Alliance Marxist-Leninist Volume 1, Issue 4; April-May 2003
Museum Ravaged – USA Incites Looting
Who are the Barbarians? Ask the American Council on Cultural Policy (the ACCP). The celebrated Indian writer Arundhati Roy wrote these following words to open a condemnation of USA and UK imperialism:
“Mesopotamia. Babylon. The Tigris and Euphrates. How many children, in how many classrooms, over how many centuries, have hang-glided through the past, transported on the wings of these words? And now the bombs are falling, incinerating and humiliating that ancient civilization.” Arundhati Roy; "The Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire"; 4.11.03; http://inthesetimes.com/print.php?id=156_0_1_0
She could not have known how accurate she was to be. For she had stressed both the bomb damage, but also the humiliation. That humiliation came only to be too true, as the deliberate USA policy of humiliation of the peoples of Iraq, was made clear to the world. Before we write any more on this topic, we should be unequivocally clear that the abomination of this war lies primarily in the needless killing and endless suffering the Iraqis have endured in this shameless war of imperialist aggression. However – we must also state the view that destruction of national pride is a key part of imperialist designs - to reduce a peoples, to servility and to lose faith in their own powers. It is a strategy from time immemorial, and can be found in ancient texts.
But – what happened with the pillaging of the Baghdad museum? In the first place, yet another USA and UK state violation of the Geneva Convention has occurred:
“The Pentagon is culpable, says Ed Keall.. head of the Royal Ontario Museum’s Near Eastern and Asian Civilisations…. They were warned … and are in breach of the Geneva Convention, which state that invaders must protect the national heritage" Ray Conologue, "Fighting over the Spoils"; Globe and Mail, April 19, 2003, p.R1.
Long before the "War of Shame" actually occurred, the War-Mongers had been alerted already that the land of Iraq was home to some of the world’s most important heritage sites – it was after all, the land where the first recorded writing had taken place in history. Several USA based archaeologists had briefed the War-Mongers where these sites were – and that they would be subject to damage and potential looting. But nothing was done and on April 10th, the inevitable - happened:
"On Jan. 24 at the Pentagon, a small group of accomplished archeologists and art curators met with Joseph Collins, who reports directly to Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and four other Pentagon officials to talk about how the U.S. military could protect Iraq's cultural and archeological sites from damage and destruction during impending the war in that country. McGuire Gibson, a professor at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, gave the officials a list of 5,000 cultural and archeological sites. First on the list: the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad. Gibson recalls he talked to the group about the importance of safeguarding the museum from damage from bombs -- and from looting after the military conflict ended. "I pointed to the museum's location on a map of Baghdad and said: 'It's right here,'" he recalled in an interview. "I asked them to make assurances that they'd make efforts to prevent looting and they said they would. I thought we had assurances, but they didn't pan out." On April 10, a day after the Saddam Hussein's regime collapsed and Baghdad was in the hands of the U.S. military forces, the National Museum of Iraq was ransacked. And American troops did virtually nothing to prevent an historic cultural disaster. "
L. Witt, "The End of Civilization. The Sacking of Iraq's Museums Is Like a 'Lobotomy' of an Entire Culture, Say Art Experts. And They Warned the Pentagon Repeatedly of This Potential Catastrophe Months Before the War," in Salon.com, April 17, 2003:
On April 5th, a briefing in Kuwait of the assembled embedded "in-bed-with-the-military-fascists" journalists were told by US Major Christopher Varhola that: "The USA military would protect Iraq’s museums from looting, in particular the National Museum of Baghdad". Ray Conologue, Ibid; p.11.
And what has happened? A whole priceless museum of culture has been pillaged. The scene must be almost indescribable, yet Robert Fisk does a fine job:
"They lie across the floor in tens of thousands of pieces, the priceless antiquities of Iraq's history. The looters had gone from shelf to shelf, systematically pulling down the statues and pots and amphorae of the Assyrians and the Babylonians, the Sumerians, the Medes, the Persians and the Greeks and hurling them on to the concrete. Our feet crunched on the wreckage of 5,000-year-old marble plinths and stone statuary and pots that had endured every siege of Baghdad, every invasion of Iraq throughout history - only to be destroyed when America came to "liberate" the city…….. No one knows what happened to the Assyrian reliefs from the royal palace of Khorsabad, nor the 5,000-year-old seals nor the 4,500-year-old gold leaf earrings once buried with Sumerian princesses."
