It is right and proper to mark the 5th anniversary of the looting of the Iraq Museum, but it is wrong to use that anniversary to propagate highly inflammatory claims aimed at collectors, dealers in antiquities and museums when very little hard information has surfaced during intervening years to support them. These include the following: (1) That wealthy collectors contracted with looters to seek out the best items from the Museum’s collections; (2) That material looted from the Iraq Museum and archaeological sites has been shipped to collectors in the United States and Europe in quantity; and (3) That looting of archaeological sites is a major funding source for al Qaeda terrorists.
Cultural Property Observer believes that full coverage of this anniversary should include a sober assessment of the truth of these allegations. It would also be interesting to learn more about the following issues: (1) The nature and extent of the collaboration between Western archaeologists and Saddam Hussein’s regime, and how that may have colored the narrative of events as portrayed in the media; (2) Whether any pieces missing from the Iraq Museum were in fact removed before or in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. invasion by members of the Baath Party and/or corrupt Iraq Museum employees; (3) The nature and extent of the looting of archaeological sites in Iraq before the U.S. invasion as compared to the nature and extent of looting today; and (4) Where have all the antiquities that have been supposedly looted gone?
We need far less speculation and far more hard facts. It would also be interesting to learn if the new Democratic government of Iraq plans to continue the “state owns everything” approach of Saddam Hussein’s regime or whether the Iraqi Government aspires to promulgate laws that recognize that collectors play an important part in preserving and appreciating artifacts from the past.