When the US Army captured Iraq’s capital of Baghdad in April of 2003, people around the world were shocked by the whirlwind of looting that followed in the wake of liberation. Quick to seize and guard Iraq’s Oil Ministry, US forces left other government buildings unprotected and open to pillage by throngs of impoverished Iraqis. The country’s art and history museums were ransacked by looters, who stripped the institutions of their treasures and destroyed what could not be carried off.
Innumerable cuneiform clay tablets displaying the world’s first written language were reduced to dust. Precious artifacts from the dawn of civilization were smashed or carted off to be sold on the black market by professional art thieves. But the destruction of Iraq’s irreplaceable historic artifacts did not cease with the fall of Baghdad. An unfavorable report issued on January 15th, 2005, by the British Museum in London, found US-led forces responsible for widespread damage to the ancient city of Babylon, home to King Nebuchadnezzar and the Tower of Babel.
Immediately after the invasion the US built a military base for 2,000 troops on the site of the legendary metropolis, in spite of the protestations from archaeologists. Among the devastation listed by the British Museum – shattered bricks adorned with the name of Nebuchadnezzar lying in garbage heaps, the 2,600 year old brick pavement entrance to the Ishtar Gate crushed by military vehicles, tons of archaeological fragments used to fill sandbags, and tank fuel seeping into unexcavated archaeological layers.
Those in the Los Angeles area who are concerned with the preservation of world heritage should attend, Mesopotamia Endangered: Witnessing the Loss of History. This special event at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles will focus on the looting and pillaging of archaeological sites in war-torn Iraq. Joanne Farchakh Bajjaly, journalist and archaeologist, will speak about the issue in her talk at the Museum Lecture Hall on Tuesday, February 8th, at 7 pm.