ICON, Spring 2003
On April 10, the world stood by as war-torn Baghdad's National Museum and Manuscript Library, the latter a repository for some 5,000 of the earliest-known documents, were sacked and looted. In the days that followed, numerous accounts of the tragedy surfaced in the media, yet the true magnitude of the loss remains difficult to gauge. This issue, we offer a report on Iraq's National Museum by noted Arabic scholar William R. Polk, who walked its corridors only days before the war. Appointed to the U.S. State Department by John F. Kennedy, Polk guided American policy in much of the Islamic world until 1965, when he became professor of history at the University of Chicago, founding its Middle Eastern Studies Center. Following his text isa brief guide to Iraq's numerous archaeological sites, which collectively chronicle the birth of civilization between the Tigris and Euphrates so many millennia ago. Although little is known about the current condition of these sites, three of which—the Citadel of Erbil, one of the oldest continually inhabited metropolises in the world, and the 2,700-year-old Assyrian cities of Nineveh and Nimrud—are currently on WMF's list of the 100 Most Endangered Sites, news of widespread looting is beginning to surface, particularly at Nimrud, where remaining reliefs have been pried from palace walls.
As this issue went to press, a multinational team of specialists in cultural heritage, led by UNESCO, was being dispatched to Iraq to assess the condition of its antiquities. As its reports become available, we will keep readers apprised of the situation via our website, wmf.org. In the meantime, WMF will be working with the International preservation community to aid In what is sure to be a monumental task.