Fisk, Robert: "A civilisation torn to pieces", The Independent, 13 April 2003; http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/story.jsp?story=396743
Fisk also recalls the people associated to the museum, like the Director of State Board of Antiquity:
"Only a few weeks ago, Jabir Khalil Ibrahim, the director of Iraq's State Board of Antiquities, referred to the museum's contents as "the heritage of the nation". They were, he said, "not just things to see and enjoy - we get strength from them to look to the future. They represent the glory of Iraq". Mr. Ibrahim has vanished, like so many government employees in Baghdad, and Mr. Abdul-Jaber and his colleagues are now trying to defend what is left of the country's history with a collection of Kalashnikov rifles. "We don't want to have guns, but everyone must have them now," he told me. "We have to defend ourselves because the Americans have let this happen. They made a war against one man - so why do they abandon us to this war and these criminals?"
Fisk, Robert: "A civilisation torn to pieces", Ibid.
Although Fisk is not a communist, he is a rare commodity – an honest journalist working for the "Western press" in the Middle East. It is therefore sad to see his incorrect assertion that: "The Iraqis did it. They did it to their own history, physically destroying the evidence of their own nation's thousands of years of civilization." Fisk, Ibid.
Fisk is quite wrong in this assessment. We can be so categorical because it is clearly emerging that the USA ruling classes had decided to wreak havoc on the culture of the country – no doubt hoping to destroy its potential to build an anti-imperialist movement. Destroy the pride of a people and you have destroyed its will to live – as a nation. But, more than one imperialist power has found to its cost that this does not happen.
Could it have been Prevented?
The tone and content of many of the Western media reports, has been that the looting taking place in Iraq is a spontaneous reaction to the poverty and deprivation of the Saddam Hussein years. However this benign view, is in sharp contradiction to both objective reports, and to some obvious facts.
For instance, the enormous military presence and fire-power of the USA and the UK in the cities was simply not deployed as a guard and protection for key sites – hospitals, water and electric utilities, markets, etc. Leave aside the museum, where it is also clear that the USA army refused to intervene to protect the cultural heritage of museums and repositories of ancient manuscripts in the libraries. It seems obvious that if they could protect the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Oil, that it was purely for their own strategic reasons that they have allowed the looting to proceed unabated. As Irwin Finkel, curator at the British Museum says:
"Anybody with any intelligence would have posted guards. It’s too obvious for words".
Globe & Mail; 19 April, 2003; p. R1.
All this puts the Rumsfeld comments that the looting has "been exaggerated", and "freedom is messy" – into a perspective of deliberate and wanton destruction of the Iraqi dignity, human rights, and cultural heritage. We will try to answer the critical question: "Why?" shortly.
The following eye-witness account, tells a very different story from the slavish American media. It comes from a Swedish paper, which reports the comments of Mr.Khaled Baroumi, a student in Sweden who went home to Iraq on a humanitarian mission:
"Khaled Bayomi looks a bit surprised when he looks at the American officer on TV regret that they don't have any resources to stop the looting in Baghdad. "I happened to be there just as the US forces told people to commence looting. … I had visited a few friends that live in a worn-down area just beyond the Haifa Avenue, on the west bank of the Tigris River. It was April 8 and the fighting was so heavy I couldn't make it over to the other side of the river. On the afternoon it became perfectly quit, and four American tanks pulled up in position on the outskirts of the slum area. From these tanks we heard anxious calls in Arabic, which told the population to come closer. During the morning everybody that tried to cross the streets had been fired upon. But during this strange silence people eventually became curious. After three-quarters of an hour the first Baghdad citizens dared to come forward. At that moment the US solders shot two Sudanese guards, who were posted in front of a local administrative building, on the other side of the Haifa Avenue. I was just 300 meters away when the guards where murdered. Then they shot the building entrance to pieces, and their Arabic translators in the tanks told people to run for grabs inside the building. Rumours spread rapidly and the house was cleaned out. Moments later tanks broke down the doors to the Justice Department, residing in the neighbouring building, and the looting was carried on to there. I was standing in a big crowd of civilians that saw all this together with me. They did not take any part in the looting, but were to afraid to take any action against it. Many of them had tears of shame in their eyes. The next morning looting spread to the Museum of Modern Art, which lies another 500 meters to the north. There was also two crowds in place, one that was looting and another one that disgracefully saw it happen."
