Looted, destroyed, or damaged: UNESCO visits Iraqi cultural wealth
US forces invaded the country 20 years ago this month—and left behind looted, damaged, or destroyed artifacts.
The head of the United Nations Cultural Organization began a three-day visit to Iraq on Monday, where many irreplaceable cultural assets have been looted, damaged, or destroyed during the US occupation of the Middle Eastern countries, which was further exacerbated by ISIS attacks on the country.
Audrey Azoulay, the director-general of UNESCO, was scheduled to visit restoration sites and meet with top authorities, including Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani and President Abdel Latif Rachid.
Iraq's many Mesopotamian, Islamic, and Christian treasures, including six UNESCO World Heritage sites, have been looted directly out of the ground at archeological sites. In the majority of cases, their locations are unknown.
Concurrently, organized crime groups and ISIS have had their share in looting Iraqi artifacts most notably in the northern city of Mosul.
"This visit is dedicated to reconstruction in Iraq," said a spokesperson for the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization which funds several projects in Iraq.
UNESCO will examine how to help Iraq maintain its ancient heritage and put the spotlight back on its culture, the agency's spokesperson said, as quoted by AFP.
Azoulay will on Monday tour Iraq's national museum and the historic center of Baghdad, most notably the famed Al-Mutanabi streets, home to generations of booksellers.
What did the US occupation do to Iraq's Archeology?
Back in 2015, the Chicago Tribune reported that "American military soldiers, contractors, and others caught with culturally significant objects brought home from the conflict there are typically not prosecuted."
"It's unclear how many Americans brought artifacts home as souvenirs or war trophies, but one expert told the Tribune that the known cases—a defense contractor who brought back gold-plated items from Saddam's palaces; a U.S. employee who shipped home an Iraq government seal; and a Marine who bought eight ancient looted stone seals off the street—are just the "tiniest tip of the iceberg," it added.
US Army soldiers with gold bullions in Iraq, 2003— Ignorance, the root and stem of all evil (@ivan_8848) November 20, 2022
No WMDs but lots of gold pic.twitter.com/sOloJSgfpu
Tragically, the US-led occupation not only damaged Iraq's moveable artifacts but also harmed the archeological sites from which such items emerged.
Apart from stealing, some of the Iraqi antiques that remained in the country were severely damaged during the US invasion.
#American soldiers busy liberating Iraq reminds us of the liberation rioters of #Iran.— Hossein Sheykhian 🇮🇷 (@sheykhian_h) December 9, 2022
48 million dollars is the approximate expense of harm they have made in 70 days. pic.twitter.com/1IaM5m7Vw5
In short, US occupation forces ushered an era of instability that also led to the looting of the museum while ignoring appeals to safeguard the structure. At least 8,000 cultural artifacts are still missing, and that only includes pieces stolen from the museum. Thousands of other items were removed directly from the ground at archeological sites.
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