Wednesday, April 16, 2003
When news broke of the looting of the Iraq National Museum, I recalled reading about a group of conservative US business types with shady interests in antiquities gathering in Rome and in discussion with the US over Iraq's "retentionist antiquities policy". I hadn't saved a link, could not recall further details and so did not mention the story in this space.
5,000 year old Uruk Vase, detail
Thanks to Cursor a link to pfaffenBlog who has the most detailed information I've seen about the Iraq Museum. Bryan Pfaffenberger of the University of Virginia says:
The team of concerned U.S. scholars wasn't the only group to make contact with the Pentagon about Iraq's antiquities. A group of art traders, calling itself the American Council for Cultural Policy (ACCP), recently met with Defense Department officials. Scholars fear that the meeting "was an attempt by the influential dealers to ease restrictions on Iraq's antiquities laws. The group's treasurer has called current policies 'retentionist,' and favors the export and sale of some of the world's oldest treasures to the US." According to German antiquities expert named Sonja Zekri, the ACCP's goal is to " loosen up the Iraqi antiquities laws under an American-controlled postwar regime.... In short, it's the legalized plundering of Mesopotamian culture by Americans after US bombs have already destroyed the land, and US companies have profited from reconstruction."
Most archaeologists would be alarmed if this group were involved in the post-war supervision of Iraqi antiquities. According to Liam McDougall, an arts columnist for the Sunday Herald, "among its main members are collectors and lawyers with chequered histories in collecting valuable artefacts, including alleged exhibitions of Nazi loot."
CNN has reported the Iraq Museum thieves displayed some expertise by avoiding replicas of exhibits on loan to other museums and taking only actual antiquities. CNN also reported Museum officials finding high quality foreign made glass cutters left in the debris on the museum floor.