Wednesday | April 16, 2003
The Sack of Baghdad
Islamic Library Burned to the Ground
BAGHDAD, 15 April 2003 — So yesterday was the burning of books. First came the looters, then came the arsonists. It was the final chapter in the sack of Baghdad. The National Library and Archives — a priceless treasure of Ottoman historical documents including the old royal archives of Iraq — were turned to ashes in 3,000 degrees of heat. Then the Islamic Library of Qur’ans at the Ministry of Religious Endowment was set ablaze. I saw the looters.
One of them cursed me when I tried to reclaim a book of Islamic law from a boy who could have been no more than 10 years old. Amid the ashes of hundreds of years of Iraqi history, I found just one file blowing in the wind outside: Pages and pages of handwritten letters between the court of Sherif Hussein of Makkah — who started the Arab revolt against the Turks for Lawrence of Arabia — and the Ottoman rulers of Baghdad.
And the Americans did nothing. All over the filthy yard they blew, letters of recommendation to the courts of Arabia, demands for ammunition for Ottoman troops, reports on the theft of camels and attacks on pilgrims, all of them in delicate hand-written Arabic script. I was holding in my hands the last Baghdad vestiges of Iraq’s written history. But for Iraq, this is Year Zero; with the destruction of the antiquities in the Museum of Archaeology on Saturday and the burning of the National Archives and then the Qur’anic library of the ministry, the cultural identity of Iraq is being erased.
The more you read about the sack of Baghdad, and that is exactly what it was, the more outrageous the response of the Bush Administration has been.
This was Rush's justification for these crimes and our lack of response of them.
On Monday, I took calls about the Iraqi "looting." Note that this stuff happens in every nation - especially when certain cities win or lose championships. No one ever asks, "How did we let this happen?" If anything, the Iraqis have engaged in "targeted looting," taking back what the Baath Party and other Saddam thugs have stolen from them in the past three decades.
In response to this, I rolled Tim Russert's question about the looting of the Baghdad Museum. Russert asked Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, "How did we allow that museum to be looted?" Rumsfeld pounced on the premise of this question, which set Russert to stammering. I said, "I don't know what Russert's point was," and that brought in a flood of e-mails accusing me of losing my objectivity because I like Russert.
Not the case. It's just I know Russert wouldn't ask such a lame question, and I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt until I can e-mail him and find out what he meant exactly. Perhaps he was going to report that U.S. soldiers stood by while the looting happened. But can you imagine the reaction to a picture of a Marine arresting Iraqis? Besides, they're not there to "arrest" people. They're there to kill people and break things. I don't buy this "great treasures of Iraqi culture," anyway. Saddam ruined their culture. He drained the marshes in the south, turning the Garden of Eden into a wasteland. Besides, he had weapons in schools, hospitals and mosques. Who knows what he might've hidden in that museum.
It's also possible that the media simply seeks to find fault in anything the government does - that is, when Republicans are in power. (No one in the media grilled any Clinton administration officials about the at least 1 million Rwandans slaughtered with the question, "How did we let this happen?") Notice how no one in the press asked how we could let Saddam torture his people. As I told many of you e-mailers who objected to my statement that Iraq has no culture: it was looted and destroyed by Saddam these past 30 years. The ancient culture of Mesopotamia didn't have a chance under that monster. Only now will it rise again.
If George Bush advocated incest and married his twins, Rush would celebrate the wedding and commend the president on his choice of two beautiful women.
The problem with the right, not the pros, who have to be embarassed by this gross breach of both law and common sense, is that they see everything through the prism of politics. Oh, we're blaming Bush because he's a Republican and we don't get it, there was a war on.
You're watching a valuable part of the world's history burn to the ground feet from US troops who ate MRE's as they burned.
Rush doesn't get it. We have basically told Iraq that the only thing we value in their country is oil. Their heritage means nothing, their culture is irrelevant. The more I think about this, the more of a total disaster this is. We can't unburn the books. We can't unburn the history lost or the objects destroyed. Rush is trying to say there were weapons there?
He has to be kidding. Even if there were weapons there, not exactly in short supply in Iraq, the looters would have stolen them. They stole everything. If there were nukes there, they would be gone. The US didn't even check the buildings to see if they were being used as weapons depots. Although, Saddam actually used Iraqi history to bolster his status, and thus preserved them. Saddam himself could have been hiding there and he would have walked right out into the crowd because no one checked.
Rush's lame defense, we always blame Bush, isn't going to work here. This was a horrid mistake, one which will serve as a legacy to our history in Iraq. We had been warned, but because we did things on the cheap, the looters had their field day.
The magnitiude of this disaster, and it is one which every school child who studies the origins of civilization will come to realize, is growing by the day. And no matter what excuses Bush and his enablers offer up, it happened on his watch.
However, accountability is something Bush seems to be quite unfamiliar with. There is no surprise that he would seek to shift blame for this failure as well.