It got reported ad nauseam and was held up as an example of all of the poor planning the United States had engaged in while preparing for the aftermath of the fall of the Ba’athist regime.
And here’s the thing: It didn’t happen.
A recent mission to Iraq headed by top archaeologists from the U.S. and U.K. who specialize in Mesopotamia found that, contrary to received wisdom, southern Iraq’s most important historic sites — eight of them — had neither been seriously damaged nor looted after the American invasion. This, according to a report by staff writer Martin Bailey in the July issue of the Art Newspaper. The article has caused confusion, not to say consternation, among archaeologists and has been largely ignored by the mainstream press. Not surprising perhaps, since reports by experts blaming the U.S. for the postinvasion destruction of Iraq’s heritage have been regular fixtures of the news.
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According to the Art Newspaper article, “The international team . . . had been expecting to find considerable evidence of looting after 2003 but to their astonishment and relief there was none. Not a single recent dig hole was found at the eight sites, and the only evidence of illegal digging came from holes which were partially covered with silt and vegetation, which means they [were] several years old.”
Furthermore, the most recent damage “probably dated back to 2003,” to just before and after the invasion when the Iraqi army maneuvered for the allied attack. (According to other experts, looting probably took place when the Iraqi army first moved out of areas near sites to counter the invasion.)
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The mission also refuted the welter of news items we’ve all become familiar with accusing allied forces of damaging ancient sites with emplacements, tank tracks and the like. According to the Art Newspaper report, “little damage was . . . caused by coalition forces.” Much of it was done by Saddam’s forces.
So, why the belief that there was looting and damage of archaeological sites thanks to American and coalition forces? Read the piece and you will find that the people who initially made such accusations had–gasp!–a political agenda. Quelle surprise.