The National Museum of Iraq is empty. 7,000 years of Babylonian, Sumerian and Assyrian artifacts stolen. Nothing at all is left. The museum possessed tablets with Hammurabi’s Code–one of mankind’s earliest codes of law. Over a hundred thousand artifacts were stored in the museum among them a copper head of an Akkadian king, at least 4,300 years old. All are gone.
Experts doubt that more than few would ever be recovered. 4,000 objects disappeared during the 1991 war and only three or four were recovered. If thieves can’t find an immediate buyer they just trash it.
This is happening all over Iraq, widespread looting of public and international aid agency property. Even hospitals were looted of the little they possessed after 12 years of sanctions. It’s privatization with a vengeance. According to a Reuters report the Red Cross says that Baghdad’s medical system had all but collapsed due to combat damage, looting and fear of anarchy. In Baghdad there is neither electricity nor water (Robert Fisk, Independent, April 12)
The collapse of the central government would be terrible enough in any country, but in a country where most of the population depended on rations from the central government the situation could be catastrophic. The government provided virtually free a basket of basic foods and other necessaries to all who needed it. The “Oil for Food” program helped pay for it. Undoubtedly international food relief agencies will rush to do their best, but the numbers of people who die in the interim could be very large. Remember anti-sanctions activists estimated that several thousand died every month even at the height of the “Oil for Food”.
How many will die? You will never know. It’s not lot seeing hundreds of corpses in a ditch. The kids and the old die one by one of simple diseases and their families do the best they can to bury their remains. No one in the “Coalition of the Willing” will spend time trying to gather statistics. Instead their PR guys will pump out heartwarming stories of soldiers handing starving kids chocolate bars.
What about the oil, now that it’s all safe and secure? Colin Powell talks about its preservation for the benefit of the “Iraq people”. Don’t bet the store on that. On January 26 Faisal Islam and Nick Paton Walsh wrote in the Guardian(UK) that on question of what will happen to the oil, “The neo-conservatives plan a market structure based on bypassing the state-owned Iraqi National Oil Company and backing new free-market Iraqi companies. ” Who do you think is going win this “ideological” battle?
Of course, the United States government could never have expected all this looting, or could it? Just about ten years ago the government of Albania dissolved. Everything public was stolen. Even the very stones of public buildings were dragged off for private use.
Bush and Co. could have had enough military force ready whenever a city was taken to insure public safety, but undoubtedly didn’t want to burden the taxpayers with the expense. Why not do it more cheaply? Robert Fisk reports that “the Americans were recruiting Saddam Hussein’s hated former policemen to restore law and order on their behalf” Independent (UK) April 12.
With his usual gift for eloquence Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld characterized the collapse of public welfare for twenty million people as “untidiness”. (Washington Post, April 12)
STANLEY HELLER is editor of “The Struggle” and can be reached at mail@TheStruggle.org