Sunday, May 03, 2009

Iraqi National Museum Reopens


KHUK KHAK, Thailand - Amid much fanfare and tight security, The Iraqi National Museum has re-opened following the return of thousands of stolen artifacts.

I'm keeping all my stuff. It's worth a fortune in the hot antiquities market if I can sit on it a while longer. Don't look at me like that. The appropriation of art during war is a historical fact. It happens all the time during an invasion by a foreign army while people look the other way.

The museum was systematically stripped and looted of more than 15,000 artifacts during the US-led invasion that presumably was the objective of toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein.

My representative on the scene at the time had previously entered the museum for the purpose of 'casing it' and marking the location of the several items of particular interest.

"Most of the items were collected in a large duffle bag," he said, "with the exception of one piece, the winged, human-headed bull, that required a fork lift and flat-bed truck transport."

Stopped at the Iraqi/Syrian border, the winged bull was subsequently returned.

The military stood by as looters ransacked the nation's cultural heritage, offering no resistance as mostly peasants and a few private collector representatives poured into the museum at the onset of the 'shock and awe' campaign. "They saved the oil ministry, but the museum was a free pass," said my agent.

"I came prepared with my own lighting, knowing the city's utilities would probably be targeted in the first strikes," he said. "Our stuff was on two floors, so I had to work fast, from a detailed map of the items we wanted. Most of those people were working in the dark and had no idea of what they were getting. It was like a grab bag."

Some 15,000 items were plundered at the time, and U.S. commanders were widely criticized for failing to protect one of the richest collections of antiquities in the Middle East.

Only eight of the museum's more than 20 halls have been reopened, but those halls were packed with dignitaries and media as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made his way through the exhibition.

In Dec. 2007, Swiss authorities blocked the sale of an ancient clay tablet bearing cuneiform, thought to have been smuggled from Iraq, on the internet auction site eBay. At the time of the intervention, we had a bid of 2,500 Euros. It could have gone much higher.

The war-time acquisition of art work is a historical fact, and one of the rights of an invading or occupying army. It happens all the time. Look at the British museum. Look at Getty's personal collection.

You get Woody to give back all those thousands of arrowheads, or donate his collection to the Wabash County Museum, and I'll give some of my stuff back.