Subject: Priorities don't include culture, history or saving lives
DOUGLAS JEHL and ELIZABETH BECKER
WASHINGTON, April 15 The plunder last week of Iraq's national museum, one of the Middle East's most important archaeological repositories, occurred despite repeated requests to the Pentagon by experts and scholars that the site be protected when American troops entered Baghdad.
A senior Pentagon official said the military had never promised that the buildings would be safeguarded.
"We could never guarantee ahead of time the safety of a single building," said Dr. Joseph Collins, a deputy assistant secretary of defense for humanitarian and peacekeeping operations.
But experts, including McGuire Gibson, a professor at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, said they believed that the military had understood the need to protect the buildings against looting as well as bombing.
"I thought we had understandings," Dr. Gibson said today as he prepared to leave for a meeting of antiquities experts in Paris called by Unesco to assess the damage from the museum's destruction. "I didn't expect that we would stand by and let them loot the museum and burn the ministries."
The experts met with Pentagon officials as early as January to warn that the impending war could pose grave risks to Iraq's archaeological treasures. They renewed the warnings in e-mail messages in the days before the American attack on Baghdad began, some of the experts said today.
Representatives of the American Council for Cultural Policy, a New York-based group of museum officials and prominent art collectors, also met with Defense and State Department officials in the months before the war, and said they were encouraged by the meetings.
At the Pentagon, defense officials said that the museum had in fact been put on the American military's no-target list in response to the scholars' warnings, and that the military had refrained from bombing it.
But in an e-mail message, Mr. Collins said that "in no case" had his office instructed military commanders to provide protection for the museum or library.
"We leave such decisions to commanders on the scene," he said.
In interviews, the experts said their warnings had addressed the dangers posed by looting as well as by aerial attack.
Dr. Gibson, a leading expert on Iraqi antiquities, said he met in January with Mr. Collins, whose office was responsible for helping determine which sites could not be bombed.
But Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Pentagon briefing today that the protection of the museum had been assigned less importance than the combat operations that were continuing sporadically in Baghdad last Thursday and Friday while the museum was being looted.
"It's as much as anything else a matter of priorities," General Myers said when asked whether the military had made a mistake in failing to defend the museum.
In other parts of Iraq, American forces followed the military's plan to to secure oil wells, dams and other critical sites ahead of the troops' main advance, and in Baghdad they secured at least the oil ministry and kept looters at bay.
But they did not try to guard the National Museum either before or during most of the two days after Iraq's own security apparatus collapsed, defense officials acknowledged today. In interviews in Baghdad, museum officials said American troops came only once for a half- hour at midday on Thursday.
In the absence of any security presence, the looters exacted what experts believe was a heavy toll on the museum and its collection, stored in 28 galleries and vaults, including the loss of perhaps 50,000 irreplaceable artifacts and the burning of museum records.
"You'd have to go back centuries, to the Mongol invasion of Baghdad in 1258, to find looting on this scale," said Eleanor Robson, a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, and a council member of the British School of Archeology in Iraq, a semiofficial scholarly institution.
British scholars asked Prime Minister Tony Blair as early as last December to protect Iraq's museums and historical sites against looting and destruction. In particular, the scholars were worried by the precedent set following the gulf war in 1991, when 9 of Iraq's 13 regional museums were ransacked and their treasures were sold on the international art market.
They said they suspected that professional thieves were behind the looting of Baghdad's museum and library.
Archaeological officials in Baghdad took reporters through the museum today and pointed to what they said was clear evidence of professionalism on the part of some looters: the use of glass cutters, the bypassing of reproductions in favor of valuable originals and the carting off of major pieces weighing hundreds of pounds.
Dr. Gibson said he and other experts issued warnings in two meetings at the Pentagon in January and February.
"Maybe I just wasn't talking to people high enough in the organization," he said.
"I got nothing in writing," he acknowledged.
At the Pentagon today, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld defended the military's approach.
"To try to pass off the fact of that unfortunate activity to a deficit in the war plan strikes me as a stretch," Mr. Rumsfeld told a reporter who asked whether the looting of the museum reflected a military mistake.