Question: ‘Do you mean to say that it was the US troops that initiated the looting?’
Answer: "Absolutely. The lack of scenes of joy had the US forces in need of images on Iraqi's who in different ways demonstrated their disgust with Saddam's regime."
Question: "But people in Baghdad tore down a big statue of Saddam?"
Answer: "They did? It was a US tank that did this, close to the hotel where all the journalists live. Until noon on the 9th of April, I didn't see a single torn picture of Saddam anywhere. If people had wanted to turn over statues they could have gone for some of the many smaller ones, without the help of an American tank. Had this been a political uproar then people would have turned over statues first and looted afterwards."
"US FORCES ENCOURAGE LOOTING", By Ole Rothenborg Sweden's largest circulation daily, Dagens Nyheter, Friday, April 11, 2003 http://www.dn.se/DNet/jsp/polopoly.jsp?d=1435&a=129852&previousRenderType=1
What Materially was Lost?
There were 170,000 separate objects, These ranged form skeletal remains of Neanderthal man (45,000 years ago); to alabaster figures from Tell Es-Sawwan (6th Millenium); painted pottery from Eridu (4000 BC); impressive early Islamic manuscripts and handcarts form the Abbasid, Seljuk, Ottoman eras; more than 3,000 tablets of inscribed clay on mathematics, literature, administration and legal tables; a Sumerian bison headed harp in gold and precious stones, the so-called Mona Lisa of Nimrud (750 BC); gigantic statues of ancient times, etc.
The illustrations we show, are detailed in a very comprehensive (although in black & white) web-site, that we recommend at: Of TheArtNewspaper.com – which can be found at: http://www.theartnewspaper.com/iraqmus/index.html
TheArtNewspaper says this:
"All the illustrations are from the only detailed catalogue of the museum, Treasures of the Iraq Museum by Dr Faraj Basmachi, published in Baghdad in 1975/6. Nevertheless, the images in the Treasures of the Iraq Museum represent many of the most important objects from the collection, which numbers some 170,000 pieces."
Why Did The USA and the UK "close its eyes?”
The primary reason is undoubtedly imperialist arrogance, with its goal to degrade the pride of the Iraqi peoples. But a close second reason, is that old answer to so many questions concerning the historical "Whys" concerning imperialism? Avarice.
The American Council on Cultural Policy (the ACCP) has openly stated it wants the right to obtain these Iraqi treasures by import legally:
"It would satisfy the hunger for this material" ACCP President Ashton Hawkins, former general counsel for the Metropolitan Museum in New York. (p.R11 Globe and Mail 13 April); and another member of the ACCP - Professor John Merryman of Stanford says: "The best solution was to prevent the museum being plundered.. But now that’s happened, and it was predictable, there is a possibility of picking up the pieces".
(Ray Conologue Ibid).
The New York Metropolitan has long been vexed at the British Museum’s collection of Iraqi treasures pillaged by the British archeologists such as Leonard Wooley. Ironically, an older vintage British adventurer-imperialist – Gertrude Bell was kinder to Iraqi and Arab views. She is credited with founding the National Museum, and passing an export ban on treasures. It is a ban that apparently, the New York Met has chafed about.
Eleanor Robson, a cuneiform expert at Oxford University Museum also refers to the "hidden agenda" of the ACCP:
"If you are interested in Biblical history, you will find that most of the written Biblical record comes not form Israel, but form Iraq. So people are really interested in this material. Sadly, they don’t see it as belonging to the Iraqi nation".
Ray Conologue, Ibid.
She points out that the ACCP has many members who belong to the right-wing fundamentalist Christian agenda, saying:
"they think the objects belong to them because they’re connected with the Biblical past. Such attitudes, "are not mainstream in Europe, but in America they influence the government".
Ray Conologue, Ibid.
It seems inescapable that the imperialists have justified their historic designation as Robber Barons. Most probably some items were "commissioned" by rich art connoisseurs. It is significant for example, that certain key items were looted. Duplicates were simply ignored, and the "looters-professional thieves" opened museum vaults with keys, and used glass cutters with great skill.
