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The Looted and Abused Iraqi Culture- Ten years after the Invasion- Let Us not Forget

by Hashim Al-Tawil

March 12, 2013

A NEW NUMBER OF THE SWEDISH IRAQ MAGAZINE has been published to mark the 10th anniversary of the war.

Iraq, Mesopotamia- the land between the rivers- the cradle of civilization, the land and its people who invented much of what we do in our present time in all aspects of life, the first language, the first school system, agriculture, the law, mythology, religion, urban system, and the arts. This land was invaded in 2003 by the Americans and the British primarily but with the help and support of other neighboring countries and some Iraqis both inside and outside Iraq. Former American president George W. Bush and his partner former British prime minister Tony Blair headed the campaign which was shrewdly fabricated and built on lies and false accusations.  Gorge W. Bush manipulated and abused the power and economic assets of both people of Iraq and America for the benefit of few corporate giants.  Both Bush and Blair appropriated human lives, national assets, and abused Iraq and its people. All Iraqis are losers: those in power, the millions living in Iraq and those who left the country.

One of the most destructive accomplishments of the invasion has been the installation of sectarianism and the quota system, which promptly instigated a major social fragmentation, and provoked bloody cycles of political revenge, and sectarian reprisal. Millions of Iraqis fled the country and are still refugee everywhere. Hundreds of "country builders": academics, professionals, specialists, experts, and technocrats have been assassinated and murdered; Thousands have been forced to flee the country and have not been given the opportunity to contribute to rebuilding Iraq. Among them are hundreds of professional artists, architects, and cultural administrators forced into exile and manipulation. Ten years after the invasion and Iraq is more a consumer country and less productive. 

The invasion and occupation swiftly put the country and its people to waste beyond repair. The human toll of that invasion has been paramount and so is the monumental cultural loss.  Bombing, air raids, and direct military operations in cities and towns killed thousands of Iraqis all across the country; thousands of Iraqis have been imprisoned, detained, kidnapped, tortured and in many cases disappeared.  Sectarianism has been nurtured, and the division of the country has been realized further, and what used to be one unified country is now on the verge of fragmentation and dissection. 

One of the early casualty- and result of the invasion was the cultural loss. Beside the looting of the Iraqi museum and the spread of illicit excavation, robing, and smuggling of archeological sites, there was the abuse and destruction of historic architectural monuments and sites. Early on, invading troops occupied and used major archeological sites in the south- Babylon and Ur as military bases, constructed military installation such as chopper platforms and gravel roads to accommodate heavy trucks on the foundations of these sites, which caused extensive damage. It was also under the watching eyes of the occupying forces that the illicit excavation went on for years with illegal digging, unearthing and smuggling of antiquities.  The occupying forces also failed to protect many medieval Islamic buildings and monuments. The following is a brief introduction to some of those lost or damaged medieval Islamic monuments during the early years of the occupation of Iraq.


1: The spiral minaret of the Great Mosque of Samarra built by the Abbasid caliph Al-Mutawakkil in 847, in Samara. This historic and unique –about 53 meters high minaret was partially damaged in 2005. US forces in clear violation of international guideline of protecting national heritage used the top part of the minaret as a military lookout and sniper post. On April 1, 2005 Iraqi resistance blasted the sniper post.

The Minaret of the Great Mosque of Samarra. 

 Built by the Abbasid caliph Al-Mutawakkil in 847

The damaged top of the minaret in 2005


2: The Minaret of Ana Mosque, Ana, Anbar Province, 28 meters high.

The minaret of 'Ana is commonly attributed to the Abbasid-Uqaylids 11th - 12th century. It was erected along with the congregational mosque in Ana. Conservation work on the monument was undertaken in 1935, 1963 and 1964. When the valley was flooded by the Qadisiyya Dam at Haditha in 1984-5, the Iraqi Antiquities authorities relocated the minaret – professionally cut it into sections, and removed it to the new 'Ana where it was re-erected at the end of the 1980s. It was destroyed on June 22, 2006 by an unknown source, probably to instigate religious sectarian friction.