Pentagon officials said today that the military was working closely with scholars at the University of Chicago and other institutions to identify missing pieces and to provide photographs of them to American troops. The hope is that forces now guarding Iraq's borders might be able to intercept at least some of the looted items before they are smuggled out.
Less publicized is the damage to Iraq's main library, the House of Wisdom, the repository of the country's historical archives, said Charles Tripp, a professor of Middle East politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.
"This is really a terrible thing for Iraq," he said. "One of the problems has been establishing an identity, a place in history and in the future. If you lose those documents you are subject to remolding of history which will be extremely dangerous."
While war and looting are synonymous, few scholars could remember such a spectacular loss in recent times. When Vietnam invaded Cambodia and overthrew Pol Pot in January 1979, there was virtually no looting of ancient Khmer art or manuscripts. During World War II, the Allies changed their military strategy to avoid fighting inside Florence, Italy.
Langdon Warner, a Harvard archaeologist, is a hero in Japan for persuading the Air Force to spare the ancient cities of Nara and Kyoto from firebomb raids that laid waste to other major Japanese cities in 1945. No such solicitude was shown for Berlin or Dresden.
Relief Groups, Bush Administration
at Odds on Iraq Aid
By WILLIAM BOLE c. 2003 Religion News Service
(RNS) In a sign of sharpening differences between the Bush
administration and international aid organizations, several leading
religious agencies say they will refuse to take part in relief operations in
Iraq if the efforts fall under control of the U.S. military.
The administration has put the Pentagon in charge of the humanitarian
campaign in post-conflict Iraq. However, private aid groups would like to
see the United Nations coordinate the delivery of aid, as it has in the
aftermath of past conflicts.
The United States is departing from the tradition of letting civilian
authorities manage relief efforts as soon as the fighting stops, said Rick
Augsburger, who directs emergency programs for Church World Service, based
in New York.
"This flies in the face of humanitarian principles, and the humanitarian
code of conduct," said Augsburger, whose agency represents 36 Protestant,
Orthodox, and Anglican communions with 50 million members in the United
States. "As an organization, we would not allow our efforts to come under
direction of the U.S. military."
The administration's plans have triggered opposition by a broad range of
aid groups, including the evangelical Protestant agency, World Vision. Now,
some humanitarian organizations are taking the further step of saying they
will not take part in any aid deliveries managed by the military.
It is unclear what impact this stance will have on the overall
humanitarian effort in post-conflict Iraq. For example, Church World Service
believes it might be able to deliver aid through channels independent of the
military, as long as the military does not keep an airtight grip on aid
The agency has shipped $3.8 million of aid, primarily medical supplies,
to Iraq over the past 12 years. That it would be ready to boycott the U.S.
aid plan for Iraq is one sign of a growing divide between the administration
and humanitarian assistance groups.
Relief officials say the military is less able or inclined to make sure
that aid gets into the hands of Iraqis most in need.
They point to recent chaotic scenes of relief distributions in southern
Iraq. There, American soldiers hurled provisions off trucks while firing
shots in the air to keep order.
Relief officials say the aid wound up going to the swiftest and
strongest, not necessarily those who were most in need. And that goes
directly against the mission of humanitarian agencies, especially
faith-based agencies, according to the officials.
"Our theology directs us to provide assistance to those who are most
vulnerable, from a perspective of unconditionality," said Augsburger.
He said there is no indication that the Pentagon has conducted such an
assessment of humanitarian needs in Iraq.
They also fear that military coordination will remove the shield of
neutrality aid workers need in order to move safely around the country.
"This makes things very complicated for us, because we don't want to be
seen as part of the war machine. We don't want to be seen as simply an
extension of the military effort," said Nazare Albuquerque, an expert on
post-conflict emergency relief with Catholic Relief Services. The
international agency is sponsored by the U.S. bishops and based in
"We've always had good relations with the military, but we believe the
military should do what it's good at, which is creating and ensuring a safe
environment for the humanitarian agencies to work in. And it should let us
do what we're good at," Albuquerque said.
