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Context of 'February 23, 2009: National Museum Reopens, Many Looted Items Restored'

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Shortly after the March invasion and occupation of Iraq, Iraqis become increasingly concerned about US plans for reconstruction. Iraqis fear the US will contract American companies to rebuild the country’s infrastructure instead of using native skill and labor. The former regime’s Ministry of Housing and Construction has a staff of some 4,000 employees who have been showing up to work daily since mid-April. Akkel Ansari, a ministry engineer, tells the Washington Post that he and other engineers have already begun drawing up plans to rebuild the country’s bombed-out buildings, bridges, and roads. The engineers are ready “to start repairing their damaged country as they did after the 1991 Persian Gulf War,” the Post reports. Iraqis say they are fully capable of rebuilding their country. According to Ansari, the damage is far less severe than that of the First Gulf War. Ansari tells the Washington Post, “The damage was much greater in 1991. More than 150 bridges in Iraq were destroyed in that war, and we rebuilt them all in one year.… But in this war, theft and burning caused more destruction than the bombing. We can put the pieces together again, in less time than 1991. We are ready to start.” Ministry employees say the only help they need from the US is money for salaries and help recovering equipment that was stolen during the mass looting (see April 9, 2003) that accompanied the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government. The amount needed to pay the monthly salaries of most ministry employees would be well under $100. But the US refuses to meet with the engineers. When Ansari goes to a hotel where US Army civil affairs officers are located to request funding for their work, US soldiers guarding the facility point a gun at his face and tell him to leave. Laith Amir, a chief engineer with 24 years of experience testing soil before buildings are constructed or rebuilt, tells the Post: “This is our life’s work. I love my job, and I would like to do something for my country. But we need help and financing. There is no government, no ministries. People have to be sure they will be paid.” [Washington Post, 4/26/2003]

Entity Tags: Laith Amir, Akkel Ansari

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

The Baghdad Museum is evacuated and locked by its curators, who anticipate Baghdad being overrun by American troops within the next few hours. The last three on the grounds are the director, Dr. Jaber Khalil; the director of the State Board of Antiquities, Donny George; and the curator in charge of the museum’s collections, Dr. Nawala al-Mutawalli. They are forced to flee the grounds because Iraqi militiamen have sought cover around the museum, and they fear a firefight. The entire area is under US control by April 9; by April 10, the Army has left the area without posting guards. George pleads for the Army to return to prevent looting, but is ignored. Much of the looting that ravages the museum’s collection takes place on April 12 (see April 13, 2003). The international outcry against the looting is so fierce that the Army will begin posting guards on April 16. [United Press International, 6/23/2003]

Entity Tags: Nawala al-Mutawalli, Jaber Khalil, National Museum of Iraq, Donny George, Iraqi State Board of Antiquities

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Unchecked looting of Iraqi ministries.Unchecked looting of Iraqi ministries. [Source: Representational Pictures]Widespread looting and general lawlessness breaks out as the security forces of the Baathist regime fade away. Countless age-old treasures are lost when museums are looted (see April 13, 2003). [Associated Press, 4/10/2003; CBC News, 4/11/2003] US officers at Central Command in Qatar tell CBC news it is up to Iraq’s own civil authorities to stop the looting. “At no point do we really see becoming a police force,” says Brigadier General Vincent Brooks. “What we see is taking actions that are necessary to create stability.” [CBC News, 4/12/2003; Washington Post, 8/18/2005] The Coalition Provisional Authority later estimates the cost of the looting at around $12 billion. According to reporter George Packer, the looting canceled out the “projected revenues of Iraq for the first year after the war. The gutted buildings, the lost equipment, the destroyed records, the damaged infrastructure, would continue to haunt almost every aspect of the reconstruction.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 302]