Undoubtedly, in the short term UNESCO will not succeed in its stated goals, of preventing these treasures from being spirited to the West. In the long term, this will not crush the Iraqi [peoples quest for national liberation. The working classes of a future Marxist-Leninist governments in the West, will have to confront the legacies of cultural pillaging.
Iraqi War – Virtually Inevitable
In its continuing aggression against the peoples of Iraq, the USA is only following the imperialist dictum "Eat or be eaten". That war is a virtual inevitability – is not just the opinion of those whose information is limited to the bourgeois press, but is also the opinion of policy-makers. Richard Perle, Chairman of the Defence Advisory Board said to the NYT that war was inevitable – if only to ‘save face’ of the President:
"The failure to take on Saddam after what the President said would produce such a collapse of confidence in the president that he would set back the war on terrorism";
Cited Rivers Pitt W: "War on Iraq – What Team Bush Doesn’t Want you To Know"; Context books, New York 2002; p.8 (www.ww_on_iraq.com).
If this analysis was true in August 2002, it is even more so now in January 2003 since:
1) Donald Rumsfeld is now revealed as a key arms merchant of the USA who bestowed despicable weaponry on Saddam in the beginning;
2) The USA has impounded and potentially sanitised the list of weapons that was sent by the Iraqi Government to the UN in response to demands;
3) The US & the UN have intimidated Hans Blix of the U.N. Arms Inspectorate, into "appealing" for the "aid" of the USA and British governments to obtain information to help "assist’" in the detection of "Weapons of Mass Destruction".
It looks increasingly inevitable that the question is not "Whether"? But "When"? It is necessary to ask why is war virtually inevitable? We suggest that for those who retain some degree of skepticism about the USA and UN "honour", the following is convincing. The short answer to the question is two-fold: The declining power of the USA economy; and the strategic importance of the geographical arena of the Middle East. The link between these two factors is of course, oil.
1) Declining Power of the USA Economy.
Over the last 2 years several chickens have come home to roost in the American economy. Firstly, the collapse of the markets - the greatest "bubble" ever - has led to three successive falls in as many years in the international exchanges such as the Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) or the Dow Jones etc.
"Cumulative losses of the FTSE World Index since the start of the 2002 after the bursting of the technology media and telecoms bubble, total 43%";
(31.12.2002 Financial Times, London UK, p.1).
This was the worst 3-year period since the Great Depression years – when in 1929-31 world markets fell 58.5%. These figures that have so depressed the capitalist profits are world wide. This had long been predicted. At the end of 1996, Federal reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan had already:
"Famously questioned whether ‘irrational exuberance’ was inflating share values";
Wall St Journal 31.12.2002-1.1.2003; p.M1) .
In addition the value of the US dollar has begun to slide dramatically. We pointed out in 1993, that the US $ was ‘set high’ by US imperialists in order to ‘recruit’ the world’s money reserves (See Alliance 3). However, with the systemic problems of the US economy, the dollar has been falling since the mid-90’s, with a corresponding "investor flight" from the US dollar.
The conclusion is inescapable: The USA economy is in deep trouble.
Even in its "own backyard" of South America, the USA has faced recent challenges to its hegemony has been a minor set-back. As the bourgeois nationalists - in Ecuador (Lucio Gutierrez), Venezuela (Hugo Chavez), Brazil (Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva), lead challenges to the USA, they have not only are rattled the OPEC sword, but also have obstructed a Free Trade Agreement for the "Americas". For example Lula's "price" is dropping of trade barriers against citrus fruits and juices (WSJ "Latin Issues Put Bush on Tightrope"; By Michael M. Phillips; p. A3; WSJ 31.12.2002-1.1.2003). However the American Sugar Alliance and the Florida Citrus Mutual (representing some 11,5000 citrus growers in Florida alone) are hardly likely to easily allow this. So in South America, the USA has some current difficulties.
Even more so, must the USA now urgently suppress other areas of drift away from its hegemony. The Middle East is the Gateway to another large market and raw resources region. It has already been the focus for European interests in the past. The USA cannot afford it slip from under its thumb as well.
