Looting a crime against history
No matter who did it, and that remains an open question, the looting of the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad is an international tragedy, a crime against history.
Imam Ibrahim Kazerooni, an Iraqi expatriate living and working in Denver as head of the Ahl Al-Beit Mosque, drove that point home last week as he talked before a Summit County audience about Iraq and the war.
He called the theft of thousands-year-old artifacts dating to the time when modern-day Iraq was the cradle of civilization “the rape of humanity’s cultural heritage.”
That history belongs to all of humanity, not Iraq, Kazerooni said.
Kazerooni was one of three panelists in the final presentation April 15 of the Colorado Mountain College/Keystone Center’s Current Affairs Forum.
Other speakers included Dr. Jim Jankowski, a University of Colorado at Boulder professor of Near East history, and veteran Denver Post reporter Kit Miniclier, who wrote right before the conflict about Iraq’s place in history and war’s danger to destroying that history.
A question the panel tried to answer was how could history be looted like a TV set from an electronics store in South Central Los Angeles?
The root of all evil, of course, was the profit motive. A thriving black market populated by unethical wealthy collectors awaits such treasures.
At the time of the forum, the perception was that Baghdad’s rank and file population comprised the perpetrators – that in a decimated land people couldn’t be blamed for doing anything to generate cash.
Now, conspiracy theories point to organized looting by people who knew what they wanted, and possibly, advance looting by Saddam Hussein’s loyalists looking for booty to finance a life on the run.
In any event, the U.S. military failed to protect the museum, while making sure the Oil Ministry and other key government buildings were guarded. That has to be a faux pas of grand proportions for a command that has taken great pains to make the war look like Operation Iraqi Freedom, not Operation $1.42 a Gallon Gas.
According to NPR news reports Sunday morning, troops on the ground said they were too busy in combat to appreciate that guarding the museum was important. The blame goes much higher and will probably be found in conflicts between the Defense and State departments over how to win the peace.
A question put to the imam last week was on what model should peace be based – an American-style democracy or the Iranian model where clerics hold the true power but let a parliamentary government exist?
Kazerooni said neither model would work in Iraq, but religion will play a central role. He noted that in the post-combat chaos of the country, sermons from the clerics restored order that tanks and M-16s could not.
Jankowski said the country knows a parliamentary heritage, but the institution has been dormant since 1968, a generation and a half. He also said Iraq is challenged by a middle class that has been “pulverized” under the Saddam Hussein dictatorship.
Jankowski said Saddam’s rule was based on three factors – oil, patronage and violence.
Over the years, revenues from the state-run oil industry financed patronage and privilege for an elite, chosen population that found self-interest in Hussein’s continued power.
Jankowski estimated the elite to have been about 500,000 people in a country of 22-24 million.
For those who dissented, violence was the answer.
“Hussein created an alliance of advantage,” Jankowski said.
No matter the politics, oil will remain Iraq’s chief resource, and how the resource is directed will have much to say about the country’s future, the professor said.
In the Arab world, the government, not property owners, owns subsurface mineral rights. If the system is privatized, the country could see what occurred in Russia where a corrupt elite emerged as chief profiteers.
On the other hand, if foreign investors take over the industry, fears in the Arab world that the war was about oil will be fulfilled.
“Oil gives enormous power to whomever holds the government,” Jankowski said.
This factor muddles the image of rebuilding Iraq in the image of Germany and Japan following World War II.
According to Jankowski, both of those countries were diversified in their economic output and industry was in private hands.
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