Entity Tags: Coalition Provisional Authority, Vincent Brooks, George Packer

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

The priceless Warka Vase, looted from the National Museum and later returned.The priceless Warka Vase, looted from the National Museum and later returned. [Source: Art Daily (.com)]In a press briefing, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismisses the wave of looting and vandalism throughout much of Iraq (see April 9, 2003 and After April 9, 2003) with the comment, “Stuff happens.” The looting is “part of the price” for freedom and democracy, he says, and blames “pent-up feelings” from years of oppression under the rule of Saddam Hussein. He goes on to note that the looting is not as bad as some television and newspaper reports are trying to make it out to be (see Late April-Early May, 2003 and May 20, 2003). “Freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things,” he tells reporters. “They’re also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that’s what’s going to happen here.” General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is with Rumsfeld at the press briefing, agrees. “This is a transition period between war and what we hope will be a much more peaceful time,” he says. CNN describes Rumsfeld as “irritated by questions about the looting.” Rumsfeld says that the images of Iraqi citizens ransacking buildings gives “a fundamental misunderstanding” of what is happening in Iraq. “Very often the pictures are pictures of people going into the symbols of the regime, into the palaces, into the boats and into the Ba’ath Party headquarters and into the places that have been part of that repression,” he explains. “And while no one condones looting, on the other hand one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who’ve had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime.” [US Department of Defense, 4/11/2003; CNN, 4/12/2003]
Accuses the Media of Exaggeration - Rumsfeld accuses the media of exaggerating the violence and unrest throughout the country: “I picked up a newspaper today and I couldn’t believe it. I read eight headlines that talked about chaos, violence, unrest. And it just was Henny Penny—‘The sky is falling.’ I’ve never seen anything like it! And here is a country that’s being liberated, here are people who are going from being repressed and held under the thumb of a vicious dictator, and they’re free. It’s just unbelievable how people can take that away from what is happening in that country! Do I think those words are unrepresentative? Yes.” [US Department of Defense, 4/11/2003] “Let me say one other thing,” he adds. “The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over, and over, and over, and it’s the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it 20 times, and you think: ‘My goodness, were there that many vases? Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?’” [Huffington Post, 4/11/2009]
'Looting, Lawlessness, and Chaos on the Streets of Iraq' - The next day, Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbiasias reports: “All day long, all over the dial, the visuals revealed looting, lawlessness, and chaos on the streets of Iraq. Nothing was off-limits, not stores, not homes, not embassies, certainly not Saddam Hussein’s palaces nor government buildings and, most disgustingly, not even hospitals.” She is “astonished” at Rumsfeld’s words, and observes that “the only free anything the Iraqis are going to get in the next little while is going to be whatever they can ‘liberate’ from electronics shops. Maybe Rumsfeld’s marketing people can come up with a slogan for that.” [Toronto Star, 4/12/2003]
Archaelogists Outraged at Rumsfeld's Remarks - Historians and archaeologists around the world are outraged at Rumsfeld’s remarks. Jane Waldbaum, the president of the Archaeological Institute of America, says her agency warned the US government about possible looting as far back as January 2003. She says she is as horrified by Rumsfeld’s cavalier attitude towards the looting as she is with the looting itself. “Donald Rumsfeld in his speech basically shrugged and said: ‘Boys will be boys. What’s a little looting?’” she says. “Freedom is messy, but freedom doesn’t mean you have the freedom to commit crimes. This loss is almost immeasurable.” [Salon, 4/17/2003]
Failure to Protect Hospitals, Museums - Four days after Rumsfeld makes his remarks, progressive columnist John Nichols notes that had a Democratic or liberal government official made such remarks, Republicans and conservatives would be “call[ing] for the head” of that official. Nichols notes what Rumsfeld failed to: that looters stripped hospitals, government buildings, and museums to the bare walls. He also asks why US soldiers did not stop the looting, quoting the deputy director of the Iraqi National Museum, Nabhal Amin, as saying: “The Americans were supposed to protect the museum. If they had just one tank and two soldiers nothing like this would have happened.” Nichols notes the irony in the selection of the Oil Ministry as the only government building afforded US protection. He concludes: “When US and allied troops took charge of the great cities of Europe during World War II, they proudly defended museums and other cultural institutions. They could have done the same in Baghdad. And they would have, had a signal come from the Pentagon. But the boss at the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld, who had promised to teach the Iraqi people how to live in freedom, was too busy explaining that rioting and looting are what free people are free to do.” [Nation, 4/15/2003]
Fired for Confronting Rumsfeld over Remark - Kenneth Adelman, a neoconservative member of the Defense Policy Board (DPB) who before the war said that the invasion of Iraq would be a “cakewalk” (see February 13, 2002), later confronts Rumsfeld over the “stuff happens” remark. In return, according to Adelman’s later recollection, Rumsfeld will ask him to resign from the DPB, calling him “negative.” Adelman will retort: “I am negative, Don. You’re absolutely right. I’m not negative about our friendship. But I think your decisions have been abysmal when it really counted. Start out with, you know, when you stood up there and said things—‘Stuff happens.‘… That’s your entry in Bartlett’s [Famous Quotations]. The only thing people will remember about you is ‘Stuff happens.’ I mean, how could you say that? ‘This is what free people do.’ This is not what free people do. This is what barbarians do.… Do you realize what the looting did to us? It legitimized the idea that liberation comes with chaos rather than with freedom and a better life. And it demystified the potency of American forces. Plus, destroying, what, 30 percent of the infrastructure.” Adelman will recall: “I said, ‘You have 140,000 troops there, and they didn’t do jack sh_t.’ I said, ‘There was no order to stop the looting.’ And he says, ‘There was an order.’ I said, ‘Well, did you give the order?’ He says, ‘I didn’t give the order, but someone around here gave the order.’ I said, ‘Who gave the order?’ So he takes out his yellow pad of paper and he writes down—he says, ‘I’m going to tell you. I’ll get back to you and tell you.’ And I said, ‘I’d like to know who gave the order, and write down the second question on your yellow pad there. Tell me why 140,000 US troops in Iraq disobeyed the order. Write that down, too.’ And so that was not a successful conversation.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]

Entity Tags: John Nichols, US Department of Defense, Jane Waldbaum, Richard B. Myers, Kenneth Adelman, Iraqi Oil Ministry, Nabhal Amin, Donald Rumsfeld, Antonia Zerbiasias, Iraqi National Museum

