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18 September 2014
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Return to the Iraq Museum: The Cost of War

By Dan Cruickshank
Relative ferocity

The museum contained three distinctly different types of space. First there were the museum offices and conservation rooms, with safes containing museum money and the keys to various storerooms, and much office equipment. Then there were five storerooms placed around the museum. These contained reserve collections, items of the greatest value, and valuable items from the display cases in the museum. These stores were meant to be secured but one was open, the locks on its door undamaged, while the battle for the museum was taking place. Last, there were the museum galleries. These contained several hundred large items, protected with sandbags or foam, thought too heavy to steal.

'Here, junior museum staff revealed, there was a Ba'ath Party security department that watched - and punished - staff members. '

These three spaces had been attacked in ways suggesting very different types of looters. The offices had been attacked savagely - for the same reason many other offices in Baghdad were attacked. Yes, the people wanted office equipment and other things they could sell - but also they wanted to take revenge on the regime. The Iraq Museum was a government institution, and run by Saddam's Ba'ath Party. Here, junior museum staff revealed, there was a Ba'ath Party security department that watched - and punished - staff members.

Palace walls at Babylon, as rebuilt by Saddam Hussein
Babylon, as rebuilt by Saddam Hussein 
This is consistent with Saddam's record of using history for his own propaganda purposes. He rebuilt the cities of Babylon and Nineveh in an attempt to validate his regime - he wanted to imply that his corrupt regime was the equivalent of the ancient empires of Assyria and Babylon. For this, the museum offices paid a heavy price.

The museum galleries were treated very differently. Clearly they had been broken into, but the interiors were not vandalised. It was nothing like the attack on the offices. None of the artefacts they contained were wantonly destroyed, although some were grievously damaged as easily transportable portions were cut off.

Published: 2003-06-09

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