Yet, while opposing the administration's relief plans, Catholic Relief
Services is signaling it will participate nonetheless. For one thing, the
Catholic agency plans to seek funding from the United States for its relief
work in Iraq, while Church World Service says it will not use government
"We're not saying we're not going to cooperate. But how we do it is a
question," said Albuquerque. "It's difficult to operate in these
circumstances, but at the end of the day, what matters is the good of
people. We need to help people."
Some other religious relief agencies are less willing to work under the
"Absolutely not," said Janis Shields, a spokeswoman for the American
Friends Service Committee, when asked if the Philadelphia-based Quaker
agency would go along with the U.S. plan. "The blurring of lines between the
military and humanitarian work is dangerous. It's dangerous to relief
"I don't believe so," said Jonathan Frerichs of Baltimore-based Lutheran
World Relief, when asked the same question. He said the organization works
mainly through local Christian aid associations in Iraq and Jordan that
would likely resist taking orders from the American military.
"It's not an adversarial position. It's just a matter of respecting the
division of labor that makes it possible to do the job on both ends," he
said, explaining that the United Nations has a successful track record of
coordinating emergency relief campaigns.
Even World Vision, which is considered more conservative or politically
neutral than some other major agencies, is unsure about its relief role in
"The military is not trained to do this, and we're concerned about the
safety of our staff, that they'll be potential targets," said Bruce
Wilkinson, a senior vice president of the organization based in Tacoma,
Asked if World Vision might opt out of the aid campaign in Iraq, he
replied, "That possibility exists, yes."
Still, there is much uncertainty about the administration's position
regarding the relief campaign in Iraq.
President Bush has said coalition forces intend to give the United
Nations an important role, but he placed the humanitarian effort under the
command of the Pentagon's newly established Office of Reconstruction and
Humanitarian Assistance for Iraq.
At a press briefing in late March, Andrew Natsios, director of the U.S.
Agency for International Development, said the United Nations will "clearly
have a role, and the question is what the role will be."
Some relief officials are quick to say that in certain circumstances,
the military has not only a right but also an obligation to handle the
"If the military is the only one on the scene, it has to be in charge.
They have to do it, if the bullets are still flying," said Frerichs of
Lutheran World Relief. "But there's a switchover point. Once public order is
restored, it's time to hand it over to those with the expertise and
competence, those who can do the job without seeming to be on one side or
Chronicle of Philanthropy, April 10, 2003
groups say security and profiteering cause problems
By Stephen G. Greene
Security concerns and alleged profiteering are complicating the work of charities providing humanitarian aid in or near Iraq, even as more of them begin to appeal for greater support from donors to help people harmed by the war.
For some groups, simply getting relief supplies to the region has proved challenging. Cargo planes are in short supply, since the Pentagon has hired many private air carriers to help transport military supplies to the Middle East. As a result, some airlines have been quoting prices much higher than normal for renting the few planes they have available.
Airlines previously had often been willing to rent a cargo plane to charities for just the cost of fuel and flight crew -- about $80,000 between the West Coast and the Middle East, says Richard M. Walden, president of Operation USA, in Los Angeles. Even if relief groups were unable to rent a plane at cost, the commercial price for a Boeing 747 jumbo-jet flight was normally around $300,000, he says.
But since hostilities broke out in Iraq, some American airlines have been quoting prices of as much as $500,000 to rent even smaller planes like DC-8s or DC-10s to nongovernmental organizations. Mr. Walden adds that, after complaining to the Pentagon about such inflated prices, he was able to get a quote of $120,000 from Royal Jordanian Airlines to fly an Airbus from New York to Jordan. But the high cost of air travel had already prompted his group to send its most recent shipment of medical supplies by sea, which will delay its arrival by about a month.
Profiteering may be occurring among other companies, too. One pharmaceutical corporation that normally donates products to humanitarian groups like Operation USA has suspended those donations until it learns whether the U.S. government will purchase its products at full cost for use in relief work, Mr. Walden said. Referring to reports of the billions of federal dollars expected to be spent on relief in Iraq, he added: "With all those money figures floating around, it looks like NGOs are going to get frozen out completely of the American market."