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Deputy curator Mohsen Hassan sits amidst the wreckage in the National Museum.Deputy curator Mohsen Hassan sits amidst the wreckage in the National Museum. [Source: Getty Images / Salon]The New York Times reports that in the four days of looting in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities (see April 9, 2003 and After April 9, 2003), the National Museum of Iraq has been almost completely pillaged. Over 170,000 artifacts have been stolen or destroyed from the museum, which once boasted an irreplaceable collection of artifacts from Mesopotamia dating back as far as 7,000 years. The Times reports that archaeologists and specialists once regarded the museum as “perhaps the richest of all such institutions in the Middle East.” Only today have museum curators and government officials been able to start cataloguing the losses, as the waves of looting have begun to ebb, and fires set in dozens of government buildings begun to burn themselves out. While some treasures may have been stored in safes and vaults, the 28 galleries of the museum, and the museum’s main storage vaults, have been “completely ransacked,” the Times reports. What could not be taken was vandalized; 26 huge statues were methodically decapitated. Museum officials are enraged that US troops refused to protect the building (with one exception, a single intervention on April 10 that lasted about half an hour). The museum’s corridors are littered with smashed ceramics and burned-out torches of rags soaked in gasoline. “All gone, all gone,” one curator says. “All gone in two days.” Iraqi archaeologist Raid Abdul Ridhar Muhammed describes a crowd of thousands of looters armed with rifles, pickaxes, knives, clubs, and hunks of metal torn from automobiles. He watched as they stormed in and out of the complex, carrying precious antiquities away in wheelbarrows and handcarts. Deputy curator Mohsen Hassan watched helplessly as men with sledgehammers smashed glass display cases to get at the valuables inside. Some of the looters were from the impoverished districts of Baghdad, Hassan recalls, but many were middle class citizens who seemed to know just what they were looking for. “Did some of them know the value of what they took?” Hassan says. “Absolutely, they did. They knew what the most valued pieces in our collection were.” Muhammed blames the Americans for not securing the museum, as do many other Iraqis. “A country’s identity, its value and civilization resides in its history,” he says. “If a country’s civilization is looted, as ours has been here, its history ends. Please tell this to President Bush. Please remind him that he promised to liberate the Iraqi people, but that this is not a liberation, this is a humiliation.” [New York Times, 4/13/2003; St. Petersburg Times, 2/6/2005] Later investigations prove that many of the antiquities thought looted were actually hidden away by museum curators (see June 13, 2003).

Entity Tags: National Museum of Iraq, Raid Abdul Ridhar Muhammed, New York Times, Mohsen Hassan

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

US soldiers shoot dead 17 protesters and wound at least 70 in Fallujah. The demonstrators were protesting the soldiers’ occupation of a local school. The soldiers claim that they were fired upon by gunmen armed with AK-47 assault rifles. Human Rights Watch (HRW) later releases a report contradicting the claims of US forces. HRW claims that the troops were not properly equipped or trained to handle law enforcement duties or to properly deal with large crowds. They are said to have been lacking in translators as well. The organization also points out that there is no evidence of bullet damage to the school where US soldiers were stationed. In contrast, buildings facing the school are marked with multi-caliber bullet holes which contradict the US’ claim that they used only “precision fire.” [Human Rights Watch, 6/17/2003; Human Rights Watch, 6/17/2003]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Army

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Many neoconservatives join President Bush in celebrating “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq (see May 1, 2003). Foreign affairs adviser Richard Perle, in a USA Today article entitled “Relax, Celebrate Victory,” calls it “the most important military victory since World War II,” and writes: “This was a war worth fighting.… It ended quickly with few civilian casualties and with little damage to Iraq’s cities, towns, or infrastructure (see Early April 2003-April 9, 2003, April 9, 2003, April 13, 2003, May 20, 2003, and October 10, 2004). It ended without the Arab world rising up against us, as the war’s critics feared, without the quagmire they predicted (see April 28, 2003, June 9-13, 2003, and October 19, 2003, among others), without the heavy losses in house-to-house fighting they warned us to expect” (see July 3, 2007, January 10, 2007 and March 24, 2008). While advising readers to “relax and celebrate,” he also makes his case to invade other countries: “The idea that our victory over Saddam will drive other dictators to develop chemical and biological weapons misses the key point: They are already doing so. That’s why we may someday need to preempt rather than wait until we are attacked. Iran, Syria, North Korea, Libya, these and other nations are relentless in their pursuit of terror weapons. Does anyone seriously argue that they would abandon their programs if we had left Saddam in power? It is a little like arguing that we should not subdue knife-wielding criminals because, if we do, other criminals will go out and get guns. Moreover, this argument, deployed by those who will not take victory for an answer, confuses cause and effect: Does any peaceful state that neither harbors terrorists nor seeks weapons of mass destruction fear that we will launch a preemptive strike against it? Who are they? Why would they?” [USA Today, 5/1/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 305]

Entity Tags: Richard Perle, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Lieutenant General William Wallace tells the Financial Times that, contrary to reports, there was very little looting of antiquities from Baghdad’s National Museum. “[A]s few as 17 items were unaccounted for,” Wallace says. Curators and archaeologists have reported massive looting and vandalism, with over 170,000 artifacts and priceless objects either missing or destroyed (see April 13, 2003). [United Press International, 6/23/2003]

