David Glenn, who is doing some very good writing on the antiquities trade for the Chronichle of Higher Education has a Q & A with Larry Rothfield discussing the invasion of Iraq and the looting of sites and museums there ($) (cross-posted at Safe-Corner). Here is an excerpt:
Q. Why did the United States do such a bad job of protecting the museum in 2003?
Before the war, nobody except archaeologists was worried about civilians looting the archaeological sites and the museum. And that includes the Iraqi exiles who were advising the State Department’s Future of Iraq Project, which was supposed to develop plans for the postwar period. They set up working groups on all sectors of society — but they forgot about culture.
Q. But would it have made a difference if the Future of Iraq Project had paid attention to culture?
No, it wouldn’t have made any difference at all, given that the military threw all of their plans in the garbage can anyway.
Now, the military itself was very interested in doing its job in terms of protecting cultural sites and museums. But under international law, its job is defined as not destroying or looting cultural sites itself — not as preventing civilians from destroying sites.
So before the war, they reached out to archaeologists, and they did a perfect job of identifying sites to put on a no-strike list. None of those sites was destroyed in active combat operations.
Unfortunately, they ignored warnings from the same archaeologists they were working with that the museums and sites might be looted by Iraqis. The Pentagon should have known about that issue. Nine museums were looted after the 1991 Gulf War. The military did not learn its lesson from that experience.