Summary of “Picking up the Stolen Pieces of Iraq’s Cultural Heritage" by David Johnston
Questions have also been raised about the appropriate U.S. response to the proliferation of mosque bombings that began in 2003 and accelerated following the February 22, 2006 bombing of the Al-Askari Mosque and Shrine Complex in Samarra. The decision by adversaries to purposely target religious and cultural sites, and the potential for copy-cat destruction of cultural heritage sites as a mechanism to enflame opposing forces and demoralize the population at large — last seen during the campaign in the Balkans — became a factor in the Iraq campaign ... and a possibility that cannot be ignored in future situations no matter where they take place. Other observers have questioned the Coalition's decision to dig trenches and construct facilities such as helipads at sites such as Babylon, build enhanced runways near the ancient site Ur, and maintain large encampments at sites such as Kish rather than build those same facilities adjacent to, or away from, these sites. At Kish, U.S. forces reportedly refused Iraq officials demands to inspect the site and has rreportedly not responded to Iraq's formal demand to to leave.
The paper stresses the need for co-creation of heritage knowledge and a gender-sensitive human rights approach for the future of Iraq’s globally significant cultural heritage. The cultural heritage of Iraq, specifically its archaeological and historical heritage, is of major significance for understanding global-scale developments in human history, including some of the world’s earliest examples of farming villages, cities, writing, mathematics, empires and many other socio-cultural attributes of human societies (Foster and Foster ; Bahrani ).The involvement of scholars in the appraisal and marketisation of high-value artefacts such as cuneiform tablets has remained a contested practice since the First Gulf War (Brodie ).
Shortly after American forces entered Baghdad, American soldiers began attacking symbols of the Hussein dictatorship. Statutes of Hussein were leveled by tank fire and American soldiers and Iraqis joined forces in removing and destroying thousands of portraits and artifacts from the Hussein era. Arguably, these artistic representations of the Hussein regime did not rise to the level of internationally protected cultural property,182 and thus their destruction was permissible, if not laudable. However, the zealous destruction of these cultural objects surely reflects the symbolic importance of cultural property.
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