The United States, Iraq, and premier American academic institutions, museums, and NGOs are collaborating to ensure sustainable preservation of Iraqi national sites, monuments, and collections of world importance. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has committed $550,000 to continue support for the educational programs of the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage (IICAH) in Erbil through 2013. The Institute has also recently secured $650,000 in funding from private American foundations to continue its education and training programs. U.S.-supported infrastructure upgrades to the National Museum of Iraq are complete, and the U.S. is now assisting site management and preservation of the ancient site of Babylon through a $3.7 million grant to the World Monuments Fund. The United States supported a month-long residency at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for Iraqi museum professionals in fall 2011 and will host Iraqi graduate students in the summer of 2012 as part of the Iraqi Museum Residencies Program.
All these are wonderful projects, and are, one might suggest, the least the US could do to help after having wrecked Iraq. But it is important to note that aside from the infrastructure upgrades to the Iraq Museum, which one presumes includes paying for the barbed wire and other security improvements, nothing on this list addresses the concern for protecting Iraq's cultural heritage from the threat of antiquities looting. The notion that tourism is going to ensure "sustainable preservation" for the entirety of a country's heritage -- not just for a Babylon or Pompeii -- is a dubious one even for countries in which tourists need not fear for their safety and in which there is not a plethora of difficult-to-reach, seemingly innocuous or even downright ugly (=untouristworthy) sites, including of course the totally untouristable undug sites, which are precisely those about which we should be most concerned. Those sites are going to remain tempting targets for looters, and to preserve them will require police, not educators or museum professionals. Yet not a cent appears to have been allocated toward antiquities policing assistance: no money for guards, no money for developing locally based citizens' groups to help Iraqi antiquities police monitor remote sites, no logistical support in the form of equipment, vehicles, walkie talkies, etc. It is understandable that the US and Iraqi governments both should wish to behave as if antiquities looting did not pose a problem going forward -- for the US this see-no-evil attitude is nothing new, since even when massive looting was occurring almost no attention was paid by coalition forces. Let us hope that security in general does not devolve and that the Iraqi government has the will to itself eventually more fully invest again in the kind of robust antiquities policing and site guard system it once had but which it has failed to rebuild completely since regaining its sovereignty.