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4/22/03 - SADDAM’S PILLAGING OF IRAQ - 2003-04-23

Archeologists excavated the Warka vase in Iraq in the 1930s. It was sculpted more than five-thousand years ago by the Sumerians. The figures carved on the Warka vase are considered the world’s earliest known depiction of religious worship.

The Warka vase is now missing. It was among the thousands of artifacts stolen or destroyed in the recent looting of the National Archeological Museum in Baghdad. Other missing artifacts include the Sippar collection of eighty-thousand clay tablets containing some of the world’s earliest writing, including portions of the “Epic of Gilgamesh.” Scholars consider this story about a legendary Sumerian king to be the world’s first major literary work.

In addition to Baghdad, looters struck in other parts of Iraq, especially at the archeological museum in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. The artifacts in these museums are the heritage of world civilization and the property of the Iraqi people. As Hashem Hama Abdoulah, director of the museum of antiquities in Sulaymaniyah, said, “When your history is stolen from you, you lose your sense of that history. Not just the Iraqi people, but all of civilization that can trace its roots back to this area.”

Museums in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq have now been secured and placed under the protection of coalition forces. And as Secretary of State Colin Powell said, the U.S. is committed to helping Iraq “recover that which has been taken and. . .restoring that which has been broken." One thing that has become clear is that this was not random looting and vandalism. It was the work of thieves who knew what they wanted. Moreover, said McGuire Gibson, head of the American Association for Research in Baghdad, this is not something new in Iraq:

"It looks as if. . .at least part of the theft was a very, very deliberate, planned action, probably by the same sorts of gangs that had been paying for the destruction, the excavation of sites in Iraq over the last twelve years."

The pillaging of Iraq’s proud heritage -- still more of Saddam Hussein’s legacy.