The octagonal base has an arched opening on the north side providing access to the interior of the minaret. Its octagonal shaft leans sidewise. It is decorated with eight rows of arched niches set in rectangular frames. Every row is composed of eight niches located on each of the eight sides of the octagon. Some of these sixty-four niches constitute windows to light the internal staircase. It has an octagonal body enhanced by alcoves, some of which are blind.  Inside is a spiral stairway encircling a ribbed stone column.

An American soldier posted this short clip which shows US soldiers detonating explosives at the base of that Minaret and the voice of one soldier in the clip announces "… It cracked it all the way up…." https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=Voho25JQMLc

Other clips posted by US soldiers on the Internet show similar destruction to other mosques in Iraq. In this clip a mosque and its minaret are taken in one artillery hit: 


This clip shows US forces destroy a mosque in a video game style:


Or this clip which shows a deliberate unprovoked insane firing on a minaret with the aim of toppling it down: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=jO7xwnZA124

The minaret of `Ana was built in the 11-12th century The minaret was relocated in the 1980s. The destroyed minaret in 2006


3: Al- 'Askari complex in Samarra is an important religious pilgrimage site for Shi`is pilgrims not only from Iraq but also from other Islamic countries.  The site includes the mausoleums of the two Shi`i imams 'Ali al-Hadi and al-Hasan al-'Askari.  The shrine/mosque was built in the tenth century CE with subsequent remodeling and additions.  The last major remodeling and embellishment was done in the 19th century with funding from the Qajar dynasty. The golden dome was added in the early 20th century. 

In February 2006 the dome was destroyed in a surprising bombing.  Its two remaining minarets were destroyed in another bombing in June 2007. US officials reported that the minarets were blown up by Al-Qaeda. The bombing of this complex enraged Iraqis and sparked a severe sectarian reprisal that resulted in further bombing and destruction of smaller mosques throughout Iraq in different cities in Babil, Basra, and Baghdad. In Basra the shrine/mosque of a companion of the prophet Mohammed-Talha Bin al-Zubair was destroyed on June 15, 2007. As noted above the Askari complex was a religious pilgrimage site that generates major economic revenue for the city and residence of Samarra. It is hardly conceivable that any Iraqi- Sunni or Shi`i would even speculate on committing such a crime.

The first bombing (the dome) in 2006

Al-`Askeri Site after the destruction of  the two minarets in 2007


4: The Iraqi Jewish Historical Collection and the Archive of the Iraqi Government:

Some objects of the historic Iraqi-Jewish collection such as the 16th century Torah scroll were taken from the Iraqi Museum of Antiquities under the supervision of the US authorities in 2003, and the other part, mainly the archive which was stored in the basement of the Mukhabaraat building in Baghdad. The US bombing flooded that basement and the water impacted the entire collection. US forces transferred the collection to the National Archives and Records Administration in the US. The archive also include some 7 million pages of records of the Iraqi government including the entire record of the Ba`th party. In 2007 the looted Iraqi Torah surfaced at Temple Isaiah in Maryland and an online article of the Baltimore Sun on October 28, 2007 shows Rabbi Mark Panoff celebrating the housing of the looted Iraqi Torah. Books and other objects from that looted cultural collection have been reported to reach Israel. 

As for the Iraqi archive, it has been reported that the Hoover Institution, a think tank and library affiliated with Stanford University, signed a deal in February 2008 with Kan`an Makiyya- head of the so called Iraq Memory Foundation—a private, nonprofit group that has had custody of the documents since just after the invasion of Iraq in April 2003—for the transfer of the entire archive and other artifacts from Saddam Hussein's tenure as Iraqi president. The Iraqi government has been following up on the return of this archive in vain and without any positive response.

The flooded Iraqi archive 2003
The Iraqi-Jewish collection transferred from the Iraqi museum in 2003 Rabbi Mark Panoff of Temple Isaiah, Maryland welcomes the looted Iraqi Torah to his synagogue in 2007

Dr. Hashim Al-Tawil, Professor of Art History. Born in Iraq, lives and works in Michigan since 1992.



:: Article nr. 95921 sent on 13-mar-2013 13:35 ECT


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