Entity Tags: William Wallace, National Museum of Iraq

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Just over two weeks after President Bush visits the the USS Abraham Lincoln to declare an end to major combat operations in Iraq in the infamous “Mission Accomplished” appearance (see May 1, 2003), the administration’s plan to implement Iraqi self-rule is postponed “indefinitely” due to looting and lawlessness. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

US administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer announces that Iraq’s economy will be revived through “free trade.” “A free economy and a free people go hand in hand,” he says, adding that the occupation powers “would like to see market prices brought into the economy… [and the] privatization of key elements.” State subsidies—which up until now have supplied ordinary Iraqis with affordable food, gasoline, and other essentials—will eventually be eliminated. According to Bremer, “history tells us that substantial and broadly held resources, protected by private property, private rights, are the best protection of political freedom. Building such prosperity in Iraq will be a key measure of our success here.” The Washington Post notes that “Iraqis would most likely not be deciding for themselves what kind of economy will replace the state-planned system that functioned under deposed president Saddam Hussein.” The paper also warns that “dismantling Iraq’s state-managed system holds big risks for the occupation authority at a time when most Iraqis are struggling to get by.” [Agence France-Presse, 5/26/2003; Washington Post, 5/27/2003; Sydney Morning Herald, 5/28/2003] Bremer also announces the creation of a trade-credit authority that would extend generous lines of credit to Iraq’s ministries, government-owned factories, and private companies so they can import needed goods and equipment (much of which had disappeared during the initial period of mass looting, see April 9, 2003). [New York Times, 5/26/2003; Agence France-Presse, 5/26/2003; Washington Post, 5/27/2003] “It will be a substantial credit facility that first symbolically indicates to the world that Iraq is open for business and also provides a practical incentive to people who want to trade with Iraq,” Bremer says. The agency will be funded by private banks and the Central Bank of Iraq [Agence France-Presse, 5/26/2003] , which is being overseen by Peter McPherson, a former deputy Treasury secretary and a Bank of America executive. [Washington Post, 5/9/2003] Bremer says that American and British companies will be among the first to benefit from these lines of credit. [New York Times, 5/26/2003]

Entity Tags: L. Paul Bremer, Peter McPherson

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

US forces in Iraq launch Operation Peninsula Strike, conducting a series of raids on a peninsula along the Tigris River about 35 miles north of Baghdad, near the towns of Balad and Duluiya. The sweep, aimed at suppressing the growing Iraqi resistance, is the Coalition’s largest military operation since the regime’s collapse (see April 9, 2003). About 4,000 US troops—supported by river patrol boats and AC-130 gunships—participate in the assault. Up to 100 Iraqis are killed and 397 are taken prisoner. [BBC, 6/13/2003; Guardian, 6/13/2003] Residents of the towns complain that the US’s heavy handed tactics are alienating the Iraqi populace and creating popular support for the insurgency. One Iraqi is quoted as saying, “There was no fighting in a town like Falluja during the war. That only came when American soldiers killed 18 people during a protest. The people who are fighting the Americans are only taking personal action to avenge the murders of their family members.” [The Irish Times, 6/14/2003]

