspicion that Ba'ath officials began looting the museum weeks before the war began (many of the vaults were opened with keys, not broken into, and antiquities dealers have reported receiving anonymous offers of Iraqi artifacts), your statement is probably correct.

Jay C. ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2003, 03:52 PM:

In discussing the relative priorities of CENTCOM and/or the commanders on the ground in whether or not the Iraqi National Museum deserved military protection; it should be kept in mind just how LITTLE force might have sufficed to protect the Museum, and prevent, not only looting, but the inevitable negative publicity that failure would have (and so far, has) generated.
If the reports of what actually transpired at the INM on April 10 are reasonably accurate, then it is clear that the presence of just a few American troops were enough to keep the mob at a distance, at least while they were there. That these troops were then withdrawn is inexplicable if there was ANY effort being made on the part of the US command to protect such a valuable site (as we now know, they were well aware of).
A couple-three Bradleys full of heavily-armed infantry would most likely have been more than sufficient not only to keep the Baghdad rabble (armed with little deadlier than crowbars and screwdrivers) out of the Museum, but might also have kept what was in there from getting out (a fact which seems to have been overlooked in media reports). Major museums like the INM are typically designed with just such 2-way security in mind. That the US military seemingly ignored the security of major Iraqi cultural institutions (while guarding the Oil Ministry right off the bat) should rightly be charged as an atrocious omission on our part, and should not just be dismissed so cavalierly in our post-victory cheerleading.
After all, when this has happened in the past (e.g., Alexandria 642) the loss of the artifacts/documents/knowledge has been considered a major loss to humanity as a whole.
Aren't we supposed to better than the "barbarians"?"

DavidByron ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2003, 12:09 AM:

Eyewitness claims US troops encouraged / orchestrated the looting:


yehudit ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 03:57 AM:

Patrick, you've got a DavidByron infestation, probably because you didn't wash your hands the last time after you got back from Stand Down. The post above is a good example. Quoting rense.com and all.

if you want Electrolite or your reputation as a reasoning individual to retain any credibility, vaccinate against the bugger NOW.

Thomas Nephew ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 11:21 AM:

[continue what is maybe a digression] I'll take the human shield report with a grain or two of salt. But isn't what you suggest pretty much shooting the messenger, yehudit? It's conceivable that PNH/TNH are more resigned to than convinced or overjoyed by any of our own comments here. As ever, it's in our enlightened self-interest not to advocate bans based on points of view. [end digression, maybe?]

Tom ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2003, 11:23 AM:

The theft of these artifacts is a disgrace, albeit totally predictable. However, and I apologise if this gives liberal folk the vapors, I cannot help feeling a mite annoyed at the way the naysayers have latched on to this issue. If this is the worst that one can say about the war, it clearly wasn't the disaster the opponents of war said it was going to be.

Iraq is now free of Saddam. If I were an Iraqi, I would would prefer that to a dictatorship with a nice museum any day.

Someone in the comments above likened Glenn Reynolds to Rush Limbaugh. Puh-leese! Glenn has trashed the Patriot Act, Trent Lott, the RAVE Act, and much else besides. He is a clear-cut libertarian. Limbaugh most certainly is not.

Adam ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2003, 08:02 PM:


What a completely bogus dichotomy! The removal of the beast, Saddam, was in no way contingent on the destruction of the museum, libraries, hospitals, or powerplants. As I'm sure you are aware, this line of argument is untenable, so why bother trotting it out again?

I like the next bit of nonsense you bring forth:
If this is the worst that one can say about the war, it clearly wasn't the disaster the opponents of war said it was going to be.
In the first clause, I presume that by "this" you mean the looting of Iraq's cities, with attendant rape, homicide, sniping at US troops, destruction of hopitals, powerplants, priceless antiquities and texts. it's not entirely clear what you mean by "it" in the second clause.

If by "it" you mean the war as a whole, as seems likely, then you are not addressing the "destruction of archeological treasures and so on" specifically mentioned in the John Quiggin quote which constitutes the raison d'etre of this disscussion. This may be an obtuse attempt to redirect the topic? If so, you are unlikely to succeed and would probably be better employed in some other endeavor.

On the other hand, by "it" you may have meant the looting, etc. that is the actual topic under discussion. If that is the case, then you are quite wrong. The looting is exactly the disaster that opponents of the war (and proponents of the war who were concerned about the preservation of Iraq's antiquities) had warned about--as seen here and in other low-profile venues like the front page of the New York Times.

Please see also: Teresa Nielsen Hayden's post on reading comprehension,

Also, you may want to ask yourself, "if Barry called Instapudit 'the Rush Limbaugh'of blogistan' -- assume for a moment that Barry may not be a complete idiot and knows that that Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Limbaugh do not hold identical political views -- is there some quality of Rush Limbaugh's that Barry is ascribing to Glenn Reynolds?"

Barbara ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2003, 10:47 PM:

Yoooo Hooooo! Where are you?

zipity ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2003, 01:03 AM:

Ooops...sorry, I know you don't like hearing good news...

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Customs agents, working with military and museum experts at the National Museum in Baghdad, have recovered nearly 40,000 manuscripts and about 700 artifacts, government officials announced in Washington Wednesday, leaving perhaps only a few dozen key pieces missing.

The museum was looted after the city fell to U.S.-led forces last month, but there has been disagreement since then about how many and what kinds of items were taken. U.S. officials believe some valuable pieces were taken by professional thieves.

Agents of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs (ICE) said that so far they have photos and documentation to confirm only 38 items from the museum are still missing.

spawn ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2003, 07:19 AM:

Hy, r y lbrls fllwng p n ths stry s prmsd? r r y gng t dny y vr sd t, s s yr sl prctc whn y r n fct wrng, s sl?