During the US invasion of Iraq back in 2003, thousands of valuable ancient Iraqi artifacts were stolen and smuggled out of the country by US and with the help of countries such as the UAE and also Israel.
This Tuesday, the Iraqi Ministry of Culture announced in a statement that more than 23,000 pieces of artifacts, most of which were plundered from the country during the illegal US invasion back in 2003, were recovered and put back in the Iraqi National Museum.
The US invasion in fact was an attempt to erase Iraq’s cultural identity as it paved the way for the systematic looting and destruction of countless ancient artifacts and manuscripts that were kept safe and untouched in Iraq for years.
To read between the lines, a few weeks before the US began the invasion and occupation of Iraq, American tanks surrounded the Iraqi Oil Ministry, the intelligence building, and also the Iraqi National Museum.
While the US military forces completely secured the oil and intelligence buildings with thousands of trained soldiers, the story for the National Museum, founded in 1924 in Baghdad’s Al-Alawi area, was all different and it was indeed left wide open with no guards, giving a green light to American antiquities traffickers to pillage and vandalize Iraq’s valuable and ancient items in the museum.
“The museum contains thousands of rare artifacts and manuscripts, but there are no official statistics on the number of antiquities stolen from the museum in 2003,” says antiquities expert Haider Farhan. Adding that “the US forces are directly and indirectly responsible for stealing the museum’s contents”.
US committed in Iraq the biggest artifact looting in the world
According to reports from the Iraqi government, between 2003 to 2017, more than 120,000 artifacts were plundered from Iraq, most of which was conducted by the US and later by the ISIS terrorist group. The latter in fact bears responsibility for stealing the possessions of the Mosul Museum in the north of the country back in 2014, when ISIS took over the area with force.
Noting that the Iraqi Manuscripts Department was able to “recover more than 23,000 artifacts within three years, 17,300 of which were recovered two years ago,” the director of the Department and spokesperson for the Ministry of Culture, Ahmed al-Alaywi, said in an interview with the Cradle this Tuesday that “the lootings of the Iraqi Museum did not take place by chance; but there were organized gangs, including individuals from neighboring Arab countries, who took advantage of the chaos, countries such as the UAE, and of course, Israel”.
“During the first days of the US invasion of Iraq,” al-Alaywi explained, American, Arab, and Israeli organized gangs stormed the museum while the American forces in the courtyard of the museum turned a blind eye”.
Also indicating that the looting continued for three days, the museum official said that “the vast majority of the stolen antiquities from Iraq fled to one of the Persian Gulf countries and then to the United States, and even to Israel”.
In August 2021, the Iraqi national museum said that under the mounting pressure from Iraq, the United States agreed to return more than 17,000 ancient artefacts to Iraq, including a 3,500-year-old clay tablet that bears part of the Epic of Gilgamesh”.
However, as there is no certain record of the whereabouts of thousands of other pieces of Iraq’s national heritage, the US should still expect criticism from the Iraqi government over the robbery that it did some 20 years ago.