Even in the face of mounting needs among Iraqi civilians for water, medical care, and other emergency support, many aid groups have been slow to rush in to help them because of security concerns. Indeed, Doctors Without Borders, which had had a six-member medical and surgical team working in a Baghdad hospital, pulled the remaining four members out of the country after two others went missing this month. Groups fear that their workers might be exposed to attacks even after coalition troops control much of Iraq.
"We have suspended all operations while we work to secure their safe and speedy release," said Chris Torguson, a spokeswoman at the charity's office in New York. "The security situation is making it very difficult for groups like ours to work there."
What's more, added Mr. Walden, anti-American feelings fanned by the war in Iraq have complicated relief and development work in other quarters of the globe as well. Television shots of coalition soldiers distributing relief supplies tend to reinforce suspicions in many parts of the world that American relief workers are closely allied with, or even agents of, the U.S. government.
"They're making it damn near impossible for Americans to work in the southern Philippines, in the Muslim parts of India, in northern Nigeria, in Indonesia, in much of Saharan Africa, and in all of the Arab countries," Mr. Walden said, "because they've obliterated the line between military and civilian relief."
He added that even his organization's name, Operation USA, emblazoned on its aid shipments, has become a liability in some places. "It's an unfortunate time to be American," he said. "I can't wear our T-shirt anywhere. It has become very dangerous for us to do our work in an atmosphere that has become as hostile as it has."
Aid continues to flow into the Middle East, however, and some charities have become more aggressive about raising money for their work there.
Oxfam America, for example, has raised about $900,000 so far for Iraq.
About $120,000 has come through the mail, and the remainder has been donated online in response both to an appeal on Oxfam's own Web site and to an e-mail request sent by MoveOn.org, an organization that promotes grass-roots activism.
Catholic Relief Services to date has raised more than $230,000 for programs conducted by its partner, Caritas Iraq, which intends to help Iraqis displaced from their homes by offering food, water containers, bedding, stoves, fuel, and other emergency supplies.
The group says it hopes to raise $8.3-million to assist some 260,000 Iraqis who it expects will be displaced from their homes in the next several months.
Save the Children, which is planning to offer a similar array of services in four southern provinces of Iraq, raised about $20,000 for its Iraq Children in Crisis Fund during the first week it was promoted on the charity's Web site. But that organization, like many others, was planning to hold off on a major fund-raising campaign until the dimensions of the humanitarian emergency became clearer. Eventually, it hopes to raise $3-million from private sources to supplement money from government and United Nations sources.
"When the focus shifts to innocent civilians in need, we expect the public to be as generous as it has been in the past," said Mike Kiernan, a spokesman for Save the Children, which has not yet mailed any requests for support.
CARE USA has so far raised about $29,000 for Iraq -- including some $7,000 donated online since it posted an appeal on its Web site after the war started. But Allen Clinton, a CARE spokesman, said the charity would not mail out appeals or do other more aggressive fund raising until it had a better idea of how it could help. CARE's Iraqi staff members have been helping to keep hospital generators running and providing water and hygiene supplies, he said.
Mercy Corps, which has been supporting the work of Peace Winds Japan in northern Iraq for about a year, hopes to raise $2-million for such efforts over the next two months. To motivate potential donors, it is posting on its Web site daily updates of the amount it has received for that campaign.
"Being able to report human needs and donor response in real time will be a really powerful tool," predicted Matthew De Galan, the charity's chief resource development officer.
Relief organizations have also gotten some help from groups whose focus, before the fighting began, had been on opposing the war. For example, Working Assets, a communications company in San Francisco, raised about $200,000 this year to help organizations that opposed war in Iraq. When the war started, however, the company immediately started another appeal, this time to raise money for aid groups in the region and to help rebuild civil institutions and promote democracy in Iraq.
About $100,000 has been raised so far for the Iraqi Emergency Relief Fund, which intends to distribute the proceeds to various organizations, including Doctors Without Borders, Mercy Corps, Oxfam America, and Unicef. Michael Kieschnick, president of Working Assets, said that, judging by similar campaigns in the past, he expected to raise an additional $250,000 in response to requests accompanying customers' long-distance telephone bills.
"Our customers are a very compassionate bunch," he said. "I think they feel that the United States is responsible, and that we need to do the right thing."