Entity Tags: L. Paul Bremer

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

A panel from the ancient and priceless ‘Treasure of Nimrod,’ originally believed to be stolen but later restored to the National Museum.A panel from the ancient and priceless ‘Treasure of Nimrod,’ originally believed to be stolen but later restored to the National Museum. [Source: Zeenaraqi (.com)]UPI columnist John Bloom delves into the mystery of the looted antiquties from Baghdad’s National Museum. Curators and archaologists report over 170,000 antiquties and artifacts either stolen or destroyed, and massive damage done to the building itself (see April 8-12, 2003 and April 13, 2003). On the other hand, General William Wallace has claimed that “as few as 17 items were unaccounted for” (see May 7, 2003). After some research, Bloom claims that virtually everyone involved in the affair is lying to some degree, and, he writes, “the reporters on the scene have been played for patsies.”
Mystery Man - Apparently, Bloom finds, the controversy centers on Donny George, who is officially the director general of research and study for the State Board of Antiquities. George is not the director of the museum; that position is filled by Dr. Jaber Khalil, who “is never quoted in Western news accounts,” Bloom reports. Instead, George became the museum spokesman early in the occupation. He is also a liar, according to Bloom. Reporters say that George gave them the 170,000 figure on or around April 13. George says he never made such a claim. There were 170,000 pieces in the entire collection, he says, but he has no idea how many were stolen or vandalized. The story has become politicized, Bloom writes, somewhat in the US and far more so in Britain, where war critics have seized on the story as evidence of the lack of respect the Pentagon has for the culture of a nation it has seized. The Pentagon calls the museum a military outpost for Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard, and its pillaging an understandable reaction from the Iraqi people who hated Hussein and his Ba’athist thugs. After the April looting, archaeological expert Dan Cruikshank, who works for the BBC, attempted to piece together a picture of what exactly was and was not taken. He divided the museum into three main areas:
bullet The galleries themselves. Most of the looting and vandalism took place here. But the galleries had been cleared of much of their valuables. Curators had been planning for this months in advance, having gone through looting after the 1991 Gulf War. They feared both citizen thieves and vengeful Kuwaitis traveling with the US troops. They hid the smaller items, leaving behind only antiquities that could not be stolen without mechanical equipment. Somewhere between 17 and 50 major items were either stolen or vandalized; another 15 items sustained major damage.
bullet The museum offices and conservation rooms, where the safes, keys, and equipment are kept. These areas were heavily looted, but mostly of modern equipment such as computers, fax machines, and copiers.
bullet Five secret storerooms known only to the curators. These are reinforced, locked vaults located in various places throughout the museum. Here is where most of the museum’s treasures were hidden away. Experts who visited the museum after the April looting found that three had not been opened, including one room stuffed with tens of thousands of Greek and Roman gold coins. One had been opened with a key, indicating an inside job. The fifth had been broken into and some items stolen.
Squirreled Away - George was one of the first and loudest of lamenters on April 13, blaming US soldiers for their indifference and lamenting the museum that had been, in Bloom’s description, “overrun by a ravenous horde.” However, George kept a few facts to himself. One, he put the most prized possessions of the museum into a secret vault; only George himself knows where that vault is. Two, many museum staff members took items home to protect them. Three, most of the gold items, including 600 historically priceless pieces of jewelry from the Treasure of Nimrod, are safe in a vault underneath the Iraqi Central Bank. They have been there since the days of the Iran-Iraq war. Four, at least one of the secret storerooms was found to have housed not only antiquities, but parts of a machine gun, an unexploded hand grenade, and a rocket-propelled grenade. The room itself has slit windows giving an excellent field of fire for the street below. This discovery gives some truth to the Army’s contention that its soldiers had taken fire from the museum.
Playing Both Sides - Bloom moves into the realm of admitted speculation in trying to divine George’s underlying motivation. He believes George, who held high rank in the Ba’athist regime, wanted to play his cards close to his chest until he could be sure how everything was going to settle out, not offending either the US occupiers or the Ba’athists, who might, as happened in 1991, end up remaining in power. He also believes George wanted to protect valuable artifacts that had disappeared from the museum long before the war. He wonders if George was collaborating with Saddam Hussein, defending the museum against the depredations of the notoriously rapacious Hussein family (who had no compunctions about selling treasures on the international market), or perhaps both.
Planned Burglary - Bloom and Cruikshank both believe that during the April 12 looting, the same people who plundered the museum in years past came back to steal one more time. Five of the most valuable items were snatched, smuggled out of the country apparently through Damascus, Syria, and sold on the black market in Tehran and Paris. Bloom writes: “That’s what stolen-to-order means. They had lined up buyers in Europe long before the war broke out.” Bloom and Cruikshank also cannot figure out how two of the most valuable artifacts—a 4,500-year-old alabaster relief vase and a 4,250-year-old bronze statue—were stolen. “It would have taken, at the least, a block and tackle, a hoist, and a pickup to get them out of the museum.” Did no one see any of this? Bloom asks.
Real Losses - It seems clear that several thousand antiquities and valuables were indeed looted. The latest figure, from UNESCO and the US Customs Service, hovers around 2,000 to 3,000, notwithstanding the claims of General Wallace. Bloom notes, “Even if the losses are limited to 50 priceless items and 3,000 lesser items, that’s still the most significant robbery of antiquities in living memory.” John Russell of the Massachusetts College of Art said in late May: “It’s only by comparison with the most dire initial reports that said everything was gone that it seems not so bad. Yes, not everything is gone, but major things are.” Other sites suffered worse depredations—the archaelogical digs at Larsa, Nineveh, Hatra, Mosul, Babylon, and the Sumerian city of Umma, among others. Bloom writes: “Lost in all the claims and counter-claims about who was responsible, who was lying, and what was done or not done, was the fact that the whole affair was based on a libel against the Iraqi people—that they would destroy their own citadel of history. It would be the equivalent of thousands of Americans rampaging through the Smithsonian Institution like cannibals.” Cruikshank says flatly, “It is simply not true that the people of Baghdad looted their own museum.” [New York Times, 6/1/2003; United Press International, 6/23/2003]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, John Russell, John Bloom, Jaber Khalil, Iraqi State Board of Antiquities, Donny George, Dan Cruikshank, National Museum of Iraq, William Wallace

