Iraq allows theft of its history
The looting of Iraq’s ancient ruins is thriving again. This time it is not a result of the “stuff happens” chaos that followed the American invasion in 2003, but rather the bureaucratic indifference of Iraq’s newly sovereign government.It should be noted that just as before, the thieves are Iraqis. They hope to profit by finding someone to buy a piece of their history. The question then becomes "who is going to buy it?" With most museums in the world on guard for Iraq contraband the value of the thefts shrinks.
Thousands of archaeological sites — containing some of the oldest treasures of civilization — have been left unprotected, allowing what officials of Iraq’s antiquities board say is a resumption of brazenly illegal excavations, especially here in southern Iraq.
A new antiquities police force, created in 2008 to replace withdrawing American troops, was supposed to have more than 5,000 officers by now. It has 106, enough to protect their headquarters in an Ottoman-era mansion on the eastern bank of the Tigris River in Baghdad and not much else.
“I am sitting behind my desk and I am protecting the sites,” the force’s commander, Brig. Gen. Najim Abdullah al-Khazali, said with exasperation. “With what? Words?”
The failure to staff and use the force — and the consequent looting — reflects a broader weakness in Iraq’s institutions of state and law as the American military steadily withdraws, leaving behind an uncertain legacy.