After nearly a decade in Iraq, the final U.S. soldiers departed for home this month. But what of the thousands of priceless Iraqi antiquities that are still missing?
The exodus of troops marks the official end of the bloody war that began with the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime. It also marks the turn of the page to a new era for Iraq and a self-determined future. But there is an opportunity to remember also the post-invasion looting that robbed the Iraq people (not to mention history itself) of precious links to the past that may never be recovered.
In the chaotic days that followed the U.S. arrival in Iraq, tens of thousands of artifacts – some up to 7,000 years-old – were stolen from their locations at the National Museum of Iraq and many other places around the country. Fortunately, most of those treasures were eventually returned after showing up in America, Europe and other countries. Some were returned to the museum from within Iraq, having never left the country.
You may say, “Well, that’s most of them. Be thankful for what you were able to recover.” And there is truth to that statement. Everyone should be grateful that these items were returned to their proper keepers. But keep in mind, the still-missing treasures cannot be replaced. We’re not talking about penny stocks. These important items represent links to the very origins of man.
Modern-day Iraq comprises the fabled “Cradle of Civilization” that was home to Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian, Babylonian and Islamic cultures that date back 7,000 years. How do you put a price tag on glass, pottery, metal, ivory and parchment items that have survived that long? How do you resolve the loss of objects that link us directly to our ancient origins? In both cases, you can’t.
Antiquities are held in the public trust for preservation for all generations present and future. They are valuable beyond the limits of currency in ways that have expansive intrinsic value, but that should be shared by all.
Looters violated the rights of every Iraqi man, woman and child when they stole national treasures for personal gain. With the end of that lawless era, and hopefully the bloodshed that marked much of the extent of the American occupation, there is still hope that Iraq’s missing antiquities will be found and returned to their rightful resting places.