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

A new audiotape thought to contain a message from Osama bin Laden is broadcast by Al Jazeera. On the 31-minute tape the speaker says that the US occupation of Iraq, a “new Crusader campaign against the Islamic world,” is bogged down in the “quagmires of the Tigris and Euphrates” and suffering mounting casualties from guerrillas. He also compares supporters in Iraq to great Muslim warriors of the past and forbids them from working with the Ba’ath party. After describing democracy as “the religion of ignorance,” he addresses the question of Palestine, and attacks the “road map” for peace between Israel and Palestine as well as Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, saying he is similar to Afghani President Hamid Karzai. He highlights US financial losses and budget deficits after 9/11, and would also apparently like to fight in Iraq: “God knows, if I could find a way to get to your battlefields, I would not hesitate.” [Associated Press, 10/19/2003; Laden, 2005, pp. 207-211] He also says, “We reserve the right to respond at the opportune moment and place against all of the countries participating in this unjust war, in particular: Great Britain, Spain, Australia, Poland, Japan, and Italy.” [Irujo, 2005, pp. 257] Bin Laden had not specially threatened Spain in any previous speeches. According to a Spanish investigator, the Madrid al-Qaeda cell hears the speech, notices this, and begins planning an attack in Spain the next day. This will result in the Madrid train bombings only five months later (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). [Benjamin and Simon, 2005, pp. 10] However, some evidence suggests the cell was already planning a bombing from about late 2002. [Associated Press, 4/10/2004]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The letter sent by an Iraqi official to IAEA inspectors reporting hundreds of tons of missing explosives.The letter sent by an Iraqi official to IAEA inspectors reporting hundreds of tons of missing explosives. [Source: New York Times]Dr. Mohammed Abbas of the Iraqi Ministry of Science and Technology writes a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency warning that the huge explosives cache at Al Qaqaa (see May 2003) has been cleaned out. The IAEA had warned US officials of the likelihood of such an event months before, as well as before the March 2003 invasion (see May 2004). Abbas says that “urgent updating of the registered materials is required.” According to Abbas, the facility is missing around 377 tons of HMX, RDX, and PETN explosives, some of the most powerful explosives ever created. HMX stands for “high melting point explosive,” RDX for “rapid detonation explosive,” and PETN for “pentaerythritol tetranitrate.” The IAEA will forward the letter to the US. IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei is “extremely concerned” about the “potentially devastating consequences” of the missing explosives, according to a European diplomat. Dr. Van Romero of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology says: “HMX and RDX have a lot of shattering power.… Getting a large amount is difficult” because most nations carefully regulate who can buy such explosives. An expert who recently led a team that searched Iraq for deadly arms says that the “immediate danger” of the looted explosives “is its potential use with insurgents in very small and powerful explosive devices. The other danger is that it can easily move into the terrorist web across the Middle East.” [New York Times, 10/25/2004]

Entity Tags: Van Romero, International Atomic Energy Agency, Ministry of Science and Technology (Iraq), Mohamed ElBaradei, Mohammed Abbas