VOICES KEPT IN THE WILDERNESS
From the Voices web site:
Less than 24 hours after issuing
a press release
highlighting the failures of the U.S.
military's attempts to oversee humanitarian intervention in Iraq, Voices in the
Wilderness was banned from meeting with the U.S. Civil Military Operations
Center, or with international journalists working out of the Palestine Hotel in
If the freedom to critique U.S. policies in Iraq regarding humanitarian issues is being curtailed already, then exactly what does this mean for building "democracy" here?
Heavy-handed and hopeless, the U.S. military doesn't know what it's doing in Iraq
Press Release, Iraq Peace Team
16 April 2003
Voices in the Wilderness representatives met today with the U.S. Military's Civil Military Operations Center (CMOC) in their headquarters at the Palestine Hotel to discuss the emergency, humanitarian crisis facing Baghdad. Trash removal has not occurred for a month. Electricity, Sanitation and Communications were all seriously damaged during the U.S. war, and have yet to be restored in Baghdad. Cholera outbreaks have been reported in Basra, and rumored to have been found in the central Iraqi city of Hilla. Some of the local clinics are up and running, but medications for conditions such as hypertension and diabetes are no longer available. Quality control equipment and systems are also unavailable, and the lack of quality control could lead to serious problems in treatment, as well as creating the potential for epidemics due to contaminated blood products.
The previous distribution system set up under the "Oil-for-Food" program is in total collapse, and - unless essential services are immediately restored - Iraq faces a humanitarian catastrophe.
Prior to the war, the Pentagon set up Humanitarian Operations Coordination Centers (the HOC in Qatar and Kuwait, and the HAC in Jordan), as well as disaster assistance response teams (DART), to coordinate relief efforts between the U.S. military and United Nations and non-governmental organizations. Not only are HOC, HAC, and DART personnel not in Baghdad yet, CMOC was not even aware of the existence of these other military-humanitarian coordinating bodies.
CMOC reported that they did not yet have a plan for how to restore essential services in Baghdad, but are working on creating such a plan today. However, that information will not be publicly available for review, and will only be shared with organizations that agree to work with the U.S. military in Baghdad - cutting out any humanitarian agency that insists on maintaining neutrality.
CMOC also reported that they spent several days locating hospitals, power plants, and water & sanitation plants in order to do needs assessments. Apparently no one in the U.S. military thought to ask the United Nations, or other international organizations working in Iraq, for any of this information prior to, or even after, the fall of Baghdad. The World Health Organization and the Red Cross have been working in Iraq for years. The United Nations Development program has been working to assist Iraq in restoring electricity since 1996. Locations and assessments of civilian infrastructures are not secret information - except in the Pentagon's world. Why didn't anyone ask for this information? Why wasn't a plan for rehabilitation developed prior to the war?
When told that of rumors of a cholera outbreak in Hilla, CMOC even asked Voices in the Wilderness where that neighborhood was located in Baghdad - unaware that Hilla is a major Iraqi city located approximately 1 hour south of Baghdad!
The biggest problem CMOC reported is the lack of local workers needed to get civilian systems up and running. However, CMOC seemed unaware that the mostly unmanned roadblocks put up throughout the city are making it difficult for anyone to get to work, as is the lack of a coordinating body responsible for organizing these efforts.
PROBLEMS THAT NEED TO BE IMMEDIATELY ADDRESSED: -
A coordinating body, not associated with any military organization, needs to be created to direct humanitarian assessment and relief efforts by all of the agencies working, or seeking to work, in Iraq. Previously, this was the corrupt, but functional, Iraqi Red Crescent Society.
- Senior-level administrators at hospitals and other civilian centers fled with the collapse of the previous regime. This has led to chaotic conditions where lower-level staff are unsure who, if anyone, has the authority to make urgent decisions. This "power vacuum" must be immediately filled by creating new, decision-making-structures, not corrupted by the previous regime.
- The U.S. military has demonstrated that it is neither prepared, nor interested in becoming prepared, to deal with the humanitarian crisis caused by their war. The international community must exert itself, and return UN control to dealing with this crisis, until Iraqis can form a government of their own to deal with the problems created by 12 years of sanctions and war.
Time is short.