Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Your tax dollars at work: Fraud, Waste and Abuse at the Iraq Museum

Crusading Western archaeologists successfully lobbied for millions of dollars in US taxpayer money to be spent on Iraqi Archaeology. They further successfully lobbied for emergency import restrictions on Iraqi cultural artifacts based partly on the theory that the Iraq State was the best custodian for everything-- including common artifacts such as coins.

Was this money well spent? Should anything that looks remotely "Iraqi" be repatriated, including common artifacts like coins? Judge for yourself based upon this troubling report:

This is an interesting but distressing note about the coin [collection] in the Iraq Museum, from From Lamia al-Gailani Werr.

In the Museum they are slowly plodding through the inventory, which according to the current pace will take years. Only twenty thousands out of over two hundred thousands objects have been inventoried so far. The staff are facing many challenges, including a number of objects have lost their numbers, or metal objects that have crumbled as a the result of decades of negligence, and in particular the coins collection. Another difficulty is the lack of expertise amongst the staff to enable them to distinguish the fake from the genuine coinage.

In the Iraq Museum Library many of the old and rare archaeological books are crumbling. The Library have no expert staff to conserve the books. This can also be said for the photographic archive were conservation of the earlier photographs is lacking, and the scanning and digitising the photographic archive is not all that perfect. The staff are scanning with a resolution of 75 pixels only, because they have antiquated computers with very little memory and have no resources to purchase CDs / DVDs or USB sticks. The photographic archive rooms had a lucky escape when I was there, they got flooded one morning, the result of a test by the engineering section to check if repairs carried out to the roof had been done properly. They poured a whole tankard’s hold of water on to the roof for this purpose. The water cascaded down like a waterfall through the imperfect repairs and onto the metal cabinets in the stores and archive rooms. The staff rushed and covered everything with nylon sheets. Clearly the contracted builder’s repair was very poorly to say the least, despite a grant of three million US Dollars.

Of course, archaeological groups are again lobbying for additional millions in US taxpayer dollars being spent on Egyptian archaeology. And they have apparently already told the Egyptians that new emergency restrictions on Egyptian cultural artifacts will be imposed.

If anything, with our own budget deficits, now should be the time to scrutinze such requests far more closely.

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