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Details of ‘surge’ troop deployments .Details of ‘surge’ troop deployments . [Source: Jordan Times] (click image to enlarge)In a major policy speech regarding Iraq, President Bush announces that he will order 21,500 more US combat troops to Iraq, in a troop escalation he calls a “surge.” The bulk of the troops will be deployed in and around Baghdad. In addition, 4,000 Marines will go to the violent al-Anbar province. In announcing the escalation, he concedes a point he has resisted for over three years, that there have not been enough US troops in Iraq to adequately provide security and create conditions favorable for an Iraqi democracy to take hold. He admits that his previous strategy was based on flawed assumptions about the unstable Iraqi government. “Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility lies with me,” he says. Bush says that to consider any withdrawals of American troops would be a grave mistake, and that by increasing the number of troops in Iraq now, conditions will improve to a point at which troops can be withdrawn. “To step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government,” he says. “Such a scenario would result in our troops being forced to stay in Iraq even longer, and confront an enemy that is even more lethal. If we increase our support at this crucial moment, and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home.” Bush also commits the Iraqi government to meeting a series of “benchmarks,” tangible indicators of progress being made, that include adding a further 8,000 Iraqi troops and police officers in Baghdad, passage of long-delayed legislation to share oil revenues among Iraq’s ethnic groups, and a $10 billion jobs and reconstruction program, to be financed by the Iraqis. Bush aides insist that the new strategy is largely the conception of the Iraqi government, with only limited input from US planners. If successful, he says, the results will be a “functioning democracy” that “fights terrorists instead of harboring them.” [New York Times, 1/10/2007; ABC News, 1/10/2007; White House, 1/10/2007] While no one is sure how much the new policies will cost, Bush is expected to demand “billions” from Congress to fund his new escalation in the weeks ahead. [Marketwatch, 1/5/2005]
'New Way Forward' - The surge has a new marketing moniker, the “New Way Forward.” Some believe that the surge is more for political and public relations purposes than any real military effectiveness. “Clearly the deteriorating situation in Iraq is the overall background,” says political scientist Ole Holsti. The changes may indicate “they are looking for new bodies bringing fresh thinking…or you may have a kind of public-relations aspect,” to show Bush’s change in course is “more than just words.” [CBS News, 1/5/2007; USA Today, 1/5/2007]
Surge Already Underway - Interestingly, while Bush announces the “new” strategy of escalating the US presence in Iraq tonight, the escalation is already well underway. 90 advance troops from the Army’s 82nd Airborne are already in Baghdad, and another 800 from the same division are en route. The escalation will necessitate additional call-ups from the National Guard as well as additional reactivation of troops who have already toured Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, the naval group spearheaded by the aircraft carrier USS Stennis will shortly be en route to the Persian Gulf. Whether the new plan will work is anyone’s guess, say military commanders in Iraq. The escalation will take several months to implement and longer to see tangible results. One military official says, “We don’t know if this will work, but we do know the old way was failing.”
Contradicting Previous Assertions - In announcing the surge, Bush contradicts the position he has asserted since the March 2003 invasion—that military commanders were determining the direction of the war effort. Bush has repeatedly spoken of his disdain for micromanaging the war effort, and has said that he won’t second-guess his commanders. “It’s important to trust the judgment of the military when they’re making military plans,” he said in December 2006. “I’m a strict adherer to the command structure.” However, Bush balked at following the advice of many top military officials and generals, who have recommended a gradual drawdown in troop strengths, and in recent weeks replaced several top military officials who expressed doubts about the need or efficacy of new troop deployments in Iraq (see January 5, 2007). Instead, Bush believes the escalation will alleviate the drastically deteriorating security situation in Iraq. According to Pentagon officials, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who oppose the surge, have agreed to support it only grudgingly, and only because Bush officials have promised a renewed diplomatic and political effort to go along with the escalation. Outgoing Central Command chief General John Abizaid said in November that further troop increases were not a viable answer to the Iraq situation, and in their November 30 meeting, Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki did not ask Bush for more troops, instead indicating that he wanted Iraqi troops to take a higher profile. Viewpoints differ on Bush’s interaction with his commanders up to this point—some have seen him as too passive with the generals and military advisers, allowing them almost free rein in Iraq, while others see him as asserting himself by forcing the retirements or reassignments of generals who disagree with his policies.
Rebuffing the ISG - Many observers believe the surge is a backhanded rebuff to the Iraq Study Group (see January 10, 2007).
Surge Plan Concocted at Right-Wing Think Tank - Interestingly, the surge plan itself comes largely from neoconservative planners at the American Enterprise Institute (see January 2007).
Long-Term Ramifications - The Joint Chiefs worry that a troop escalation will set up the US military for an even larger failure, without having any backup options. The Iraqis will not deliver the troops necessary for their own security efforts, they believe, and worry that US troops will end up fighting in what amounts to a political vacuum unless Bush comes up with a plan for dramatic political and economic changes to go along with the military effort. A surge could lead to increased attacks by Iraqi al-Qaeda fighters, open the troops up to more attacks by Sunni insurgents, and fuel the jihadist appeal for more foreign fighters to battle US forces in Iraq. And the escalation’s short-term conception—to last no more than six to eight months—might well play into the plans of Iraq’s armed factions by allowing them to “game out” the new strategy. The JCS also wonder just where Bush will find the troops for the surge. Frederick Kagan, one of the architects of the surge plan, and Republican presidential candidate John McCain want far more than 20,000 troops, but the Joint Chiefs say that they can muster 20,000 at best, and not all at once. Rumsfeld’s replacement, Robert Gates, played a key role in convincing the Joint Chiefs to support the escalation. The biggest selling point of the escalation is the White House’s belief that it will portray the administration as visibly and dramatically taking action in Iraq, and will help create conditions that will eventually allow for a gradual withdrawal of US troops: Bush says, “[W]e have to go up before we go down.” [Washington Post, 1/10/2007]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, George W. Bush, American Enterprise Institute, Carl Levin, Frederick Kagan, Harry Reid, Iraq Study Group, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Peter Pace, Robert M. Gates, John P. Abizaid, John McCain, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Donald Rumsfeld, Nouri al-Maliki, Nancy Pelosi, Ole Holsti

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

It is reported that over 1,000 civilian private contractors have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since the start of hostilities in those countries. An additional 13,000 have been wounded. The casualty figures come from the Department of Labor. Civilians work in a number of areas in Iraq, from providing security and servicing weapons systems, to more mundane tasks such as logistics, construction, truck driving, and maintenance (see April 4, 2007). [Reuters, 3/7/2004] Roughly one contractor dies for every four members of the armed forces. But despite the risks, Americans are lining up for jobs in the two war zones, lured by the prospects of high pay and, for some, adventure. As of the end of April 2007, 224 of the killed contractors were US citizens. [Reuters, 3/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Blackwater USA, Aegis Defence Services, Vinnell Corporation, US Department of Labor

