Please Do Not Return our Antiquities!

July 8th, 2008 - by admin

Fatih Abdulsalam / – 2008-07-08 00:25:41

BAGHDAD (July 6, 2008) — The story of the looted Iraqi antiquities is terrific indeed. What has been published or made public about it fails to provide the right picture of what has happened in reality.

We now have organized criminal gangs specialized in the looting and smuggling of Mesopotamian artifacts. These gangs have, since the US invasion of 2003, accumulated good experience to easily sneak through Iraq’s porous borders.

Of course the Baghdad government has no guts to open this file because once it unfolds powerful actors, powerful states and powerful personalities and factions will be exposed too.

Previously, Iraqis like us when visiting museums in Paris, London or Berlin would be first stunned and second very angry to see how former colonial powers used to plunder their ancient heritage.

These Iraqis tried to lobby hard for the return of Mesopotamian antiquities in these museums and they poured their wrath on U.S. invasion troops for their failure to protect the Iraq Museum.

But as several countries, like Syria and Jordan, are trying hard to stem the smuggling of Iraqi artifacts and they in fact have returned thousands of smuggled pieces they had seized, one wonders whether it is the right time to do so.

These countries have returned to Baghdad some 5,000 stolen pieces but no one can guarantee that these treasures will not be stolen again.

The country is still in turmoil. Instability prevails. We wonder how a government that is itself embroiled in corruption; lacks basic transparency procedures and lacks control beyond the U.S.-protected Green Zone can safeguard these treasures.

And this corrupt government is the only success story the Americans are proud of in Iraq.

Neither the government nor the U.S. troops are in a position to take care of Iraqi antiquities. When they cannot protect the living Iraqis it is too much to ask them to protect the artistic products of their ancient fathers.

It is good to see stolen Iraqi antiquities being seized and returned to the country. But it is criminal to trust them to those ruling the country – whether the government or its U.S. protectors.

I call upon all countries who have officially declared their seizure of stolen Iraqi antiquities to keep them temporarily in their national museums even if Iraq has to pay them for that.

That is the only way to guard, not only against looters, but against these criminal gangs.

It is not impossible at all for the current insecure conditions and circumstances in the country to unleash a second wave of looting in a place where the guardian can easily turn into a thief.

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