3) The Oil Link
If the USA cannot in effect control the money markets as well as they did (see the falling $); nor can they effectively control world industrial production (witness the need to erect Steel Tariff barriers in 2002); - then as much as it can, it will try to control a key raw material – Oil.
Oil is still the major lubricant that keeps industrial wheels spinning. In the last decade the USA has launched 4 major wars to ensure its’ domination over this raw material: 1991 Desert Storm, 1993 Desert Storm pt 2; 1998 Kosova; 2002 Afghanistan. Naturally all these wars had camouflaged motives, the most recent being the "War Against Terror". In various articles we have shown the underlying links to oil. The two parts of Desert Storm are self-evident. The links of the Kosovan war and the Afghanistan war are via the new oil pipelines from Central Asia across to the Balkans.
Why have we used the term "virtually inevitable" – rather than "inevitable"? Because there are two major unknowns. Firstly there is the inter-imperialist rivalry between Europe and the USA. Of the three largest power-brokers in the EU – apart from the toadyism of Blair’s government in Britain, the governments of both France and Germany are quite unwilling to allow the USA total sway. To what extent they will be able to stop the drive to total Middle Eastern domination of the USA – remains unclear.
The second factor of importance is the ability of the progressives and the representatives of the working class and toilers of the world to counter the barrage of imperialist propaganda sprayed over the world. To this end a United Front of all progressives MUST be formed. There are indications that this is happening. When in 2002 we put out a general alert asking for a Marxist-Leninist United Front – it led to little response. But the class and peoples are in reality ahead of the small sects and groupings. This is evidenced by such movements as in autumn Florence 2002. But – it remains the case that without a determined Marxist-Leninist vanguard, these movements will inevitably lead – at best – short term solutions only. In the interim, we believe Marxist-Leninists should participate actively in the current anti-imperialist movements.
STOP WAR AGAINST IRAQI PEOPLE! DOWN WITH USA IMPERIALISM!
Sanctions are killing Iraqi children!
By Tom Wakely
As London gears up for what is likely to be one of the largest demonstrations the capital has ever seen with more than half a million people voicing their opposition to war on Iraq this weekend (15th February), opinion polls now show that the majority of those questioned believe the USA is the major threat to world peace. There remains widespread scepticism about government claims that Iraq represents an imminent threat to Britain, that Iraq and al Qaeda are hand in glove, or that there is concrete proof of hidden weapons of mass destruction. On top of that comes the crisis in NATO with the French and German imperialists refusing to fall in behind American policy.
What better time to suggest a “September 11th” type attack is about to hit London and put 1500 troops and anti-terrorist police on display at Heathrow airport?
Meanwhile, the suffering of innocent civilians as a result of Western sanctions within Iraq goes on as usual, and as always it is the most vulnerable who pay the heaviest price. Sanctions were imposed on Iraq in 1990, since which time infant mortality has gone up fivefold. The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation concluded that by 1995 deaths of more than 560 000 children could be attributed to sanctions. Increasing mortality rates relate directly to economic collapse, plummeting wages, soaring food prices, poor sanitation, lack of safe water, and inadequate provision of health care.
The rate of low birth weight babies (infants born malnourished) has increased from 9% in the 1980’s to 21% in 1994. A survey in 1995 of children in Baghdad found almost a third were stunted, that is to say much shorter than would expected meaning prolonged malnutrition. Nutritional disorders among children including night blindness from vitamin A deficiency, rickets and thyroid disease have all increased as has diarrheal disease, with a 60% increase in typhoid and 500% increase in cholera cases.
Since the Gulf war a threefold increase in childhood leukemia (cancer of the bone marrow) has been seen in southern provinces. The World Health Organisation has linked this to products (now incorporated into the food chain) that were derived from depleted uranium used in armour piercing shells. UN sanctions also prevented the import of cancer treatment drugs, and more than half of all diagnostic and therapeutic hospital equipment has ceased to work because of lack of spare parts. Iraqi doctors wishing to go abroad to learn from scientific research meetings face travel restrictions such as denial of visas to European countries or the USA, and the delivery of the main medical journals containing up to date medical information ceased in 1990.
When the leaders of the imperialist nations claim to have the welfare of ordinary Iraqis to heart, we can see that their actions belie their words. War is fought for economic reasons however much propagandists exert themselves to dress the wolf in sheepskin.