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

President Bush signs the ‘Declaration of Principles’ as part of a teleconference with Prime Minister al-Maliki.President Bush signs the ‘Declaration of Principles’ as part of a teleconference with Prime Minister al-Maliki. [Source: White House]The White House issues a “Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship Between the Republic of Iraq and the United States of America.” The “Declaration of Principles” is signed by both President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. According to the White House press release, the declaration will affirm the “long-term relationship [of] two fully sovereign and independent states with common interests… based on the heroic sacrifices made by the Iraqi people and the American people for the sake of a free, democratic, pluralistic, federal, and unified Iraq.” The principles, as enumerated by the White House, include the following:
bullet Supporting the Republic of Iraq in defending its democratic system against internal and external threats;
bullet Defending of the Iraqi constitution;
bullet “Providing security assurances and commitments to the Republic of Iraq to deter foreign aggression against Iraq that violates its sovereignty and integrity of its territories, waters, or airspace”;
bullet Helping Iraq combat “all terrorist groups, at the forefront of which is al-Qaeda, Saddamists, and all other outlaw groups regardless of affiliation, and destroy[ing] their logistical networks and their sources of finance, and defeat[ing] and uproot[ing] them from Iraq”;
bullet Supporting and training the Iraq Security Force;
bullet Supporting efforts to achieve national reconciliation;
bullet Supporting Iraq’s attempts to “enhance its position in regional and international organizations and institutions so that it may play a positive and constructive role in the region and the world,” as well as assisting it in joining the World Trade Organization and achieving “most favored” trading status with the US;
bullet Helping Iraq achieve peaceful relations with its neighboring countries;
bullet Promoting “cultural, educational, and scientific exchanges between” Iraq and the US;
bullet Helping Iraq in its “transition to a market economy”;
bullet Building Iraq’s economic infrastructure and institutions;
bullet Encouraging foreign investment, “especially American investments, to contribute to the reconstruction and rebuilding of Iraq”;
bullet Helping Iraq recover funds and properties illegally hidden away by the family and associates of former dictator Saddam Hussein, “as well as antiquities and items of cultural heritage, smuggled before and after April 9, 2003” (see April 9, 2003);
bullet Helping Iraq secure “forgiveness of its debts and compensation for the wars waged by the former regime.”
The declaration states that Iraq will request a final extension of the UN-mandated Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I); after that extension expires, Iraq’s UN status will revert to the levels enjoyed before August 1990’s UN Resolution 661 that determined the country was “a threat to international peace and security.” Iraq will, in the eyes of the UN, then enjoy “the full sovereignty of Iraq over its territories, waters, and airspace, and its control over its forces and the administration of its affairs.” The White House wants a formal agreement to this end signed by July 31, 2008. [White House, 11/26/2007]

Entity Tags: Nouri al-Maliki, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, United Nations, World Trade Organization

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Vice President Dick Cheney says that President Bush, not the US soldiers serving in Iraq, bears “the biggest burden” of the war. ABC reporter Martha Raddatz asks Cheney about what effect he believes the “milestone” of 4,000 US soldiers killed in Iraq has on the country. Cheney answers: “Well, it obviously brings home, I think for a lot of people, the cost that’s involved in the global war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. It places a special burden, obviously, on the families. We recognize, I think—it’s a reminder of the extent to which we’re blessed with families who have sacrificed as they have. The president carries the biggest burden, obviously; he’s the one who has to make the decision to commit young Americans. But we are fortunate to have the group of men and women, the all-volunteer force, who voluntarily put on the uniform and go in harm’s way for the rest of us. You wish nobody ever lost their life, but unfortunately it’s one of those things that go with living in the world we live in. Sometimes you have to commit military force, and when you do, there are casualties.” [White House, 3/24/2008]
'Jaw-Dropping' Insensitivity - The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin writes that Cheney’s statement “crystallizes [his and Bush’s] detachment and self-involvement” quite vividly, illuminating the “bubble of flattery and delusion” in which he says they live. Froomkin adds: “And in an era where failing to support the troops is the ultimate political sin, Cheney’s breezy dismissal of their sacrifice—heck, they’re volunteers, and dying goes with the territory—was jaw-dropping even by the vice president’s own tone-deaf standards. Does Cheney really believe that Bush’s burden is so great? The president tells people he’s sleeping just fine, thank you, and in public appearances appears upbeat beyond all reason. Or does Cheney simply have no idea what it means to go to war? He and Bush, after all, famously avoided putting themselves in the line of fire when it was their time. Or are they just so wrapped up in themselves they can’t see how ridiculous it is to even suggest such a thing?”
Backhanded Agreement - Retired General Wesley Clark agrees with Cheney, in a backhanded fashion: “Well, I guess you could say [Bush] does bear an enormous burden of guilt and responsibility, for misdirecting the resources of the United States and for the travesty of going to war in Iraq.… But that’s not a burden that’s anything like the burden these families bear when their loved ones are overseas, and they suffer losses, or they come back home and they’ve got post-traumatic stress disease and other problems, when the little kids don’t recognize the parents when they come in the door because of the frequent deployments and so forth. This is an entirely different kind of burden. So I think that Vice President Cheney is not being fair to the men and women who serve. He should recognize the enormous sacrifices they’re making.” [Washington Post, 3/25/2008]

Entity Tags: Wesley Clark, Dan Froomkin, George W. Bush, Martha Raddatz, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

The National Museum of Iraq, which was extensively looted and vandalized in the weeks after the US invasion (see April 13, 2003 and June 13, 2003), reopens, though the public cannot yet visit. Many of the stolen items have been returned, the vandalism has been repaired, and the museum refurbished and updated. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other dignitaries receive a private tour before the museum is opened to the public. The opening generated some controversy, with the Ministry of Tourism pushing for a gala reopening celebration and the Ministry of Culture arguing that security remains too tenuous for such a high-profile event. The state minister for tourism and antiquities, Qahtan Juboori, says that of about 15,000 pieces stolen from the museum, 6,000 have been returned. They include 2,466 items brought back from Jordan, 1,046 from the United States, and 701 from Syria. It is unclear when the public will be allowed back into the premises. [Los Angeles Times, 2/23/2009]

Entity Tags: Iraqi Ministry of Tourism, Iraqi Ministry of Culture, Qahtan Juboori, National Museum of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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